For Damien Sanchez, accepting a job as a career firefighter in suburban Washington, D.C., in 2006 was about escaping California, where he had worked for 10 years as a wildland firefighter for the federal government. It also gave him a chance to make a smart "moonlighting" investment.
"I had just sold my house at the top of the market in California; I had some money," said Sanchez, 36, who figured that the timing of shifts afforded by his new day job—he often has a few days off in a row—could work well with running a side business.
A friend was looking to buy a Mosquito Squad franchise. After researching the opportunity, he decided that the swampy terrain of northern Virginia, where "there is no part of the day where there's not a mosquito biting," made sense. So in 2008 Sanchez ordered a second cell phone, a new pickup truck and a five-by-five storage unit for his launch.
The first year, when it was just himself spraying lawns, he made less than $100,000. After struggling a bit with expansion decisions—debating spending capital on office/sales staff versus another fieldworker—Sanchez's business more than doubled the second year. By the fourth year, after having hired enough fieldworkers to focus more on managing the company, he hit $1 million in sales for the first time.
Today, Sanchez's Mosquito Squad has 15 trucks, 25 employees and is on track to hit $2.5 million in revenue by the end of the year.
How he pulled together start-up capital: (Mosquito Squad charges an initial franchise fee of $25,000.) Living off his full-time firefighter salary, Sanchez used money from the sale of his California home to finance his launch.
The hardest part of being founder/CEO: "Knowing what's needed at each stage of the business. When you're under $100,000 in sales, it's all about hard work, but the second stage, it's all about marketing. Knowing how to manage that and when and where to make those transitions, which can be very bumpy, is tough."