Ragin’ Raccoon founder Justin Pera admits that trash isn’t the sexiest service business. But after just one year, he’s earned six figures by cleaning some of America’s biggest cities.
Justin believed that local municipalities and megacompanies like Waste Management covered most trash needs. But during an Airbnb stay in Tampa, Florida, the property owner asked him to push the trash bins out to the curb mid-vacation. Justin didn’t want to spend his time off moving trash cans – especially when the bins overflowed with garbage from previous guests.
“On vacation, you don’t want to see other people’s trash, let alone push it,” Justin says. “So I push it and the city takes it. But I go home and my mind’s racing. I’m thinking, ‘Is that a regular thing?’ I look into it. And sure enough, there’s no trash solution for this.”
Justin’s solution was Ragin’ Raccoon, a trash collection service for vacation-rental property owners. Drivers open an app every morning that outlines when and where to collect.
But few customers in Justin’s chosen market saw Ragin’ Raccoon’s appeal. After several weeks flew by with no clients, he was ready to give up. Two phone calls halted Justin’s decision and helped him discover where his service business could find its market.
Failing at Ecommerce to Thrive in B2B Service
Justin called Albania home for the first 11 years of his life. He grew up surrounded by dozens of aunts, uncles, and cousins. Money was tight but everyone supported each other. Justin recalls one uncle, an entrepreneur, who taught him the principles of good business.
Justin remembers admiring his uncle’s nice cars, paying attention to his business deals, and learning about entrepreneurship. When his immediate family won a green card lottery to move to the United States, Justin carried that spark of entrepreneurship to the “land of opportunity.”
“Coming to the US and seeing hundreds of companies making money, you realize there’s room for competition here. You just have to be different and better than your competitors,” Justin says.
“That was always in my head, and I was driven to succeed. I know everyone measures success differently. But when you come from a less-developed country and grow up a certain way, your vision of success is typically driven by money.”
Justin’s drive led him to study accounting at the University of South Florida in Tampa. After earning his master’s in 2018, he joined PwC as an audit associate. He jumped to Hilco Global two years later before starting Ragin’ Raccoon in August 2021.
Working as a CPA never crossed Justin’s mind. He wanted to study accounting to gain a leg up as a consultant or founder later on.
“Accounting is just a language of business. If you understand accounting, you know the inner workings of how businesses are run,” Justin says. “That career path allowed me to see exactly how these companies work and where the money’s coming and going.”
But understanding the financial side of entrepreneurship doesn’t guarantee success. From 2017 to 2020, Justin experimented with three Shopify stores that all flopped. When one business failed, he immediately started a new one, taking every mistake as an opportunity to learn.
His first Shopify business sold everyday accessories in an oversaturated market and he wasn’t ready to compete. His second business, which focused on Jeep Wrangler accessories, was so niche that he struggled to find a market at all.
Justin would later realize that catching customer attention requires creativity as well as persistent marketing. “Logo and company name can go a long way to getting the conversation started,” he says.
The founder also decided to drop product-based business ideas and pursue services instead. He grew frustrated after numerous struggles with “buying, housing, and dealing with inventory.”
“It was a logistical nightmare,” Justin says. “And then the pain of dealing with returns ultimately drove me away from product businesses completely. I decided my next business would be a services business because there are no returns, inventory, or products. And with service, you control what you do.”
Expanding Services and Markets for More Success
After his poor Airbnb experience in Tampa, Justin launched his business there in August 2021. He hired a few people to push trash bins to the curb at vacation rental properties once a week. These bin-pushers used MapQuest and other third-party apps to direct drivers on the most efficient routes. But at this stage, Justin had only a rudimentary website and no official app to connect drivers and property owners.
Marketing-wise, the founder reached out to local Airbnb hosts in a related Facebook group. But no one expressed interest in his bin-pushing business for the first two months.
“I was charging around fifty bucks a month for this once-a-week service. And the day came when I thought, I’m wasting money on this business and website. Maybe there’s no market for this,” Justin says.
He didn’t realize that local Airbnb owners were happy to push trash bins out to the curb at their properties. The real opportunity for his service lay with vacation-rental property owners.
“I got my first call the next morning from a lady that lived in Illinois, but she remotely managed an Airbnb in Tampa,” he says. “She had no one to push trash bins, so I realized maybe there is something here.”
Justin grew one property into 18 across Tampa, mostly through regular posts and direct messages to his target audience on Facebook. But these 18 properties could barely keep him afloat. Tampa’s sprawling city structure created long commutes for Justin’s drivers in between collections. The city also regularly collects and dumps trash, so local rental-property owners wondered why they needed an intermediary.
In October 2021, Justin got a call from Scott Yesner and Jonathan Dempsey in Philadephia, Pennsylvania, revealing a deeper need. The men co-founded Rentsidual and owned 100 Airbnb properties in Philadelphia under BeSpoke Stay. They were interested in trash collection, not just bin pushing, managed through an app Justin had yet to develop.
“The website was built thinking of the future and what I wanted Ragin’ Raccoon to be,” Justin says. “If I got a customer big enough to need this app, I would fund it myself. I advertised it to gauge customer interest. At that moment, it just did not exist yet.”
The app would allow vacation rental property owners to update Justin’s drivers with guest check-out info. The drivers then mapped out their daily routes and sent updates to the owners once they collected the trash. Unlike Tampa, Philadelphia needed Justin’s expanded service.
“Philly is very condensed. The trash is a problem and there are rodents everywhere. So if you have trash sitting out overnight, unwanted guests show up, and there’s just trash all over the property,” Justin says.
Excelling in the Right Market
With this new service model in mind, Justin initially hired someone in Philadelphia to collect garbage in a pickup truck. But the pickup truck leaked and couldn’t hold as much trash as the founder wished. So he pitched a new business plan to Yesner and Dempsey.
“I said, ‘Hey, if we want to do this thing, we need a proper trash truck. Here’s what it looks like, what it costs, and how all this will function,’” Justin says. “And then I hired a team on Upwork to develop a wireframe for the application and a backend. I said, ‘Here’s what the app would look like.’”
He followed through on his promise to fund the app himself and added an in-house tech component to Ragin’ Raccoon’s service-based business model. Justin pictured the trash service operating on centralized platforms like Hostaway. Property owners could manage all of their services in one place. The app he developed would hook up to Hostaway and notify drivers when guests checked out, so they could plan their pickup route for the day.
“When the business model changed from bin-pushing to per-check-out trash collection, the idea for the app also changed,” Justin says. “I hired developers to make an app that integrated with property management interfaces and platforms. For every check-out, it pulls the date, the property address, and the number of people the property can accommodate.”
Convinced, the owners invested $100,000 into Ragin’ Raccoon. Justin must outline exactly how he’ll use the money before Yesner and Dempsey write any checks. So far, he’s used more than $50,000 to hire developers and salaried truck drivers, and he bought new garbage trucks with the company’s logo.
None of the investor dollars have funded any marketing. Instead, Justin posts about his business and explores new markets via LinkedIn.
“To this day, LinkedIn is our bread and butter,” Justin says. “All of my leads essentially come to me. We don’t have time to try to make sales because we’re constantly working on launching a new market.”
“We ensure our numbers are bulletproof so that every market we’re in is profitable. We don’t launch in an unknown market just to launch.”
Already, Ragin’ Raccoon has signed contracts in Telluride, Colorado, and Annapolis, Maryland. Since he’s boosted his presence on LinkedIn, more property owners have asked if he’s available in various US cities. But Justin learned his lesson from Tampa.
“Our typical launch time is four to six weeks once we get a commitment from a property manager. We don’t just go to a new city and hope – we need a commitment,” Justin says. “We ensure our numbers are bulletproof so that every market we’re in is profitable. We don’t launch in an unknown market just to launch.”
Trash Never Dies
Now that Justin’s found his product-market fit, he can’t wait to grow Ragin’ Raccoon between two high-growth markets – trash and vacation rental.
“We feel pretty secure. And once we continue to grow, there’s a lot of verticals we can add on,” Justin says. “We can explore entertainment venue trash collecting if we see a need. There’s a lot of ways we can expand this thing.”
In the last six months, Justin has already expanded Ragin’ Raccoon’s service by offering an on-demand option. Customers decide if they want to pay a monthly flat rate, a rate per check-out, or a one-off price for sporadic collections throughout the month (on-demand).
This new layer of the app became possible thanks to the help of former Vacasa CTO Erik Tylek Kettenburg. The tech professional was kind enough to respond to Justin’s LinkedIn message asking for advice about integrating new app features. Kettenburg then took it a step further by rolling up his sleeves and doing most of the backend work himself.
“To have this guy that’s worth who knows how much money comes in and do that is extremely humbling,” Justin says. Kettenburg has joined Ragin’ Raccoon as a technology and business strategy advisor.
Based on Kettenburg’s new additions and the last 10 months’ success, Justin now believes his service is indispensable. Ragin’ Raccoon has made vacation rental property owners’ lives more “seamless” by taking out the trash. The founder even envisions rental prices including a trash fee someday. But he never would’ve set these goals if he hadn’t switched markets.
“Everything clicked when I shifted to a city like Philadelphia, where I’d never visited before and that has a true trash problem,” Justin says. “You have an idea of what you want the business to be when you start it. But ultimately, the market dictates what you do. You have to be able to adjust, and so far we’ve done a good job listening to the market.”
The market’s even shown Justin another area of the vacation rental space where he can make property owners’ lives easier. The founder can’t wait to launch a SaaS business in the next month or so. That’s all he can share, though.
“When you’re thinking about starting a business, you picture a mountain. You think of every reason why it’s not going to work, why it’s too big. But once you’re in it, you realize it’s a molehill.”
By the end of the year, that little boy from Albania who dreamed of following in his uncle’s footsteps will have two startups under his belt.
“My advice is just to do it. Because when you’re thinking about starting a business, you picture a mountain. You think of every reason why it’s not going to work, why it’s too big. But once you’re in it, you realize it’s a molehill,” Justin says. “Nothing’s too big. Just get started and stick with it. That’s something I wasn’t doing before, but maybe it was all meant to be. Because the day before I canceled everything, I got my first customer.”
Now, you can find Ragin’ Raccoon trucks in three major cities, with more to come. Justin admits that he wants to explore the acquisition space, too. He could see a larger business expanding operations and building upon the tech, integrations, and connections that Justin already has in place.
Keep an eye out for Ragin’ Raccoon on a platform like MicroAcquire, where founders can sell their startups to trusted buyers. Given Justin’s success, it shouldn’t take buyers long to make an offer – they just need to keep up with some mild trash-talking.
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