How to Run a Food Truck Delivery App: Interview with Nick Nanakos
Have you got any favorite street food and a secret spot where it tastes best? But food tracks’ admirers know, there are some drawbacks related to this industry, like long lines, inflexible payment options etc.
Today, we continue a series of success stories for your inspiration. And now it’s TruckBux - an online ordering technology platform that delivers meals from food trucks.
Nick, as we know you came from a family of highly talented restaurant entrepreneurs. Could you share more details about that? Was it the core point that inspired you to launch TruckBux?
While studying Finance and Real Estate at Drexel University, I worked part-time & internships at several large firms such as JP Morgan, Investors Capital, Balfour Beatty, and Ameriprise Financial. I founded the Drexel University Real Estate Club and made a ton of connections, amassing knowledge in the sector. On this corporate path, I found myself immensely unhappy. Truthfully, unhappy was an understatement. I was unsure what I wanted to do, but I knew what I didn't want to do - and sometimes that's the key before making a life changing decision.
During this time I also began building TruckBux, which energized me beyond imagination. I noticed an absurd amount of food trucks appearing on my University, along with all neighboring campuses and major cities that I traveled to. While the growth fascinated me, I also recognized some major problems that were holding back the industry's full potential due to a lack of innovation. I worked relentlessly toward my vision, launched TruckBux and then would eventually drop out of school at 22 years old to be all in.
I come from a background of highly talented restaurant entrepreneurs. I've worked in every angle of food - from waiting, to cooking, to managing, to also bringing technology into my family's restaurants. This gave me a chance to observe other apps go-to-market and product functionality. I dissected all of them. I knew I could create something far more powerful for food trucks. Ironically enough, my grandfather immigrated from Greece to the US with $8, working with a street food cart in Manhattan. Once my restaurant intuition aligned with my observations of the fast growing food truck space - my focus shifted to food tech. Enough to drop everything and be all in. In all pursuits, my mentality is high-conviction, non-consensus, and irrationally optimistic.
Food trucks are a new generation of the street food industry. Today, food trucks cater more customers than restaurants. In your opinion, why have they soared in popularity so fast?
Food trucks were born into existence under hard times. The food truck movement began during the Great Recession of 2008, in which food entrepreneurs did not have access to the capital for brick and mortars, so they reverted to food trucks (a fraction of the startup cost).
What seemed like a devastating misfortune to many gave birth to a multi-billion dollar industry a decade later: food trucks.
Off-premise dining models such as food trucks, ghost kitchens, and delivery now drive the majority of traffic in the restaurant industry. Mobility has surpassed brick and mortar. After all, food trucks are mobile ghost kitchens - uniquely positioned now more than ever.
Mobility can be an advantage in times where people stay put. Since fewer people are braving the streets today, food truck operators have a distinct advantage over restaurants in that they can go where the people are. For example, pulling up to a 150-unit apartment complex is something any food truck can do for sales. By nature, food truck vendors are creative and adaptive. They don't bear the labor cost or overhead of brick & mortar.
How did Covid-19 affect the industry? Probably, the food mobility that TruckBux provides comes into the limelight now.
Now more than ever, food trucks are seeking online ordering technology platforms - to reach customers through pickup and delivery.
The best ideas are oftentimes a secret, or hidden in plain sight. That's how I felt about tech in food trucks. I knew exactly what it took to start a restaurant, and watched technology transform the industry firsthand. People thought they were a "phase" yet they're thriving now more than ever, a decade later. No one expected them to become a multi-billion $ space. But then again, no one expected a global pandemic either. And no one expected that pandemic to accelerate food truck growth to the extent it has, creating a dire need for online ordering - paving the way for TruckBux.
There are a lot of stereotypes associated with fast food, like it causes eating compulsive disorders, makes people fat and unhealthy or is cooked with spoiled ingredients. But in fact the industry has been evolving so much and now food trucks offer various menus from fast food to haute cuisine and earn Michelin stars. What is your point of view regarding fast food? Is it something we should avoid or be afraid of?
Food trucks are not fast food. They are mobile ghost kitchens, or restaurants on wheels. In fact, they’ve been proven to be a healthier and safer alternative to restaurants in several instances. Due to their limited size, they hold less inventory at a given time - which requires them to restock ingredients more frequently. They sell out of items quicker, which means they rarely have old ingredients or supply in the truck. They are also increasingly being given letter grades, just as restaurants in NYC are.
In today’s realia fast food industry - initially created to be handy and save clients’ time - faces new challenges, like long lines, inflexible payment options etc. How can street food admirers benefit from using TruckBux and how the app eases the vendors’ routine?
Here’s what is limiting a food truck’s full potential:
(1) They have very long lines, which frustrates the customer and results in a loss of sale for the truck due to lack of convenience. Imagine the customer who has a limited time on their lunch break and wants to eat at a food truck, but spends 30 minutes waiting in line. (2) They have inflexible payment options as an overwhelming amount are still cash only. This alienates an enormous customer base by limiting how
customers can pay, especially in a world where cash is becoming obsolete. (3) Being mobile is one of their greatest advantages, but can also be detrimental because they are extremely difficult to locate. If they build a loyal and consistent customer base, and then relocate - they lose that base because there is no connectivity between them and the customer anymore.
As for the technical side, what was the hardest part of building an app? Did you turn to outsource agencies or developed it in-house?
We initially outsourced to build the product in 2017, and shortly after that we built a powerful tech team in-house in 2018. We now have a team of 8 engineers building and innovating the product relentlessly. Nothing is outsourced.
Pros to outsourcing:
⦁ Quick to develop because these dev shops oftentimes have 4-10 people working on the product.
⦁ It’s cheaper.
Cons to outsourcing:
⦁ Once the product is complete, you save money and time. But you sacrificed innovation. You need creative technical geniuses that are constantly building new innovations and unique features as you scale.
⦁ Apps require a significant amount of maintenance following their launch. You should not be writing checks overseas to contractors endlessly. When an issue arises, you want someone on your team to find and resolve it immediately. Time zone differences and communication barriers can also create major challenges.
Could you describe your platform in 5 words? What are the cornerstones of your business?
Online ordering for food trucks.
Our mission is to help the food truck industry thrive through technology. Our product is better, along with our pricing model, and our relationships we build with our customers are unmatched.
How do you bring on new members to the team? Are there any key points you pay attention to?
As a founder, you better have a strong intuition on hiring and firing. If they are not a “hell yes” they are a “hell no”. You become better at this with time, but INVEST IN PEOPLE. Seek passion, commitment, and unique perspective. Everyone should be aligned and understand the core principles of what the company has set out to do. The cornerstones is that we all have a burning desire to win and make TruckBux ubiquitous in every major city.
How are you planning to grow in the nearest future? What channels do you use (or would like to use) for attracting new customers?
We are going to raise a boatload of capital at the perfect valuation. The purpose behind the raise is to launch an aggressive sales campaign targeted at the food truck owners. Our software will power their entire operation from every end. It's essential that we amass a large number of food trucks to the platform, followed by driving order volume on the customer side. Pre-Covid, we had 15 food trucks. We since jumped up to over 85+ trucks on the platform, all of which were inbound throughout 11 different cities. There was no cost associated in adding these trucks, as they we're on-boarded remotely by the core team.
Our current social media strategy is to drive as much awareness to the food truck vendor community about the TruckBux platform, using our preferred channels; Instagram, Facebook, & Youtube. We've noticed this is where food truck owners are most active. We are members of Facebook groups that collectively have over 20,000+ food truck owners in the group, and it's incredibly effective in that making one post (which is free) drives vendors to the TruckBux Sign-up page.
Social media allows us the opportunity to showcase our product features, services, how it works, feature our partnered vendors, and of course a direct funnel to join our platform. We oftentimes DM vendors with infographics and updates notifying them of ongoing promotions and offers which have a high yield. (For example, offering vendors 90 days of free order commissions once COVID-19 hit - triggering the largest growth levels in company history among food trucks joining us. (This growth would not have been obtainable had we not launched a social media campaign around it.)
We also expand upon the online marketplace we've created, by showing off food trucks in target areas, and tag them which almost always results in them reposting us to their story - driving customer downloads on their behalf. It's advantageous when we can create avenues that allow the trucks to market the product for us as well to their existing customer base. Given that we're in a B2B2C market, a large portion of the capital will go toward customer growth and marketing spend to incentivize and increase order volume for the customers. Therefore along with Social Media Advertising and Marketing, we will push SEO, Email Marketing, in app-engagement, and promos to attract and retain the users.