If you ask IVY Member Joel Cettina about his favorite food truck, he’s dumbfounded—there are too many good ones. “How can I even compare my favorite street tacos to my favorite doughnut sandwich?” He says, “Or my favorite grilled cheese truck to the truck with great coffee and and new cake pops every week?”
There’s no secret Food Trucks are trending. And there’s no secret why. They offer creative cooks the opportunity to get their idea off the ground and quickly into the hands of customers. But with all the food trucks hitting the streets these days, it’s hard to keep track of your favorites. Where’s that Lobster Roll truck during Wednesday’s lunch when you have a craving?
Joel Cettina has the answer. He founded Food Moves as a way to connect hungry customers with their favorite food trucks all across the city. Food Moves offers real-time tracking of your favorite food trucks and vendors and live menu updates, as well as curated foodie content from around the web. IVY Magazine sat down with Joel to talk food trucks, Food Moves, and what it’s like to build a business from the ground up.
Joel is an IVY Member. Connect and collaborate with him here.
Food trucks are really trending these days. Why do you think now is the moment?
You’re right. Food trucks are everywhere nowadays, but food trucks have really been around since the early 1900s. There are a few factors contributing to their success today.
The cost of entry into owning your own food truck is significantly lower to that of a brick-and-mortar restaurant. Under the right circumstances, you could start a food truck for as little as $30,000. This makes them very attractive to people who are switching careers or young culinary students eager to put their stamp on something and prove their concepts.
While the food movement continues to get more and more innovative with amazing chefs pushing the limits as to what is possible, consumers are becoming more and more involved in local and sustainable foods. Consumers today not only care about what they eat, but also where their food comes from.
Lastly, the regulations and laws are changing, slowly, but changing for the better. In some towns a food truck owner has to move his or her truck at least once every 30 minutes. How could you operate a business under those conditions?! The industry is still in a growth stage, and as these regulations loosen or standardize across states and countries we will see more mobile vendors and the industry grow even further.
How did that movement begin?
The idea of turning your disruptive idea into a real, viable business has never been more attractive or accepted. That, coupled with the fact that the internet can bring your idea out of your immediate surroundings and into the minds of the people that it appeals to changes the landscape for entrepreneurs. It’s easier than ever before for your passion to reach your customers.
I also think that there is a strange allure to food trucks. Being constantly on the go and bringing joy to customers is a dream everybody can believe in. It’s like being Jack Kerouac and Nick Anderer at the same time.
Based on your experience Food Moves, what’s your advice to other food start-ups for leveraging social media to help to grow a business?
An important part to any great product is understanding people and making them feel something. For food startups, specifically, I recommend making people feel hungry. It’s so simple but no matter what else we are exposed to, we all share a similar feeling when we satiate our hunger. When you connect by invoking a feeling like happiness, pride, hunger, or anger people tend to stick to your business. This stickiness is crucial to your success, so the more you can express these feelings in the short interactions you have through social media, the more customers will keep coming back.
What’s the best way to start a food truck—do you think it’s important to have a restaurant location first?
Actually most trucks do it the other way around. These guys and girls are awesome chefs with loads of imagination and talent. Unfortunately, like all other professions, most of them have to start from the bottom. They work in someone else’s kitchen and hustle day and night to make food that’s not their own vision. So instead of trying to raise a million dollars and start their own restaurant, they buy a trailer and get cracking on how they can leave an impression on your tastebuds. This way they can prove their concept and build a following that will support a brick and mortar location.
How are foodies a part of the food truck movement?
Foodies have been a huge part of the food truck movement. They are the ones that venture off to find the hottest, newest, and sometimes strangest foods. Their adventurous palates played a big part in changing the way people look at food trucks.
Not too long ago there was a certain stigma associated with buying food off of someone on the street. Foodies weren’t afraid to try something new and showed the world that food from mobile vendors was actually great. And the best part is, they’re not afraid to tell you about it. They love to share their discoveries with friends and some will even take the time to write about it. They’re marketing champions for food trucks. And when a foodie says you need to try something they mean it. In fact I know some people that will physically drag you to their new favorite place if you won’t come willingly. If your plates can please foodie taste buds, your food truck will be just fine.
What’s been your process for taking your vision and making it into an actual company?
It has certainly been a long and tireless road since coming up with the idea three years ago. It helps me to look at it as a series of smaller milestones.
The first step is to validate your idea. Tell people in your network what you want to do and they will be honest about whether or not they believe in it. Once you know that customers can get behind your idea you need to build it. This is tricky because most entrepreneurs don’t have these kinds of resources readily available. It takes a lot of hearing “no” before you find an investor that shares your vision and believes in you and your idea. And it only gets harder from there. Once someone gives you the resources to build your dream it’s time to deliver. I wrote the spec, created the mockups, and spoke with countless truck owners to make sure my vision aligned with their needs, all the while working a full-time job. It was exhausting, but I can’t describe the feeling of having a product you built yourself in your hands. It’s incredible, but it doesn’t stop there.
With a mostly finished product in hand, it was time to share it with vendors and show that we had something special to offer. We began pre-selling Food Moves and watching our idea culminate in a community built from people who shared our vision. The next thing you know I find myself at SxSW launching Food Moves to the world on one of its biggest stages. And once that announcement was made the fun really began, and we’re busier than ever.
What advice do you have for other entrepreneurs?
First I would say that you have to be in it for the long haul. We are typically exposed to overnight success stories and that is not the norm. All entrepreneurs are faced with unforeseen challenges and have to adapt and learn to reach the light at the end of the tunnel. Another important piece of the puzzle is to surround yourself with the right team and don’t be afraid to get rid of the people dragging you down. It’s a tough pill to swallow but it’s something that all entrepreneurs learn the hard way. I know I have. And finally you have to lean on the support system you already have. My family and friends have served as constant motivation and are always my biggest supporters. They are always there to help me persevere when I have doubts or count myself out. Whoever makes up your closest circle, they are an invaluable piece of the puzzle for your success.
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