The concept for hungerly, a Columbus startup that helps mobile food vendors and consumers connect, can be traced back to a conversation its co-founder and CEO, Derek Edwards, had with a friend about launching a gourmet coffee truck.
The pair were discussing details about operations and identifying major challenges −such as locating prospective customers, marketing to them, and encouraging brand loyalty− when Edwards quickly realized those challenges weren’t unique to a gourmet coffee truck, that all mobile food vendors grapple with them.
“Even the biggest supporters of food trucks and carts have no good way of discovering new vendors until there’s a write-up in a local blog, such as Street Eats Columbus,” says Edwards. “When I saw a poster for the Food Truck Festival posted at Stauf’s later that evening, I knew the street food scene was about to explode in Columbus and that this was something we needed to investigate. After canvassing the festival and gauging interest from vendors, I immediately decided to make hungerly a reality.”
To learn more about hungerly, including when the hungerly application will launch publicly and what its founders want to accomplish in the 60 days after that, as well as what Edwards has to say about technological innovation and entrepreneurship in Columbus, keep reading.
The Metropreneur: First, how does hungerly benefit mobile food businesses?
Derek Edwards: Mobile food vendors benefit primarily from a streamlined mechanism for marketing themselves, as well as the ability to connect and communicate with fans. hungerly encourages brand loyalty and allows vendors to offer incentives for repeat business. Furthermore, hungerly provides valuable analytical data in the form of customer maps and demographics, which have previously been available only to brick and mortar vendors.
[M]: How does hungerly benefit consumers?
DE: Consumers benefit primarily through increased awareness. Hungerly provides a mechanism for quickly and easily discovering local mobile vendors and subsequently receiving notifications when those vendors, or similar vendors, are nearby. Vendors may also begin visiting underserved areas, providing consumers more choices without the need to venture far from home or work.
[M]: You and your team −which includes Ben Powers, co-founder and chief operating officer, and Christian Lent, co-founder and chief technology officer− have developed a beta program that’s been open to local vendors for a few weeks now. How’s that going?
DE: Since launching our pilot vendor program at the beginning of September, hungerly has rapidly signed a significant portion of the mobile food vendors in Columbus, including The Cheesy Truck and Leslie’s Creperie, and we anticipate continued growth until the end of the season. Vendors are beginning to use the mobile app in preparation for our big launch event and so far the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. The ideas and suggestions we’ve received from vendors have been instrumental in building a system that will benefit both vendors and consumers.
[M]: Are you still on track to have a limited number of fans and customers using the app beginning this week?
DE: We anticipate welcoming the first beta consumers to the system during [this week] to do live testing in collaboration with our pilot vendors.
[M]: Are you still planning a public launch for the app during the first week in October?
DE: hungerly will be hosting a public launch event on Oct. 2 as part of the Food Cart Rally during Local Foods Week. The rally takes place from 4 to 8 p.m. at Eartha Limited in the Brewery District, and we will be handing out hungerly merchandise in addition to offering discounts at select vendors.
[M]: Will the hungerly app be available for iPhones and Android phones?
DE: The app will initially be available for iPhone and Android. Users on other platforms may still utilize hungerly through a mobile web version, but may not have access to the full range of features.
[M]: What are your goals for hungerly out of the gate?
DE:At launch, our goals are to have at least five participating vendor users −we have, in fact ,exceeded this− to offer native apps for iPhone and Android, and to offer the three primary functions we’ve been promoting: discovery, notifications, and influencing vendors to visit new areas of town. Within 30 days of public launch, hungerly is striving to exceed a 70 percent vendor participation rate in the Columbus area. Within 60 days of public launch, our goal is to introduce mobile ordering.
[M]: What are your long-term goals for Hungerly?
DE: Over the next six months and beyond, hungerly is looking to expand into new markets and introduce features for new industries. We are initially focusing on mobile food vendors in Columbus, but we are planning to quickly push into Cincinnati and Cleveland, followed by an aggressive nationwide rollout. Additionally, hungerly will be introducing features for brick and mortar food vendors, and eventually non-food vendors, based on the same platform. We want to make hungerly the app for connecting local vendors with consumers, regardless of where you are or what you’re buying or selling.
[M]: You’ve launched several technology-based ventures since the early 2000s. How has that startup experience impacted the hungerly launch?
DE: I’ve seen my share of success and failure in the startup world and each venture teaches me a new lesson or two. Above all else, there are two key ways in which these experiences are influencing the hungerly launch: how I set expectations and the pace at which I approach venture development. I have a better understanding of what is realistic, how to identify and evaluate opportunities, and how to get people excited. At the same time, when I choose to seize an opportunity, I push forward very aggressively so that enthusiasm isn’t wasted and momentum isn’t lost.
[M]: Have you ever turned to any local mentors or role models for advice or input?
DE: Through my past startup experiences, I’ve come to know a number of local advisors and fellow business owners. Beyond the advice I’ve solicited from the very vendors using the system, I’ve also consulted with contacts at TechColumbus, The Small Business Development Center, the Economic and Community Development Institute, and Ryan Mapes of Manta.
[M]: What’s the best business advice you’ve ever gotten?
DE: The best business advice I’ve ever received came from Dr. Dan Oglevee at Ohio State. When evaluating a business plan I handed him from a customer point of view, he bluntly asked me, “So what? Why should I care about this?”
Since then, I’ve always kept that question in mind when thinking about new concepts. If I can’t come up with a good answer, either the concept is flawed or I haven’t thought it through.
[M]: Is there anything else you think we should know?
DE: I believe Columbus has a lot of potential as a top city of technological innovation and entrepreneurship, but we have a long way to go. If we continue to push initiatives to encourage entrepreneurship and local ventures can learn to better collaborate, everyone can benefit. I hope that hungerly can be one step in the right direction.
To be added to the hungerly invite list, visit hungerly.com.