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Michael Farah loves food trucks, so much so that he once bought his own food truck, a frozen yogurt truck that catered to Chicago neighborhoods in the summer of 2011. With a hand in every task involved in running a food truck, from driving to planning, interacting with customers, and dishing up yogurt, Michael learned a lot about the particular needs of food trucks and the cult-like passion of their followers.  Now based in Los Angeles, Michael serves the food truck scene’s marketing needs with Curbside Foodies, a food truck finder app designed to be a win-win marketing solution for food trucks and the people who love them.

Michael’s path to entrepreneurship began with a career trading energy futures on the Mercantile Exchange. A graduate of the University of Iowa with a degree in business and political science, Michael’s passion and business knowledge made him a successful trader, but something was missing. “It was a very unfulfilling career…not satisfying. I was just working on a computer at my house. I had very little contact with anyone. I wanted something more.”  He decided to use his marketing and technology knowledge to address the food truck marketing challenges he knew so well. He approached the other two cofounders (Michele Dorvil Agbejule, the executive director of the Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and Tevi Hirschhorn, a user experience design consultant), and Curbside Foodies was born.

Now in its Beta edition, Curbside Foodies is gaining traction in the LA food truck scene, and the team has plans to expand to the New York City, Chicago, and Austin food truck markets. Michael, a newlywed of three months and the proprietor of a medical spa, has a lot on his plate, and he has plenty of advice for current and future entrepreneurs…as well as newlyweds. Michael spoke with me about the development of Curbside Foodies and his road to entrepreneurship from his office in L.A.:

How does Curbside Foodies work?

It’s a one-stop shop for food truck lovers and food trucks. The app gives the food truck owner the ability to market to a broader audience. If a food truck has 1000 Twitter followers and 1000 Facebook followers, only 2000 people see the food truck’s message (assuming that there is no doubling up). In this case, 2000 isn’t a lot because only so many of the followers will be in the same area as the truck, or only a percentage will be looking to eat at a food truck that day. You need access to 10,000 or more followers to be able to flourish, but how to get in front of new customers?

The solution is to expand your following by getting your existing social media followers to market your product. How do you do that? You have to pay your followers to market for you. Give them incentives, a free product or discounts, in exchange for marketing your product. When someone uses the Curbside Foodie app, they can check in at a food truck on their social media accounts, and in exchange for checking in, the truck will give them a discount or a free item, a free drink or a free desert–something exclusive to the Curbside Foodie app. This gives the food truck viral exposure to the customer’s social media following, which has a lot of impact beyond just increasing the food truck’s exposure, because the hundreds to thousands of people following the food truck customer checking in are following that person because they like or trust that person or find him interesting. The promotion is a lot more powerful than if they hear it from the mouth of the food truck business. The app also gathers data for the food truck. The problem with social media is that it’s very hard to gauge the results. This app gives real data for assessing the results.

Also for the food truck customer, in addition to discounts and free food or drinks, the app uses location services to show the food trucks closest to you. And if you have a particular cuisine in mind, you can select cuisine preferences on the app, and you’ll get notified when a food truck with that cuisine is in your area.

 

 

What has been the biggest stumbling block in launching Curbside Foodies?

The initial difficulty was building the technology. We’re launching the Beta version and adding features as we go. The other difficulty is just getting in touch with the food truck owners, because they are so busy. They start so early in the morning and finish so late at night, and they don’t have time to just jump off the truck and start a conversation with you.

How are you connecting with the food trucks?

We’re connecting through Twitter and enjoying word of mouth. And we’re only vetting food trucks with a good reputation. We’re giving these food trucks a free trial, and we only want quality food trucks.

Any favorite food truck foods?

Mexican or Latin-inspired food trucks, or the grilled cheese truck, which is really awesome. They have some really cool sandwiches, including a macaroni and cheese grilled cheese sandwich.

Wow. That’s like a carb coma.

It is.

 

 

Like a lot of entrepreneurs, all three Curbside Foodies cofounders have other day jobs. How do you manage?

It’s always tough for everyone to always be on the same page. One week I might be really busy with my business, and another, Michelle is really busy with hers, so it takes some work to get everyone together and on the same page.  We’re just really honest with each other: “hey, Michael, we need you to focus on this and get this done…”  Sometimes it means not sleeping. That’s really the hardest part. There are so many hours in the day, but my passion for food trucks and my knowledge of just how hard it is for food trucks to market keep me going.

Also, I would always tell people don’t be cocky. Know what your strengths are. Know what your weaknesses are. And surround yourself with people who compliment your strengths. People think they can do it by themselves, but they can’t. You need your team. Check your ego at the door. Prepare to be completely wrong. Have a short memory, and move forward.

This sounds like good advice for a marriage. As a newlywed, any advice for that?

Everything in life is like that. A business partnership is like a marriage. It’s the same stuff. Be a good person. Listen. Give back. Treat others the way you want to be treated. That’s how it all works.

 

 

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