Portland is known for their food cart scene, and I knew I wanted to be a part of it somehow. My wife and I moved to Oregon 5 years ago from sunny, flat Florida, and I immediately noticed all the food carts in the city. I can’t cook to save my life, so opening our own cart was out of the picture. We were running one night and she started talking about doing some sort of daily deals type of platform for the food cart industry. I started the next day.
“Make Something People Want” -Paul Graham
So simple right? It’s the entrepreneurial slogan these days. I mean that should be considered common sense! To some of you I’m sure it is, but for me at one point it just hadn’t sunk in yet. I was just thinking that Portland food cart fans would love to get food cart deals delivered to them via email and Twitter. NOT ONCE did I contact an actual food cart OWNER before spending months of work and money on building this platform.
I had all kinds of “features” and plans for owners that I just knew everyone would love! They could choose to just offer a reduced deal, and they could also sell their normal menu items 24/7 on our site. Customers would be able to order certain items anytime, and then just bring their emailed receipt to the cart. The cart owner would get the heads up on their order via email to be prepared. Out of around 100 or so cart owners I contacted AFTER it was built, only one owner decided to -almost- give it a try! He backed out midway through setting up the first deal. I had a few respond that they liked the idea, but that they weren’t in a position to run any deals. Profit margins are razor thin for these small business owners. Something that I learned after building this! As Dave Donaldson points out here, Rob Walling calls a micropreneur a solo founder who creates products that bring value to a niche market. In my mind I was bringing a value, but it was only for the consumer. I didn’t research the thin profit margins of the owners, and I guess I was just making myself believe that business owners would take a hit on running these deals, and it would even out with new customers they would gain because of it. Yeah, Groupon does this, but they also can provide huge customer web-traffic with their built in users that they have successfully acquired over the years. Exposure is worth it for some. The few owners that could manage running a deal just went with Groupon and LivingSocial. It was very frustrating to see that, but at the end of the day I understood. That’s not to say that smaller competition can’t come along and do well. It just takes more effort to get out and talk to the key people who will make your business a success. I focused on the consumers, and barely spent any time with the business owners. I’m fairly confident that if I would of gotten out of my “safe, easy” office and hit the streets, I could of gotten to know them better, they would of felt comfortable with Food Cartopia, and I could of had deals running on the site.
The whole thing wasn’t a loss though! I learned A TON from it. It advanced my knowledge in custom theming WordPress, responsive web design, got me started learning more PHP, and it taught me the most important lesson: DON’T BUILD UNTIL YOU HAVE GUARANTEED CUSTOMERS! In addition I built a great social media following that had a part in helping to launch Fun Dit. It also helped out a great, local charity called Dove Lewis, by being a sponsor for one of their events. I have to admit, it was pretty (notice the sign up above) awesome seeing my logo printed on promotional materials in town!