foodjunky: it’s what’s for dinner
Ordering food online is all the rage these days. You have GrubHub, Seamless, Eat24Hours, Delivery.com, and countless others. Who would be brave enough to launch a food ordering website in the wake of all of these, and what new idea could they possibly bring to the table?
Chicago-based Travis Johnson is such a man, brave enough to kick off a new online food ordering startup right in the home of GrubHub. Currently in private beta, foodjunky looks to keep the money in the pocket of the merchants through free registration and a fresh focus on helping businesses take care of those messy mass orders.
For over a decade Johnson’s dream has been to clean out that ludicrously overstuffed menu drawer in kitchens everywhere, and with a goal of getting 100,000 menus into its system by launch, the Chicago entrepreneur won’t have to wait much longer.
We sat down with Johnson to talk about the pains of ordering food for an office of 100 people, as well as his personal go-to indulgence (hint: it includes bacon).
What is the backstory behind foodjunky?
I originally came up with the plan in college over 10 years ago. I had an apartment and a drawer full of menus. I thought, This should be better. With the Internet there’s no reason for me to have a drawer full of menus to rifle through while constantly having new ones sent to me.
The time wasn’t really right, but I came up with a little business model for one of my classes although I never really pursued it. When I graduated I went into the family business, which was in-store marketing.
The firm’s name is Gamon International Incorporated; they sell in-store marketing materials. It’s a very successful little company, but being in the family business was very difficult and very straining on the family. I decided to get out of it, so I left. I said, “What am I going to do?”
I dusted off some old business plans and came across my online ordering plan. There were already a lot of people in the space but I thought it could be done better.
I did a whole bunch of research; I interviewed over 100 different restaurants. I figured out what they were charging, estimated what they were charging downtown in the Loop, etc. I said, “Wow this is extravagant. This is ridiculously expensive. This could be done better.”
I came up with a self-help model, where instead of charging an exorbitant fee and paying a sales department, I let the restaurants sign themselves up. It didn’t work.
I found out that merchants and restaurants are not the most tech-savvy of people right now, and they’re very much tired of sales people coming in to sell them daily deal sites and order online sites like GrubHub, Seamless, Eat24 and DiningIn.
How could this be done? I needed to get rid of the dual-segmented model. For most of these services you have to sell to the merchant and also to the consumer.
I knew I couldn’t get rid of the consumer — I’m going to have to sell the consumer one way or the other. How can I get rid of selling the merchant? The only way I could do that was by not charging them. But how?
I realized that if I could save them time, money, and resources, I could charge a little bit of a fee for that. Sure enough, I interviewed over 100 executive assistants and none of them feared fees.
Right now we’re testing in our private beta what fees works the best. So far we haven’t had any pushback, which is amazing. We’re actually reducing costs for corporations and we’re making employees happier.
The president says to the executive assistant, “Here’s my credit card. Go order food for 20 people coming into a meeting tomorrow.” They have two options: they can cater, where there’s a whole bunch of wasted food, which is wasted money. Or they can spend that time going around with a menu asking what everyone wants. If they do that it takes them hours.
I talked to one executive assistant that only does an order twice a year, but she does it for the entire 100-person firm. It takes her two weeks to get around to everyone and find out what it is they want. In my system she’d be done in a couple of minutes, if that.
It’s definitely a resource hog, but I can solve that. Charging a small flat fee per person for the order hasn’t been scary at all for businesses so we’re very excited.
When did you know you wanted to be an entrepreneur?
Back in grade school I used to make puzzles and sell them for 25 cents a pop. I would make lots of different types of puzzles and mazes.
I’ve always kind of had the entrepreneurial spirit. I was always trying to find the next thing to make a buck and this is the next thing.
I’ve been successful so I’ve been self-funding this. I did a small family and friends round, raised $40,000. I’ve put about $100,000 of my own money into the business. The rest of it’s been bootstrapping and it’s just been great.
What does a typical workday look like for you?
No day is the same. I work from home and I usually wake up somewhere between 7 and 8 o’clock. The first thing I do is have breakfast like every other normal person and then I hit the desk and turn on my computer and see what my day has in front of me.
I’ve done multiple interviews, especially since the Built in Chicago event — I’ve had quite a few interviews that I’ve had to do.
I also talk to investors. Right now we’re not meeting with or wanting investment but we are aligning to get 100,000 menus into our system. We will not be able to go live with that without having some investors.
Even if we had one order per one percent of those restaurants, that’s 1,000 orders per day. We definitely need a call center so we’re talking to investors to get that ready.
Beyond that I do limited programming. I have three programmers right now: one on the front end and two on the backend. I manage that right now through Trello, a pretty nice little website.
I’m on that basically 24/7, seeing what progress is happening and what little changes need to be made. I will wake up in the middle of the night and think of something and I’ll go to Trello and add that instantaneously so I don’t forget.
It’s always new, which is always exciting.
What was the first job you ever had?
I’d been working in the family business ever since I was 16. My very first job was packing books and working in the warehouse. What I learned from it was being on time and hitting a schedule.
I was treated like any other employee and I was on the hour, but if you showed up late you got yelled at for it. Getting through Chicago traffic, learning that in order to be on time you better be early, I guess is the number one thing I learned.
If you could add any person to your team right now, who would you choose?
What we will be looking for very shortly is a graphic designer. Our team right now is filled with very high level architects for both the back end and the front end and the graphic designer is currently me.
I have worked in graphic design but I’m not professionally trained at it. I’d say a graphic designer to really spruce up and make the GUI attractive.
What is your go-to junk food?
I don’t eat too much junk food to be honest. I’m a pretty healthy guy. Another reason why I came up with foodjunky: we are going to be highlighting all sorts of different types of search options, so you’re going to be able to search for health food items, celiac issues, and so forth.
But if I am going to have to choose a junk food, it’s going to be a big bacon classic combo at Wendy’s.
What’s next for foodjunky?
Get these 100,000 menus out and live for the public’s consumption. GrubHub and Seamless say they’re solving the
problem and putting all the restaurants in their systems so you can get rid of that drawer full of menus, but they’re
They’re getting pushback from restaurants now because of how much they charge that they’re never going to make it. Our goal is to truly get rid of that drawer full of menus so that every single restaurant that you ever could think about ordering from is going to be online, and on our site.
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