Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
My name is Ben Goldberg and, along with my wife, Jennifer Goldberg, we founded and run the New York Food Truck Association (NYFTA) and Food Truck Promotions. We focus on mobile culinary solutions for private and large events (everything from weddings to Comic Con), as well as experiential marketing for top brands such as Ralph Lauren, Chanel, Califia Farms, Match Group, Google, Viacom, and Twitter.
Our association is composed of 50+ NYC local food truck vendors, which are mostly small, family-owned businesses. Through our events and promotions, we can provide our members with an additional (high margin) revenue stream. In markets outside of NYC, we operate under our sister company, Food Truck Promotions, where we tap into local food trucks in cities all around the country.
Within our first year of business (2016-2017), we did >$1M in revenue with consistent and every year we have had 50%+ YoY growth.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
After graduating from New York University with my undergraduate degree, I launched my own food truck selling Belgian style french fries with gourmet dipping sauces. After a year of learning the ropes, I quickly realized that the money wasn’t in traditional street sales -which was full of long grueling hours, low margins, labor-intensive, weather dependent. Instead, in an ‘aha’ moment, while catering an event for a senior VP at a big fortune 500 company, I realized that the entire food truck events market in the NYC-area was vastly untapped.
I realized that these catering events were much more profitable for food truck owners, while at the same time much more affordable than traditional catering for event hosts.
After discussing the idea for several weeks, my wife and business partner quickly pivoted to focus on events catering and corporate marketing. Leveraging my business education and industry expertise, we started our food truck association and put in countless hours of work into building a brand and network.
Traditional associations focus on advocacy, which we do as well, but we realize that the way to have the biggest impact on our members’ lives and livelihoods is to help them financially. We can do this by providing them ancillary revenue streams to their traditional street sales.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
When we were looking at how to best tap into these vertices, we did a ton of market research by talking to event planners and experiential marketing production companies. We kept hearing how they were looking for a single point of contact that could devote resources to making sure their needs were attended to.
Having worked on my own food truck, I knew that food truck owners worked long hours and the last thing they wanted to deal with at the end of a 12-hour shift was something tedious like getting a certificate of insurance (COI) for a catering client. We saw a way to help the great men and women in the food truck industry while at the same time being a profitable company, a true win-win.
Our website started in a very basic way and my wife and I coded and designed everything by ourselves. Initially, it was a listing of all of our food truck members, pictures of their trucks, as well as their menus. At the time there wasn’t anywhere to find this information, so if you wanted to hire a food truck, you had to scour the internet and social media and then reach out to them individually one by one.
Thanks to our website, prospective event hosts to peruse the best food trucks in NYC and really pick out the best trucks to fit their needs.
The initial startup costs were about $2,000 and mostly covered our website and the legal paperwork associated with starting up our company.
Describe the process of launching the business.
At first, we were very nervous about if our website and idea would work, but after taking our website “live” we instantly gained traction since there was a large demand for food trucks which were just becoming popular in NYC.
There are always aspects of a company that can be improved and often things don’t go your way. This can be stressful but a true entrepreneur takes these challenges head-on and adapts.
In our first month, we did over 30 private catering events grossing about $50,000 in sales. With the food truck I owned, I had an investor but for this endeavor, we financed everything by ourselves. This allowed us to stick to our vision and do things how we wanted to do.
The biggest lessons we learned early on are how important it is to do things correctly and by the book, especially when it comes to insurance and other permits. A lot of our clients were large companies that didn’t cut any corners and had a lot of onerous requirements such as 60-90 day payment terms.
While this posed challenges in our early days, it also gave us a competitive advantage because these companies only wanted to work with organizations like ours that we’re able to deal with the hurdles that came with working with them.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
As with anything in the hospitality industry, the customer is always right and always the most important. Our organization and company focus on making sure that the client has an amazing experience. This often means putting in long hours and anticipating what could go wrong and planning contingencies.
We put in a ton of effort into our digital marketing strategy (SEO/SEM) since if you can’t be found online, it doesn’t matter how good your product or service is. We focus on looking at how and why people are searching for food trucks online and tailor our strategy around that.
Once an event or promotion is over we spend a lot of time trying to get our clients to write us good reviews and leave testimonials. Just like when someone orders food from a delivery service, the number one thing prospective clients look at our reviews.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
As with most businesses we have had to adapt during COVID-19. Since many of our events were large gatherings, we have had to focus more on brand promotions. These mobile marketing activations usually consist of “wrapping” a food truck in a company’s branding and then handing out samples to help build brand awareness.
These promotions tend to be smaller and more intimate than events, so they have really thrived during the pandemic. Brands are very eager to stand out and connect with their customers during these trying times and not only connect with them digitally. These experiential marketing experiences allow them to connect on a much deeper level with their customers and build a lot of brand loyalty.
I am a firm believer that at some point in the not too distant future, things will start to return to normal in the event industry and that people will go back to having large gatherings. Certain changes will stay permanent, such as having hand disinfectant stations and less interaction with staff, but I believe that people are naturally social and gatherings are not something that can be replaced with zoom calls in the long term.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
I think the most important thing that we have learned as business owners is that you have to be nimble and always learn to adapt. A quote from Mark Cuban that I really like is that “We Don't Live in the World We Were Born Into.” Things are constantly changing and the job of an entrepreneur never ends. There are always aspects of a company that can be improved and often things don’t go your way. This can be stressful but a true entrepreneur takes these challenges head-on and adapts.
If you believe in what you do and enjoy it, then you can get through the tough times, which are part of the learning process.
I think it is also extremely important to do your due diligence while at the same time being decisive. Before we make decisions at our company, we look at it from as many angles as we can and try and challenge ourselves to see how we could be wrong or how we might be seeing it through the wrong lens. Once we have come to a decision we don’t look back and second guess ourselves. It is very important to trust in the work you have done and in the people you have hired.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
Hubspot has been an extremely useful tool since we often have several hundred clients a year. This tool allows us to track deals in a pipeline as well as keep notes on specific events and clients. This allows us to keep things organized as well as harvest repeat business.
Social media is also a very powerful tool for us since we are in the food and beverage industry. People “eat” with their eyes and the best way to sell any food-related business is with some “drool-worthy” photos. Food trucks are meant to be a fun experience and social media allows us to highlight this. Often people will see these posts in their feed and then decide they want to mimic what they have seen and then reach out to us to book an event or promotion.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
While I listen to business-related podcasts, I would say that Shark Tank has been the biggest resource for us. We are very big fans and learning from the success and failures of the entrepreneurs on the show has helped us avoid these pitfalls and learn from some of the most successful individuals around.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting?
I think the most important thing is to do something you enjoy. If you get up every morning excited then you have something great and not works. You should be passionate about what you take on because the life of an entrepreneur is often tough and filled with doubt and uncertainty. If you believe in what you do and enjoy it, then you can get through the tough times, which are part of the learning process.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
Soon, we plan to hire several individuals in digital marketing/strategy. We get most of our leads through SEO and then aim to convert leads to long-term clients. These hires will be tasked with spreading the word of what we do online and helping to get our brand seen by potential clients.
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
Hey! 👋 I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
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