The global food truck market was $3.93 billion in 2020, according to Grand View Research. Three friends from Virginia Tech, Sofiat “Sofi” Abdulrazaaq, Lemaire Stewart, and Kyle Miller, are taking advantage of that growth. The trio loved street food. After falling in love with a food truck’s delicacies, they wanted to return, but they had trouble finding the truck again because trucks move around.
The initial idea for Goodfynd was to solve the threesome’s problem of keeping track of a food truck that they liked. The team started building an app but soon found that food truck entrepreneurs had other needs, too.
When Covid-19 hit, the triumvirate initially thought their startup was done for, but opportunities soon became apparent. However, they needed money to build out their platform. As cofounders of color, who didn’t have a network that included investors, they had to meet investors in other ways. Luck is when opportunity meets preparation. This skilled team was ready.
Because food trucks take a fraction of what it costs to launch and run a brick-and-mortar restaurant, chefs are diverse, representing all races, genders, and social-economic levels. Entrepreneurs don’t need a college degree or to speak English to operate a mobile food business. The subsector is outpacing the broader foodservice industry even during the pandemic and is expected to continue to grow at a faster rate.
Like many food truck owners, the trio is diverse, with immigrant backgrounds. But the team is uniquely skilled to build a fintech platform. Abdulrazaaq was a product manager and is a lawyer, and her cofounders’ skills include web development, engineering, and UX design.
“D.C. has a robust food truck market,” said Abdulrazaaq, cofounder and CEO of Goodfynd. Office workers, retail employees, students, and out-of-town visitors partook of the offerings. Goodfynd released its first fintech product in January 2020. Three weeks later, the DMV (The Washington metropolitan area including D.C., Maryland, Virginia) shut down due to Covid-19 restrictions.
“Everybody [the three cofounders] went home and were like our business is over,” said Abdulrazaaq. “People weren’t even going out to get take out. We just wasted six months developing something that now has no merit.”
However, within a couple of weeks, regulations started to come out about what and how consumer-facing businesses could do. It was clear that food trucks fit squarely into those regulations. “Our business accelerated rapidly,” said Abdulrazaaq. “The pandemic propelled our business forward.”
Before the pandemic, many food trucks were located on city streets—close to offices and retail businesses. With so many Americans working from home, mobile food vendors were no longer within proximity of consumers. This challenge was an opportunity for food truck entrepreneurs to meet consumers where they were now located.
Most businesses can’t just pick up and go, but food trucks can. “They could go into neighborhoods where consumers lived, to parks and parking lots,” said Abdulrazaaq. Consumers must be outside when they pick up food, so timing is everything. “Our business skyrocketed. Goodfynd’s value proposition made things easier, more convenient, and more technologically efficient.”
As people of color, raising money without a referral from their network was difficult, so they didn’t even try early on. They raised money in what might seem atypical compared to how white men from Ivy League schools do who don’t have to bootstrap it.
For the first couple of years, the triumvirate funded the business themselves. They didn’t have friends and family who could afford to give or invest in the startup, which would have sped up the development process. They paid for things like hosting out of their own pockets. In 2018, while still working day jobs, they built an app so consumers could find their favorite food trucks, which frequently changed locations. By 2019, they were ready to launch Goodfynd and commit to working full time.
“Truck owners loved the service but wanted more,” said Abdulrazaaq. It wasn’t just consumers who had pain points; the operators did, too. You might think that their needs are simple because food trucks are small. “Operations are super complex, involving between seven to 10 different programs to manage their businesses,” she said.
They joined an accelerator—Lighthouse—to develop a fintech platform. Without needing to give up a piece of the company or pay the money back, Lightspeed grants founders $25,000. The three-month program was super intense. The startup received legal and financial services, help with testing, connections to mentors, and more.
Because the Goodfynd team is all techies, they could do the development work themselves and use the $25,000 for infrastructure. “We didn’t have lives in order to accomplish that,” said Abdulrazaaq. All they did was work.
While the company started by focusing on the nation’s capital, the world is its oyster. The platform isn’t limited by geographic location. “We’re not limited to a specific area,” said Abdulrazaaq. “Food trucks are all over the world.”
“We didn’t go to Harvard and have a network through the college we went to,” said Abdulrazaaq. White men can raise money on an idea. “We had to prove we had traction, revenues, and industry trends would continue in our favor.” Knowing from firsthand experience how hard it is for women and POC to raise venture capital, Lolita Taub, an operator and investor, developed a tool to match underestimated founders with investors.
The Goodfynd cofounders filled out the form and were matched with Diana Murakhovskaya of the Artemus Fund. Typically this VC invests in later-stage companies. Abdulrazaaq had another call at the time but, as luck would have it, the meeting was canceled at the last minute, and she could join the call with Murakhovskaya. What the team thought was a casual get-to-know-you conversation turned into an investor call.
“She [Murakhovskaya] asked the toughest questions,” Abdulrazaaq. “I felt unprepared and I thought I had blown it.” But there was a great vibe and, at the end of the conversation, Murakhovskaya said she would talk to her partners. The rest, as they say, is history.
The fund came in as one of Goodfynd’s lead investors and made intros enabling the startup to close a $1.8 million seed round quickly. Valor Venture co-led the round with additional capital from Accion Venture Lab and strategic angel investors.
The investment will be used to double down on their fintech tools.
What alternative ways can you meet investors?