FoodWheelin’ is an exciting new tool available in the app store of iTunes that uses beacons to track the locations of food trucks in real-time to help customers locate their favorite mobile eats. This tool can also be used by mobile food vendors to provide customers coupon codes, menus, pricing and more.
In today’s blog post, we’ve got an exclusive Q/A with co-founders Marlene Zenker and Alex Wechsler to discuss this innovative new technology. Whether you’re a food truck owner or fan, you can learn more about this app by visiting FoodWheelin.com.
M&R: Tell us about your background and how you got interested in the food truck industry?
I suppose that you could say I’m a geek at heart. I have been fascinated with computers since I was 13! Over the years I have worn many hats from software & hardware testing, to software development, customer support, account and product management, and Linux administration. Each of these has given me a unique perspective to contribute to the development of our product and service.
As for the food industry, food has always represented special memories for me. Growing up in Brazil, we were not exposed to many fast food restaurants. Meal-time consisted of home cooking and family. So, food means more to me than nutrition. It is an experience. And each experience creates a special memory. The food truck scene offers diversity of dishes and foods that you don’t necessarily see every day. Every food truck is essentially its own startup—with vendors taking on risks and going after their dreams! As an entrepreneur at heart, I can relate to the risk-taking and dream-following.
I have always had an insatiable appetite to know how things work. I have early memories of taking apart everything (including electronics) and putting them back together again. So, computer technology was a natural segue. My technology focus specifically began as a hobbyist back in 1980 and progressed to a professional career in 1985. I have been a programmer, database analyst, educator, director of IT, and consultant. In 2008, I entered the world of iOS programming as did Alex and continue to this day.
My connection to the food industry is family! My father was a waiter for 58 years, my brother has been a purchaser and general manager in the food industry for 40 years and over the past 15 years, my son has been a bartender, server, restaurant GM, and most recently a trainer. And…did I mention my mother was a fantastic chef?
I love Food Trucks! I love the entrepreneurial spirit of food truck owners, whether they are franchisers or individual truck owners and I love the incredible variety of delicious food they provide. I know how long and hard the hours are and how challenging it can be to be successful . Knowing how hard my family worked and the long hours they put in it gives me an even greater appreciation of those dedicated to food service, So, when the opportunity to combine my passion for technology and my love of food presented, I knew it was the right path.
M&R: Explain how Food Wheelin’ works. What are the benefits to a food truck owner?
FoodWheelin’: FoodWheelin’ is a service which enables the Food Truck vendor to get information about their food, specials and truck information to the customer through the customer’s mobile device! It is a live service not static—which means that the vendor can log in and make changes on the fly, even during an event or everyday business.
Customers will be able to view your menus, specials, and truck location by logging into their Food Wheelin’ app! And because your truck will appear on their map once they open their app, you can whet their appetites and help them decide where they would like to eat!
M&R: I understand you need a beacon to track the food trucks. Can you tell us about the equipment needed?
FoodWheelin’: Essentially that is it. The beacon is a small device placed in the truck which sends a signal to help customers find them as well as view their menus and specials. Beacon range is 150-200 feet so a potential customer who may not see a truck will find one by being alerted by the app even running in the background. When the vendor pairs the truck to the service GPS mapping is enabled even when out of beacon range.
M&R: Can you describe what the build process was like for the App? How did you determine what types of features to add to the software?
FoodWheelin’: Essentially, we both had a number of ideas of how to use beacons to provide a service. We chose the food industry and food trucks in particular because we wanted to help vendors find customers and customers to find food trucks. We decided on a list of ‘must-haves’ including menus, coupons, flexibility and ease of use, ability to edit offerings on the fly, exceptional service, providing value and reliable communication, and promote an opportunity for success.
We tested many different beacons and selected Gimbal (http://gimbal.com) because of their range, durability, and the fact that they are ‘optimized for outdoor use.’ Next, we began to develop prototypes, testing and selecting and using the best software, servers, and the appropriate mobile platform. We chose RackSpace (http://rackspace.com) servers because of ease of growth as well as their reputation for reliability and service. We knew from experience that the best way to help bring people to the trucks was to create an app that is free for customers! And that offering the app for free is likely to increase downloads by customers, encourage frequent use of the app, and connect more people to the trucks!
M&R: How do you get setup within Food Wheelin’ and start an account? What sort of information and/or technology do you need to get started?
FoodWheelin’: Setup is fairly straightforward. Like most online services, there is a login page on which the vendor will create an account. Once they confirm their account and log in there is a form in which to provide their contact information so we know where to send the beacon & instructions. Afterwards the vendor may select a plan based on the number of trucks they wish to subscribe to the service. Once subscribed the vendor will enter a description and picture of their truck and then create one or more menus and coupons for their trucks. It’s essentially that simple, after the information is in the system and the vendor has placed the beacon on their truck, they ‘pair’ their truck with their mobile device and customers will know where to find them.