Learning From Mistakes

Solo Founding a +$167,000/Month Food Startup

Bruno is the CEO of Trackin, a startup that releases technology for companies to start a food delivery business. He rapidly built the MVP, acquired $25,000 from the 3 best French entrepreneurs, and started with different marketing campaigns. A year ago, Tracking was making +$167,000/month. Since then, they have multiplied their numbers!

Trackin Mistakes

Hi Bruno! What's your background, and what are you currently working on?

Hi Failory!

I have a master degree in Computer Science, and I’ve learned how to code and use computers when I was 12. I released my first website when I was 14 years old. At that time XHTML was fancy and JavaScript was the ENEMY. I was also leading a couple of video game teams that were at the top of the French scene.

Even though I’m a ‘tech guy’, I’ve also always been a people person, which allowed me to build products while creating direct relationships with people who needed them and acquire skills that some techies might not have.

I’m currently the CEO of Trackin, which has released the technology for any company to start a food delivery business within a day, and MobyDish, which is our main focus today. MobyDish is a full-catering online service for companies of 10 to 1000+ people.

MobyDish Logo

What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?

I’ve always been an entrepreneur. As a kid, I was a student of a private school, and hanging out with kids that received money from their parents. In order to have the same level of life than them and not be left behind, I would find out what students would need, and just make it happen!

Before my work on Trackin, I was CTO of another catering company. One of our main pain points was the delivery and find out where the food was. It really makes you look bad to not be able to answer such question when the order size is worth $1k+. I quickly realized that it was a worldwide problem. Even the big brands like Pizza Hut didn’t know what was going on with their drivers as soon as they left a restaurant. I looked up online and didn’t find any technology to streamline deliveries, so I just went ahead, quit my job, my visa, my girlfriend, and life in San Francisco. I went back to France and started to work on the tech!

Then long story short, I showed it around the world to different restaurants after a few months and an MVP, then I launched it, got some interesting growth and joined Y-Combinator. 

Being half French and half Italian, I really care about food, and I couldn’t keep seeing people having bad experiences towards it. It definitely made sense to come up with technology so that people stop being scared to order food online and wait for hours without any news from the restaurant.

Also, as a people person, I do care a lot about user experience and making people happy. With MobyDish, it is the perfect opportunity to have a huge impact on the food space and to connect people together, the right way.

The idea is not just to feed people but to create such a great and easy experience, that we’ll democratize catering like Airbnb democratized renting apartments from individuals, globally.

How did you build Trackin?

I will always remember the first days working on Trackin. Looking for the right name, right domain, right design. I spent about 3 days working of the first version on the logo, and my computer crashed...my work on Photoshop was all gone before I got a chance to save it...Worst day of my life at that time, and first lesson learned...Save your work ALL THE TIME.

Trackin Logo

I pitched the idea to a few people and a friend decided to join the journey as a backend engineer/DevOps while I’d take care of the rest.

After a few months building the MVP, I’ve traveled to meet with restaurants, collect data and improve our tech and features. The first time I tried to show the product to restaurants, I was petrified. I felt like my baby, ideas and product were about to be judged for the first time. Fortunately, people liked it.

Then, in order to scale, I needed to find money to hire some people. We won some French national contests, got money from the government, loans, banks, and other European awards that gave us enough to hire people.

Unfortunately, my friend decided to leave the startup to focus on his full-time job instead of Trackin.

Trackin Pitch
‍First time pitching Trackin. 1min to convince for 25k in front of the 3 best French entrepreneurs. Yes, we got the 25k ;)

With all the excitement around us and my knowledge of the food space, I decided to take over his role as well and kept working on Trackin as a solo founder. After six months of improvements, and a couple of press release, I closed our first paying customer (which wasn’t even a restaurant but an alcohol delivery company at night) and things became real. I officially incorporated the company and hired interns to get things going. Dealing with inquiries, marketing, and sales.

The first version looked okay, but pretty bad for my current standard, and the new generation of employees was able to use it pretty easily. I’ve always enjoyed showing the product to someone and just stare at how the person would interact with it, where he would struggle, what kind of questions he would have...at that time there weren’t yet online tools to record the online experience and stream it back at you ;)

Trackin App
Old school Cordova app with jQuery-mobile design :)

I will always remember how I was answering to calls from my first customers at 2 am. I would be pushing code and new Android apps based on their problems the minute we’d hang up to keep them happy (like connectivity issues, UX, etc.). 

Our first pricing model was to charge per driver tracked on the platform, kind of salesforce charges for number of seats, but it didn’t make sense for restaurants. Then we decided to charge per deliveries. We felt like it was easier to convert restaurants this way because if they were just launching or were small, we were helping them grow faster, at a lower cost. If they were already established, they would pay more because they use us more and would improve their service, brand, and efficiency.

When I’ve started, I knew nothing about sales processes, but I’ve learned by talking to people with more experience than me. Then I started to execute. We grew 10x in 4 months and I got lucky enough to sit down with Michael Seibel in my city (Lyon, France). After having dinner with him and sharing my story, he invited me to apply to YC.

I didn’t think twice to jump on the opportunity, rented a house in San Jose, left my life in France, sold my furniture, gave up on my lease, prepared my employees, and moved back to California...Then I went through the program, learned a ton, fundraised enough to survive and then started to work on MobyDish.

Trackin HQ
House in San Jose, first Trackin HQ!

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Which were your marketing strategies to grow your business?

I’d say there are not many secrets to growth. Combining techniques and doing it the right way by paying attention to details and knowing what you do is key.

I’ve always been good at multitasking, and quick growth, to me, means combining many channels, then focus on the ones that work for your business.

My main idea though as always trying to create a strong brand, and it has a lot to do with growth. People need to be emotionally attached to what I create. Long term, it decreases marketing costs, increases retention and organic growth.

  • Online Marketing (SEO, Adwords, Blog, Content creation)

Find out who your target is, what keywords they’re looking for when they have the pain points you’re trying to solve.

Address these pain points through blog articles, short sentences for SEO and ads, etc. Establish your credibility by sending these in newsletters or on social media.

We became profitable and fed more than 250,00 people in a year and a half with this Mobydish design... (which was already V2)

  • Direct sales:

Almost everything can be automated or outsourced nowadays. But when I started I did learn by doing all of it myself. Although I hadn’t realized how important it was to start with a good list of leads. Talking to salespeople I quickly came up with ideas on how to automate SDR, Follow up and Sales pitch.

Constant email tweaks, A/B testing and looking at opening rates/conversion rate is key.

 

  • Product growth:

Just think about ways your users can recommend you or add gamification for stickiness and make your users feel great about your product. Then when you make them feel great, invite them to talk about your product to someone else! I always use the Candy crush example. People love playing it because they feel great about themselves when they’re playing it. It’s fairly easy but challenging sometimes, and most and foremost, you get animations and congratulations for almost everything you’re doing. The game keeps praising your actions!

I also like to make others laugh or feel good about themselves so the notifications in Trackin are pretty funny and different from what you would read in standard SAAS.

 Getting a sense of self-improvement, especially regarding sales was amazing. Finding the right introductory sentence to get to talk to a manager and by-pass employees, being aware of what to answer based on questions, being able to read people concerns, see their reactions to the features we knew they would love...were all great feelings.

Today with MobyDish, I love to hear customers from Silicon Valley (used to deal with the best products) how they enjoy working with us VS companies like Doordash, Caviar or others. Because these companies have raised millions and are hundreds, when we’re super small, profitable and mainly backed by angels, and still being the company they like most. Another funny fact is that some of the biggest VCs in Silicon Valley that have invested in these food companies, are using MobyDish to feed themselves :)

What were the biggest challenges you faced and obstacles you overcame?

Deciding to leave the life I’ve built in San Francisco to start Trackin was already a big step. I am an entrepreneur and wanted to get back to that life, but this time it meant giving up on a visa, job, life, friends, cheap place etc.

Then getting back to France, it was hard for people to understand my ambitions, I kept hearing that I should start “slowly and not aim too high and slow down on international expansion”

Follow your guts when you hear people telling you that it’s not the right thing to do and how to approach things is tough, because some people will be right about some aspects of your business, but some people will be wrong...so how do you know which one to listen to?

Deciding to keep working on this adventure alone was another big challenge, and it has been since then. Getting into YC, talking to investors, managing your company...you are expected to do as well as other companies, even though you’re alone. I’ll always remember Michael Seibel during the program explaining to the batch how solo founders are supposed to be “superheroes” because expectations are at least the same and nobody will help out. Although I feel very fortunate, because looking back, I have learned so much about everything related to creating and growing a business: management, sales, hiring, marketing, accounting, technology, customer support, scalability, fundraising etc. There are days I wish I had more time to be a normal CEO, but overall, it’s a huge chance to be able to lead a growing company by yourself, because the amount of new skills you get is extremely valuable and will help you not only in your business life but also in your personal life. Everything becomes so easy!

The last biggest challenge I had to face was being in the food space. We came late in the game and humans are not really objectives...After some bad investments were made, and after some companies failed, (mainly because of lack of business models and leadership), food suddenly became a ‘bad’ market. Which forced me to build a business sustainable and profitable right away instead of taking the VC shortcut.

But at the end of the day, it made us stronger and we have solid foundations to scale!

Which are your greatest disadvantages?

I guess my last paragraph above answers this question.

Being a solo founder, in the food space in the most expensive city of the world is not ‘ideal’ facing some of the most founded companies in that space.

Luckily for us, things are doing great! :)

 

During the process of building & growing Trackin, which were the worst mistakes you committed?

I’ve made huge hiring mistakes, multiple times, always ended well though, because I don’t think like you win anything by fighting with people for your ego. And I kept people for too long in the team when I knew they weren’t performing.

Trackin Team
Pic of some people the team at a company retreat in Napa Valleyof

We also made mistakes regarding our first targets with Trackin: we wanted to build the product for chains, but started talking to small businesses, so developed features based on their feedback, then realized chains were making more sense as target, but needed different features and had longer sales cycles. After trying to sell to chains and talking to experimented investors, I realized that to build a solid business I should sell to small businesses. A lot of them. Chains would ask for custom features and would take tons of time to make decisions, payments etc. Plus, they would represent a high percentage of your revenue and losing one of them could be meaning laying of people.

Another mistake I’ve made was spending too much time to get money from government, loans, and contests. This is honestly all bullshit. It’s not because you’re winning contests that customers will show up, love your product and pay you. Contests are only good to have press articles and to get some credibility but it’s not a long-term strategy. This is still a common mistake made by entrepreneurs. The money helped me start hiring people, but the paperwork needed for it and still needed today wasn’t worth it.

Keeping people too long in your team when you know they are creating problems or not performing the way you want is also a big mistake. I’ve tried to help and change too many people, at some point you can’t help everybody and need to hire people that will bring great things since day 1, especially in a startup. Then in a big corporation, you can do the opposite.

Last but not least, as a co-founder of a company before Trackin, I’ve built the product with my engineers and my CEO without actually talking to the market. We thought we knew what people wanted when we actually didn’t.

We spent almost a year building a product that didn’t make any sense to the market we targeted and closed almost as soon after we “launched”.

Apart from mistakes, what are other sources of learning you would recommend for entrepreneurs who are just starting?

I think that learning from books is a great start, although it’s not always easy to remember everything and apply it in your life. If the book tells you to do one thing when a situation shows up, and if your emotions are taking over your brain or you just simply can’t remember what it was, then you’ll make the same mistakes again. Having some kind of routine to digest new lessons learned and what to do based on a specific situation is very important.

I like to plan ahead and have a vision of what I want to do with my company long term, but it’s also very important to set shorter term goals, that will take you there and try to reach them. You’ll face new challenges that you will have to solve. Being highly focused on solving these problems one at a time, one after another and cut the distractions, will allow you to reach your main goal, then the next one and so on.

As you’re facing these problems, you can then look for answers in books or ask people that have been through similar issues.

Then looking back, you’ll realize how far you’ve gone.

You can get to smart people from networks of entrepreneurs, incubators, alumnis of your school, or just shoot an email to someone you really want to talk to. Explain why you’re asking for his/her help. Entrepreneurs who started from scratch usually enjoy sharing their knowledge and experiences. 

Where can we go to learn more?

You can learn more about Mobydish here. You can visit Trackin here, but we’re not accepting new customers at the moment. And one day, I’ll have time again to share all my knowledge on my website!

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