The app that
solves your mobile fast food problems,
and the Cal State East Bay entrepreneurs
Imagine this. You’re a broke student with
mountains of books to read, endless papers to write — and you’re hungry. Ravenous.
But your fridge is empty. And you don’t have a car. But even if you did, you’d
still be short on the time needed to go to the grocery store and cook for
yourself. Valuable time you need to spend studying.
Alas, you look out of your apartment window and see salvation — an encampment of ever-trendy food trucks offering global cuisine at a rate you can afford.
But, it’s winter and storming outside. And from your window you see some trucks shuttering their windows while a few holdouts struggle to serve consolidating lines of like-minded consumers. You waffle between ignoring the rumbling in your stomach or joining the shivering coats below. Finally, you make a beeline for the door.
Starting a Startup
It’s the (nearly exact) scenario that led Cal State East Bay Assistant Professor Izzet Darendeli during his days as a postdoctoral student in Philadelphia to dream up a solution to his food truck + hunger problem. It was his senior year when the strategic management scholar first had the idea for a smartphone app that could shorten wait times, streamline payments, maximize operations efficiency and resolve the advertising challenges that come with doing business on wheels. But, like all great ideas, Darendeli needed money, time and intellectual partners to make his dream come true.
He found those things — and the demographic makeup he believes is long overdue at the foundational level of tech startups — to co-create his startup at Cal State East Bay.
“There’s no effect on how a business runs if increasing diversity doesn’t make it into the boardroom,” Darendeli says. “Diversity can only have a genuine impact on the way a business runs when those conversations are happening at the highest level of a company.”
Alongside a handpicked team of Cal State East Bay students and alumni, Darendeli brought an app to market in June that he believes has the potential to transform the 1.2 billion mobile food industry.
Why It’s Different
There are plenty of food truck apps on the market. Some offer continually updated locations by either linking users to a truck’s GPS or its Twitter feed. Others offer community blogs for the local truck scene about upcoming events. But none has swept the market like Darendeli believes Trunger could, with its holistic vision of what consumers want and businesses need.
Here’s how it works.
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First, you open the Trunger app to find where trucks are located nearby. (The map within Trunger updates as trucks move, which is helpful to businesses that realize they need to make a quick-change to serve more customers.) After choosing your food truck of choice, you place your order through the app, which pays the vendor in advance and charges you a .99 convenience fee. While you’re en route to the truck to pick up your food (with an estimated time of completion and order-ready notifications included), the employees inside are already busy preparing it, enabling them to better manage the flow of orders and hourly fluctuations in business according to the time of day. When you reach the truck, you cut straight to the front of the line to pick up your hot, fresh food — a convenience Trunger promises will reduce the trucks “churn rate,” or the number of customers who pass by when they see long lines, and increase revenue by thousands of dollars.
The app also comes with data analytics for the trucks, which some vendors may not be tracking efficiently, such as most popular items sold, revenue from transactions placed through the app and more. Trunger also pays vendors directly on behalf of customers, eliminating yet another time-consuming step in the transactional process.
In order to determine the needs of their clients, the Trunger team beta-tested the app with the help of Cal State East Bay’s food trucks, including No Worries, a vegan Filipino truck run by proprietor Jayar Pugao.
“The [team] always approached things very professionally, but I know they learned how to manage vendor relationships through all the questions I asked,” Pugao says. “Sometimes they would stumble on an answer and they’d have to go find the information and bring it back to me, so I hope I helped in that way. I also hope I influenced the final product in a positive way — there were some minute issues that changed from [my truck] working with the app, such as a place where we can put a pick-up time, message with the customers and so forth. I honestly think that if it grows, it can do really well. Streamlining and compiling data in one place for [food truck owners] is very important for budgeting, shopping, everything.”
Building a Following
Just three months since going live with the app on iTunes and GooglePlay, Trunger has contracts with 10 trucks in the Bay Area, with plans to spread into L.A, San Diego and New York in the near future. Through app purchases, it’s tracking 2,553 downloads and the team plans to generate more awareness of the brand through continued marketing efforts, such as a launch campaign and a series of events that connect food trucks and customers. This summer, Darendeli also applied to become a contestant on ABC’s “Shark Tank,” which would enable the startup to generate additional funding for software development — an expense for which the professor has thus far assumed responsibility. Trunger has made it to the second round of auditions and is awaiting final word as to whether they can get in front of the sharks and pitch the app’s incredible potential.
In the meantime, rigorous stress-testing of Trunger will continue at Cal State East Bay this year. Trunger was beta-tested through relationships with the food trucks that are stationed on campus during the regular academic year, and the capacity for new downloads in fall 2017 reaches into the thousands.
Meet the Team
Trunger’s key players — a team made up of Cal State East Bay students and alumni — work around the clock to balance the development and launch of the app, as well as full-time jobs, family and school. All just a day in the life of an entrepreneur, really. Meet a few of them.
Thomas Orosco (B.S. ’16, Accounting)
From: Modesto, California
Day Job: Accountant, OUM & Co LLP
Title: Co-Founder/Accountant/Legal Consultant
Role: “I deal with contracts, how we’re going to pay the food trucks, finance issues, legal stuff — contracts with the trucks. Everything I do is worst-case scenario in terms of when the trucks get reimbursed for their costs. But, I think I have it down and a little bit of stress is OK.”
Lessons Learned: “Bug fixes in the software seem to be the hardest [issue] to resolve. And, trying to make inroads with the food truck community — the owners and vendors tend to be tight knit and a tough nut to crack. Late nights and coffee is pretty much what it takes.”
Pioneer Pride: “Cal State East Bay gave me all the tools to get a job eight months in advance of graduation. But, I think some people think it’s about the 4.0, and I think being involved is more important. That’s what builds communication skills and gives you the ability to connect with people. The grades are only going to get you so far.”
CHERNO HIDRA, SENIOR, BUSINESS ADMINISTRATION
From: Sierra Leone
Day Job: Professor’s assistant/Marketing consultant
Title: Director of Marketing/Social Media/Sales Coordinator
Role: “I’m boots on the ground. I spend a lot of time evangelizing Trunger to potential users and customers waiting in line as well. We all have 86,000 seconds each day, no one has more than that. So it’s all about how you’re going to use your time.”
Lessons Learned: “The more I talked to food truck owners, the more I realized how much I had to learn. Every vendor has a different idea about what they want and you have to try to take as much of that into account as possible. But it’s exciting to see it all come together.”
Pioneer Pride: “I fell in love with the campus, and the direct access to professors. It increases the value of a degree from Cal State East Bay exponentially.”
Isaiah Avila-De La Cruz, Junior, Finance/philosophy/environmental studies
From: Modesto, California
Day Job: Student representative, CSU Faculty Union
Title: Marketing/Social Media/Sales Coordinator
Role: “I’m out there with the food trucks, trying to get people to sign up, hearing any issues vendors have with the app, and most importantly, hearing any issues they’re having with the app so they can be resolved.”
Lessons Learned: “The realistic side of it is, it takes a lot of work. I had some experience, about a year and a half, in marketing working for a resort company but this is an entirely new company, which completely changes the amount of work that has to be done when no one knows who or what your company is. The only key to balance I’ve found is passion and drive. That’s what keeps you going.”
Pioneer Pride: “I love Cal State East Bay. I chose it for one reason — opportunity. It’s so close to Silicon Valley and there’s a lot of innovation happening on campus. I’m not surprised by that, but it’s great to see.”
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