Part 1: Startup Mode
In June 2020, a small startup launched by college grads from Virginia Tech reached a significant milestone: $100,000 in revenue. What was even more notable was the fact that their success stemmed from the food industry. While restaurant owners were stitching together plans for curbside pickup and delivery in order to pay next month’s rent, the friends—Lemaire Stewart, Sofiat “Sofi” Abdulrazaaq, and Kyle Miller—found themselves with a huge boost in traffic that was due, in large part, to the pandemic.
The trio had founded a platform called Goodfynd, which allows you to find and order from a food truck near you. It also connects food truck owners with brick-and-mortar properties such as apartment buildings or campuses that are looking to host them. The idea struck around eight years after graduating, when Stewart and Miller reconnected in 2017 and tossed around the basic question of how to find food trucks nearby. With Miller’s background in UX design and Stewart’s software engineering expertise, they began building the bones of the platform.
At the time, the food truck industry was experiencing bonkers-level growth. From 2014 to 2017, it saw an overall revenue increase of 300%, and reach $1.4 billion by 2019. In DC alone, there were 900 registered trucks pre-pandemic, according to the DMV Food Truck Association, a group of food truck owners whose attention Goodfynd sought to grab. Their technology was ready—now they needed users.
Three days after officially establishing Goodfynd on January 9, 2018, Stewart and Miller sponsored the food truck association’s holiday party at the bargain rate of $300. The duo pitched the opportunity to sign up for free professional photoshoots—a win-win for both sides, as Goodfynd needed the photos to build their website, and food truck owners were free to use them for marketing purposes. This earned the trust of the owners, and—along with a raffle system to incentivize food trucks to continually update their locations—enabled Goodfynd to quickly build partnerships with 50 trucks around the DMV. That spring, the team brought on Abdulrazaaq as CEO and Patrick Powell as head of sales and outreach.
But by the end of 2018, the food trucks were gone. “Like most startups, it was kind of a rollercoaster,” says Stewart. Not only were colder temps keeping the foot traffic at bay, the bigger issue was that the team lacked the data to prove to food truck owners that by continually sharing their locations, Goodfynd was actually sending people to their trucks. Many owners work solo or in small teams, making the constant updating unmanageable. “It was back to zero. We had to start over.”
Fortunately, 2019 brought two opportunities that gave the team the space and tools to step back and regroup. In the spring, they were accepted into Seed Spot‘s accelerator, which focuses on social entrepreneurs. Then, the team landed with Richmond-based accelerator Lighthouse Labs, which gave them $20,000 of non-dilutive capital, meaning Goodfynd could keep the money without giving up equity or ownership. Since Stewart had already built the proprietary product, they could use the money to ramp up infrastructure and cover any future legal fees. In January 2020, Goodfynd released its first fintech (financial technology) product. It was about to be the right idea at a very right time.
Part 2: ALX Community + Goodfynd = Go Time
By mid-summer, ALX Community was percolating with a little bit of member activity, but overall, the offices and Flex desks remained empty. It was hard to feel a sense of community amongst the haze of uncertainty and fear that draped Alexandria. But it had been a little too quiet for a little too long.
Then, an idea. What if we brought the community together in a safe way? What if we could get families out of the house for a night of fun while helping those nonprofits and businesses hit hardest by the pandemic?
What about a drive-in movie?
After a few weeks of pure hustle from ALX Community staff, members, and volunteers, the Alexandria Drive-in debuted on August 29, 2020 with a showing of Jurassic Park. It was Alexandria’s first drive-in movie theater in nearly four decades, bringing life to the empty parking lot of a former office building on Eisenhower Avenue. It sold out in less than 24 hours, with all ticket proceeds going to local nonprofits, including ACT for Alexandria and Athena Rapid Response Innovation Lab. And because a trip to the movies isn’t complete without snacks, food trucks were hired in advance to feed the crowd.
At this point, 90% of food trucks had fled DC for more residential areas in Virginia, where a large majority of office employees were now working from home. But suburban lunch breaks are a whole different ball game than catering to a hungry drive-in crowd, and soon the handful of trucks on site were overwhelmed with demand. Watching a cascade of issues unfold, Lore Burek, then the Member Experience Manager at ALX Community, had an idea. Remember the accelerator that Goodfynd was part of in the spring of 2019, Seed Spot? As it turns out, Burek had been in the same cohort as Stewart and Miller, and remembered the food truck app they’d been working on. It could be just the kind of solution the drive-in needed, so that night she reached out to them on LinkedIn.
“Kelly [Grant, COO of ALX Community] basically had faith in us instantly,” says Stewart, recalling the first conversation he had with Burek and Grant over the phone. “We were definitely appreciative of that and we went right to work.” Within just a couple of days, Goodfynd built a solution to streamline the ordering and delivery process at the drive-in. When it launched, the team stayed on site to ensure things ran smoothly, even helping the trucks deliver food to cars.
“It was a good source of learning to figure out all the different things we had to have in place to make this kind of thing work on its own, to make sure the trucks knew what they had to do without us being there,” says Stewart. “It really helped evolve our application overall.” Eventually the team hit a big milestone—they were able to stay remote during the movies.
The drive-in also provided a much-needed boost for the food trucks. “At the end of the day, that’s who we serve,” says Stewart. “We always want to make sure they have what they need for their businesses to thrive. They were already struggling with staying afloat, and this turned out to be really big for many of them. It was definitely a huge, huge part of our journey.”
Another huge part? A little backing from investors. This January, six months after the drive-in series officially wrapped, Goodfynd raised $1.8 million in venture capital. Stewart can’t yet say what’s next for the team, but you can bet it’ll be ahead of the ever-changing food industry trends.
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