All great entrepreneurs start somewhere. The diversity of their stories and upbringings is what makes the startup space so exciting. While there is much to be ecstatic about, I’ve been particularly interested in sitting down with founders who are building something they believe in to solve a real problem.
But Adams is different from your conventional businessman.
At the young age of 22, Adams identified the extremely promising food truck space as one that needed some innovation. So he went out to build his company. Luckily, it’s an industry that in large part favors people who work hard and are passionate about what they do.
Running a food truck business is becoming an incredibly attractive option for creators who value this flexibility and crave adventure. But like any fine skill, running a food truck successfully is no easy task. There is a ton that goes on behind the scenes that you need to do to keep a business like a food truck up and running.
I sat down with Adams last week to gather his perspective on ways to build and differentiate your food truck business. Here is what he had to say:
1. Start with Your Passion
One of the first things that initially struck me about Adams was simply how passionate he was about his business and customers. He genuinely wants to build a product, in his case, a food truck, that really helps people.
His journey speaks volumes to how far passion can take you and your business.
“We started with no idea the business would get to where it is today,” Adams told me.
At the time, Adams was no professional food trucker but he got started anyways. Adams built a team that while they were great, were not experienced in the industry. Adams, being a perfectionist/business strategist who is willing to pivot when needed, ended up partnering with one of his biggest competitors (Custom Concessions) to make an even greater impact. He had a passion for what he was doing and would not let any obstacle get in his way, even though his team was very inexperienced.
In the custom manufacturing space, experience is almost as important as effort and passion.
“You should always look to have the best team on your side and partner with experts if at all possible! This allows me to focus on what I am really good at and enjoy which is marketing and biz dev,” said Adams.
A few years later, his passion is as strong as ever as his business is growing steadily.
2. Build Something People Want
Many first time founders make the mistake of building a beautiful product that no one really wants. I’ve found that the best companies are formed out of necessity. Simply put, build a business that needs to exist.
“I started Prestige at 22,” said Adams. “It was sort of an accident. My business partner and I actually built a truck ourselves to operate and people started wondering who built it.”
His customers forced him to start the business. That is normally a really good sign, because it means that you have customers from day one who are begging for your product.
Look for places in the food truck marketplace where there are gaps. Ex: places where demand is exceeding supply. From there, you can always make a compelling case for why your business should exist.
3. Take Your Time
As entrepreneurs, we are often incentivized to do everything at 100 miles per hour. As a result, it may feel intuitive to think that expanding your food truck fleet is the best option.
But early on, it may be best to start slowly. Very slowly.
When Adams was first starting out, he told me that the early days were tough. “We got one order, and very slowly at first…”
Why is going slowly a good thing?
For starters, it lets you focus on your core competency so that you can create a solid product. In the case of food trucks, that means you have the time and attention to perfect your brand and food before you go out and scale.
In addition, starting small allows you to test your assumptions quickly and rapidly evolve. As soon as you go out and buy more trucks, your worries all of a sudden increase tenfold and you no longer have time to focus on the little things.
4. You Need to Be Different
The best companies are able to dominate a particular set or subset of an industry. In food trucks, this is especially important.
“The trucks that do the best are normally ones that target a great niche,” Adams says. “Don’t try to be a generalist with your food truck. Pick 5 regular menu items, 2 rotating seasonal, and just kill it with those!”
If you can narrow down a few items, like Adams says, you can quickly monopolize and dominate your niche. You’ll become the food truck that everyone knows for selling something specific.
Adams adds that “selling food that is typically less common around town is also a great way to differentiate.” To win in this space, you need to be different.
5. Invest in the long term
In entrepreneurship, you can never avoid hard work. Anyone who tells you that it is just being unrealistic.
Adams is pretty blunt about this advice, “The food truck business is not the place for a get rich quick scheme. Great money can be made, but you will have to work hard. It’s ok if everyone doesn’t like your truck at first. Just make sure there are a few people who do, actually love it.”
The hard part is understanding the long term, even when the short run looks terrible. With enough hard work and patience, founders can find their audience and make their business work. The problem is that most entrepreneurs lack the foresight to keep persevering.
Adams and his team are an example of the product of hard work. The first truck they built was near the end of 2012. All in all, they’ve produced about 250 since then. In 2017, they are on pace to do nearly 100 sales. Building a good company takes time.
6. Don’t Cheap Out On The Truck
Early on, cash is essential to the survival of your business. You want to be conscious of each and every dollar. The one place, though, that you cannot cheap out on is in the pulse of your business: your truck.
“The biggest mistake you can make is cheaping out on your food truck. So many food truck owners go out of business because their trucks are constantly getting fixed and worked on. That is not only added repair costs, but also time away from customers, which is lost revenue and reputation,” said Adams.
The average food trucks for sale are in the 80-120k USD range, and can go up from there depending on customizations.
You can think of your truck as the foundation of your business. You should make an investment in something that will hold a growing frame and represent your brand well.
7. Build a Strategy
It is often impossible to know just how your business will fare in the long term. Like most young entrepreneurs, Adams jumped right into building his business and did not look back.
In hindsight, though, it may have made more sense for him to build out a detailed strategy from the get go. “Looking back, I wish I had put more effort and strategy into my business idea.”
Now, he tells new food truck owners, once they come up with their concept, to have a plan. “Gather 3-6 months of operating capital in savings, come up with a strategy, and be prepared to bust your ass off.
In the short term, your goal is simple: survive. But in the long run, you want to have a strategy that you can not only afford but will also help you scale.
Adams is also a partner in Food Truckr with Pat Flynn, where you can learn more about how to create a successful food truck business.
Brian is an Inc. 500 Entrepreneur, who built the 25th fastest growth marketing and advertising agency in America. Brian is an advisor to many startups and mentor to many entrepreneurs. He is a columnist at the world’s top publications. Brian is the Founder of Influencive and the Founder at BDE Ventures.