Roaming Hunger cooks up a new food truck finder app for iOS

The food truck revolution shows no signs of hitting the brakes. Fueled by catalysts including the economic downturn, the rise of social media and a growing consumer appetite for more diverse and creative cuisine, food trucks are seemingly everywhere, expanding from their traditional stronghold in major metropolitan cities to serve foodies across the country.

It's no coincidence that the rise of food trucks coincides with the explosion of mobile device usage. Much as the mobile Web has shifted the computing experience from the desktop to smartphones and tablets, food trucks have extended the gourmand experience beyond restaurants and dining rooms to street corners and park benches--wherever you are and whatever you're doing, a great meal could literally be around the block. Not to mention that mobile devices are uniquely complementary to the food truck model, helping on-the-go consumers identify in real-time which vendors are in their immediate vicinity.

Ross Resnick founded Roaming Hunger in mid-2009 to capitalize on the food truck renaissance. Beginning with about 250 food trucks in all, the service tracks more than 2,500 trucks across the U.S. Vendors add their business to the site, and Roaming Hunger leverages Twitter updates, calendar information and related data to keep users up to date on their movements and menus. This month, Roaming Hunger issued an overhauled version of its free app for Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) iOS platform--iPhone and iPad users can map the location of nearby trucks, sort their favorites, share comments and reviews, upload photos of favorite meals and even order food for immediate pickup at the window. FierceDeveloper contributor Jason Ankeny spoke to Resnick about the Roaming Hunger concept, food trucks' popularity and the importance of customer feedback.

   Ross Resnick

Ross Resnick on Roaming Hunger's origins: I've always been interested in technology. When I was growing up, I was the one who had to fix the family computer anytime it broke. I probably shouldn't admit this, but when I was in high school, I made money burning CDs for people--I was the first person I knew with a CD burner.

I should also mention that my first job out of college was in marketing and promotions for an MVNO called Amp'd Mobile. It was one of the best times of my life. It was such an innovative product. I loved mobile apps, but I never focused on that part of the business--I always focused on content like live video and music. Amp'd had so many cool apps that never got any action from the marketing side.When I was in college at [the University of Southern California], I studied abroad in Hong Kong, and while I was there I ate a lot of street food. It's such a big part of life there. But when I came back to L.A., there was just not a lot of diversity. When gourmet food trucks started to emerge here in the U.S. and were using social media to reach out to customers, I saw it as the intersection of food and technology--two things I'm passionate about. I decided to build a website to help people track where these food trucks were located.

For my next job, I spent four years helping build an organic beverage company called Honest Tea. Coke bought the company in 2011, and that led me to Roaming Hunger, which is the culmination of all these things. It's about building out a brand that represents food truck world.

Resnick on the growing popularity of food truck cuisine: There's a movement in France called Bistronomy. Young people got sick and tired of going to these €400, put-on-a-suit-and-tie, gourmet restaurants. They wanted to take food back, to democratize it and make it affordable. That's at the core of this movement--this idea of taking back food.

Roaming Hunger - Distance

Users can uplod photos of their favorite meals from various trucks.

Before food trucks, if you wanted a quick meal, you were limited to fast food. With food trucks, instead of investing in restaurant atmosphere and ambience, you're only investing in the food. It's the same for people who always wanted to open a restaurant: The economics were out of reach. This is a more affordable structure.

Combine all that with social media, and you have a way for people to find out where trucks are and to follow them. As a consumer, you have to be able to know where the trucks are to buy their food, and if you're an operator, you have to build a social media following to build a successful business. Social media is the grease in the wheels that made things happen.

Resnick on making Roaming Hunger mobile: When I first started talking to mobile developers about doing this, they told me "Look at your website traffic, and divide that number by 100 to determine your mobile traffic." I look back now and laugh. Mobile is such a natural use case for our software: "I'm hungry, this is where I am and this is who's around me."

We launched Roaming Mobile for iOS in April of last year. Going to mobile was a learning experience. My background isn't in software development--learning to build a website was so different for me, and then we went to work on the iPhone app, we had to deal with so many new things we didn't need to with the website.

We have a lot of data, so the first version of the app was a little bit confusing. The new one is a lot better in terms of helping figure out "Where's my next meal?"

Roaming Hunger - Distance

The app lets users see how far they are from specific food trucks.

All of the changes and improvements we make come from customer feedback. I always say "We've never had a unique idea ourselves"--everything comes from feedback. We are fortunate to have a lot of passionate foodies who tell us what they think, and that determines a lot of our development process.

We will do an Android app. We wanted to make sure our iOS app is where we want it to be first. But just to be clear, I have no bias against Android.

Resnick on Roaming Hunger's business model: The app is a tool. Our revenue is based on catering services we drive through the site. We help people book trucks for various events. Our goal is to expand awareness of street food--if we can do that, we all win. Driving people to the trucks is just as important as driving them to the website.

Food trucks are expanding beyond major metros into every pocket of the U.S., and for us, it's all about keeping up with that expansion. We're seeing an explosion of new operators in secondary or tertiary markets you wouldn't expect, and that's really exciting for us. There are so many different events food trucks can cater, like weddings, bar mitzvahs, festivals and corporate events.

Resnick's best advice for aspiring mobile app developers: Figure out how to ship. I was talking to a friend of mine and told him it took us a year to build the new version of our app. He said "Look, man--there are so many people out there who never ship at all." That's my mantra: Just ship it. Let the market tell you what works and doesn't. You've got to put it out there.

I know from working in the beverage business that in other verticals, you don't get the chance to talk to people like you do in software. You get immediate feedback, and there are great analytics to help you out. Build your first draft, ship it, get it out there and see what happens.

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