So you think you can design

The ease of starting an online business or creating a mobile app has empowered individuals around the world to become entrepreneurs.  As a result, there are A Lot of internet startups and new apps, and more continue to emerge every day.  But what we are seeing from the ones that survive are not just a unique idea or business model, convenience of service, better and sustainable margins, but also innovative design that creates an enjoyable and engaging experience for the user.

Great ideas must be communicated through great design.

With increasing emphasis on design today (and really everyday!), I think it’s important to revisit the design framework laid out by Dieter Rams.

What is “Good Design”

  1. Innovative
  2. Makes a Product Useful
  3. Aesthetic
  4. Makes a Product Understandable
  5. Unobtrusive
  6. Honest
  7. Long-Lasting
  8. Thorough Down to the Last Detail
  9. Environmentally Friendly
  10. As Little Design as Possible

 

In my recent Never Enough Time post, I discuss the importance of design and review features for calendar systems and apps.  I’ve also discussed the importance of design and the qualities of good design in past posts such as Shop A Swag.

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Invest in People

I believe in investing in people.  When I was in college actively searching for internships and a full-time job, I only wished for one thing: someone to invest in my potential and believe that if given the opportunity, I will succeed.

We are all startups. We have plans to succeed, we have visions and dreams, we face unexpected challenges that change our course, we sometimes fail and we will require the help of others to succeed.

In my junior year of college, I booked a trip to New York in hopes to meet someone that would be willing to mentor me and help me land a job in my dream city.  I reached out to alumni through e-mails, letters and phone calls, asking them to meet with me.  I was able to only land a handful of meetings, but I was determined to meet more when I arrived.  From the day I arrived in NY, I was jumping in and out of cabs and subways, and running around in my heels to make it to my meetings.  The experience was exhilarating but also terrifying.  With each meeting, I learned more about myself and what I wanted because I gained industry knowledge through conversations, I learned how the companies were structured, and I was able to see the culture and jobs that were masked behind the prestigious logos and tall buildings.  I found out what I didn’t know and what I needed to know to succeed in the industry.  I realized that this was what I really came to New York for.  I was referred to more individuals through my existing meetings and even ended up extending my flight last second to meet with a few more individuals.  It was a life-changing experience and one that I will always thank myself for.

I was determined to share this experience with others and so I founded BrightEyes in my last year of college.  I am very excited to share that last Sunday, we completed our second BrightEyes Study Tour.  This year’s Study Tour was focused on the startup and venture capital industries.  We selected 5 student entrepreneurs from UC San Diego to travel to San Francisco and Silicon Valley for 4 days to meet with industry professionals and tour startups and VC’s.

You can read about the trip on the BrightEyes Blog.

 

 

Finding Value in Idle Assets

As a result of new marketplaces, platforms and services, owners are now able to recover value in some of their idle assets.  I will keep adding to this list over time but here’s some to start.  I observe that people are starting to lose sentimental value in ownership and that the barrier to entry of needing to purchase for usage is diminishing.  As such, we are seeing growing emphasis on usage and efficiency by the consumer.  The following list illustrates this phenomenon:

  • Homes – Airbnb, OneFineStay, HomeAway
  • Cars – Lyft, Sidecar
  • Art – Artspace, ARTtwo50, Artfinder, Creative Resale
  • Time – Monetize extra time w/ service businesses like Task Rabbit or use extra time to learn w/ Khan Academy, Lynda.com, edX, etc.
  • Ideas – SideProjectors, Hashtaag
  • Money – (extra $$ to invest) Lending Club, Kickstarter, Indiegogo, Rockethub, Razoo, wefunder, Common Bond, equity crowdfunding platforms (too many)
  • Books – Amazon, eBay, Bookbyte, Textbooks.com (too many)
  • Love? – Girlfriends are not to be left idle!!! But fill your dating schedule with Tinder, OkCupid, Grouper,…
  • Musical Instruments – Reverb, MusiciansHub
  • Crafts/Designs – Etsy, Shapeways, Thingiverse, Cubify, GrabCAD, Mixee Labs, Sketchfab,…
  • Clothes – Too many…but Poshmark, Vaunte, The RealReal, see more in my previous post about online/mobile consignment
  • 3D Printers – 3D Hubs, Maker6
  • Manufacturing/industrial equipment – Asseta
  • Recipes – Kitchensurfing, Yummly, Foodily, Tastnotes, allrecipes.com, BigOven,…
  • Sample Products – Birchbox, Beauty Army
  • Alcohol – The Box Noir
  • Venue spaces – Storefront, Eventup, eVenue
  • Old electronics – Craigslist, eBay, Glyde, Gazelle
  • Furniture – One Kings Lane, Craigslist, eBay, Amazon, Chairish
  • RV’s/Trailers – rvshare.com, PureRV, Wonderide
  • Coins – Coinstar

To be continued…

NYE 2013: Self-Reflect, Learn, Remind & Take Action.

I was hesitant to write this post as I realize I’m about to share more from my heart than from my head.  Only my very first post was a personal post…But I think my readers deserve to get to know me a little better.

2013 was my first full year outside of California.  It wasn’t easy being so far away from friends and family, and I found myself searching for any excuse to visit home (frequent flight deals made it too easy!).  But don’t get me wrong, I Love New York and don’t have any regrets about the day I said yes to the job that would fly me to the other coast.  I’ve learned to not only adapt but also embrace the density of the city, the constant energy in the streets, the intimidating tall buildings, the always-crowded restaurants and lounges, the rush on the subways, and even the snow (but more so because the humid summers are so much worse..).  I also love that the east coast brings me so much closer to Europe, where most of my 2014 travels will be planned!  And I have to share that I am now able to walk numerous blocks in high heels (my Rainbows have been a little idle).

It’s been a tough but very fun year trying to balance my full-time job as a valuation analyst with my new blog and increased involvement in the NY tech community.  I love the challenge.  It fuels me and makes me feel alive.

If you’ve been following my recent tweets, you will notice a number of mentions about 3D Hubs, a collaborative platform for 3D printer owners and 3D makers (Check them out!).  I’ve been assisting the 3D Hubs US team in their efforts to build out their US presence and some of you may have seen my blog post for their new Designer Series on Francis Bitonti (more to comeJ!).  Looking back, I feel very fortunate to have come across these opportunities.  But I am even more grateful for the friends I’ve made along the way this past year.  Each new friend opened my mind and eyes a little more, taught me something new, helped me find my passion and gave me the confidence to take risks as I pursue my passions.  To my new friends, if you’re reading this, thank you.

Looking forward, I hope to foster both the old and new relationships and grow with them.  Relationships are hard to maintain in our busy schedules, and I would argue that friendship can sometimes be more easily lost than gained without constant effort, especially as we get older because new priorities emerge.  As such, my first new year’s resolution is to always be connecting (My A-B-C) with family, friends and even acquaintances.  This also encompasses connecting with new individuals as well.  I believe often times the most powerful conversations we have are with strangers because the new stories and information exchanged help us discover something about ourselves and the world in that very moment.

My second resolution is to take more risks.  Looking back on 2013, I’ve realized I am more risk averse than I believed myself to be.  Today, twenty-somethings are more focused on getting ahead in their careers early on and establishing a stable income after a few years of work.  Financial instability is not as acceptable as it was in previous generations as education and resources are more readily available for our generation (we have the benefit of both online and offline learning tools), preparing us better to attain a job opportunity.  But we have to recognize the world is taking more risks on our generation and our ideas.  The most recent investments in what may have initially appeared as a crazy idea (well, I still think Snapchat is crazy…) was a door to endless opportunities for development in science, health, finance, education, human interaction and so much more.  Not sure where my first risky step will be, but I promise you it will be towards something I am passionate about and that I believe will change and improve people’s lives, and not driven by financial incentives.

My third resolution is to continue to be forever young.  There are some things you can only do when you’re young and I plan to not miss out.  I travelled a lot in 2013 and I intend to do that again!  Travel is a beautiful experience to me.  It is the perfect combination of isolation and constant interaction, a discovery process both within and around us.  I also challenge myself to be more spontaneous, something I believe is a behavior of the youth and will keep us on our toes.  Sometimes, too much thinking holds us back from a great opportunity!  As one professor in college once advised me, “Just do it, Tiffany!  Head down and go for it!”  One of the best advices I’ve ever gotten.

And some final thoughts and goals…

A year from today, I hope to continue to share interesting blog posts with my family, friends and readers.  I admire individuals who have been blogging for many years.  Consistent posts aren’t easy and I found that out after only 4 months!

A year from today, I hope to be doing more of what I love.

A year from today, I wish to still not have any regrets because I never didn’t “Just Do It”.

Happy New Year, Friends!  

12/31/2013

Oh the Places Food Trucks Will Go!

I’ve always been curious about the food truck business.  Every day, a variety of food trucks line up along Park Avenue outside my office during lunch.  Long lines form around the trucks with people eagerly waiting to buy a lobster roll, dessert pizza, chicken with rice or donut ice cream.

In 2012, there were approximately 3,000 food trucks and carts in New York alone, and food truck revenue was estimated to be approximately $650 million.  The average customer spends approximately $10 on lunch and $15 on dinner at a food truck.  A previous study showed that the largest consumers for mobile vendors are individuals between the ages 25 to 34, spending an average of $44 a month.  In the past 5 years, the food truck industry has experienced tremendous growth with revenue jumping 6.1 percent in 2008 to $1.1 billion and 9.5 percent in 2009 to $1.2 billion.

food truck lines

Breaking In

Although the food truck business is a simple concept and has a lower overhead than restaurants, there exists many challenges in entering the business and becoming a sustainable market leader.  The initial costs to start a food truck include the truck, a permit to operate, parking, supplies and insurance.  The average cost of a food truck ranges anywhere from $30,000 for a used food truck (e.g. Vending Trucks offers food trucks with a very basic mobile kitchen in an older step van for $40,000) to $300,000 or more (newly customized gourmet food truck).  A retrofitted truck would cost around $60,000+.

Even more important than the truck is the permit required to operate a food truck in a state.  In New York, food truck owners are required to have a Mobile Food Vendor Personal License and a Mobile Food Vending Unit Permit.  The permit in New York expires in 2 years and the fee is $200 for a processing food unit and $75 for a non-processing food unit–the sale or distribution of only pre-packaged foods or foods that do not require cooking or any other treatment that exposes the food to contamination.  In comparison, a permit costs $500 in Boston, $1000 in Chicago for a processing food unit and $700 for a non-processing food unit, $340 in Philadelphia, and about $730 in San Francisco.  The limited number of permits available in each city (e.g. approximately only 3,000 in New York) has resulted in illegal rental permits and a black market where permits can be sold up to $20,000.

Usage of a commissary is another large upfront cost and is also a monthly cost.  The New York City Department of Health mandates that all mobile food vendors must visit a state licensed commissary each day, where food is store and prepared and cleaning services are performed.  These commissaries also sell and rent carts and sell vendors supplies such as food and propane.  When a food truck is not operating or selling to its customers, it is required to park at the commissaries; food trucks are not allowed in metered spots or on private property.  The average cost for commissaries ranges from $500 to $1200 per month.  In addition to the food truck, permit and commissary costs, business liability insurance and vehicle insurance are also necessary startup costs.  Insurance costs include auto liability ($2,000-$3,000 per year or $2,500 estimate per year), general liability ($3,500 per year), and workers’ compensation insurance ($7,000  per year for 3 employees).

Other variable costs that need to be incurred to operate a food truck include gas, vehicle modifications, food, marketing materials, and staff.

money truck

Beyond costs, also think about: Location, Location, Location…

The demographics of the customers and location of competing businesses are both significant sales-affecting factors.  Lunchtime in a business district is an ideal location for a food truck, but permits may be difficult to obtain in those areas.  The idea is to position your truck in a walking distance location or where foot traffic is heavy.  Knowing who your competitors are in the area and what they’re selling is necessary to avoid selling similar menu items and differentiating your truck.  Avoid selling pizza next to another pizza food truck…I find the trucks around my building have been very strategic with their location as there is a Bank of America building with numerous ATM machines across the street and we are located in the midtown financial district.

View of food trucks along Park Avenue near my building:

food trucks on park avenue

The number of food trucks already in New York makes it difficult for new entrants to succeed, as many of the most popular corners have already been occupied.  Additionally, with increased city regulations, it becomes more difficult to sell in various locations.  For example, New York City Council recently proposed a bill that would create up to 450 specially designated “food truck zones”, and require food to be legally served only in the parking spots.  This would restrict food trucks to specific locations, stripping them of their mobility and advantage over restaurants as well as limit the number of food trucks allowed in the city.

The Challenges…

Contrary to popular belief, there are high barriers to entry into the business these days when considering startup costs, permit availability, and limited commissaries and unoccupied desirable locations.  The increasing startup costs require expensive business loans that are not easily attainable as default risk is high in the food truck business and there is a lack of visibility into the financial condition of the food trucks.  In general, small businesses are more vulnerable to business cycles and therefore viewed riskier.  As a result, it is more expensive to lend to these smaller businesses.

I believe the food truck market has also become very dense and this has made it difficult for new entrants to achieve the margins promised by the business.  For example, in Boston, the number of food trucks has increased from 15 in 2011 to 59 today.  Restaurants have also begun introducing their own food trucks to get their own slice of the cake (e.g. Taco Bell).  And as previously mentioned, increased regulation in response to the rapid growth in the number of food trucks in each city further hinders food truck entrepreneurship.

We can expect to see more food truck lots or areas designated for a few trucks during select hours to sell food and drinks (e.g. DispatchNY) as well as increased food truck presence at food markets such as Williamsburg’s Smorgasbord and farmer’s markets (I love the coffee cart that comes to my farmer’s market every weekend).  Corporate campuses like Facebook’s and LinkedIn’s have also welcomed food trucks and have become popular locations for food trucks.

linkedin food truck campus

Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop Wheeling Forward

This is not to say that current food truck players will also be negatively impacted by these factors, rather food truck market leaders can benefit from their first mover advantage and security in the market.  Existing food trucks will have less competition with their menus, location and brand as well as have a higher customer retention as a result of fewer new entrants.  They will also have easier access to business loans to increase the number of their trucks or expand into another state as they grow their sales and market share in the market and support their potential with historical financial performance.

My favorite food truck and where you can find me on a Friday @ 47th and Park Ave!

Luke's Lobster Food Truck

 

Also check out Shark Tank episode on Food Trucks…Pretty hilarious!

 

Share with me your thoughts on Food Trucks/Mobile Vending @tiffanydstone or comment below!

 

Sources: http://www.sbdcnet.org/small-business-research-reports/sbdcnet-connections-issue-55-mobile-food-vendors, http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/220060, http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/12/magazine/the-food-truck-business-stinks.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0, http://www.forbes.com/sites/investopedia/2012/09/27/the-cost-of-starting-a-food-truck/, http://www.grubstreet.com/2009/08/users_guide_how_to_start_your.html, http://www.grubstreet.com/2012/07/food-trucks-turn-to-stores-for-convenience-reliability.html, http://www.csmonitor.com/Business/2013/0824/Restaurants-reinvent-the-food-truck, http://mobile-cuisine.com/trends/food-truck-owners-need-to-keep-an-eye-on-dining-trends/?wt=10, http://mobile-cuisine.com/business/preventing-employee-theft-in-your-food-truck/?wt=10, http://hereandnow.wbur.org/2013/08/29/food-trucks-slowing, http://800buycart.com/Index.html, http://www.cloverfoodlab.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/06/Food-Truck-101.pdf, http://www.amazon.com/Start-Your-Food-Truck-Business/dp/1599184141?SubscriptionId=AKIAJZ6KOIE3KFD4MRWA&tag=rotues-20&linkCode=xm2&camp=2025&creative=165953&creativeASIN=1599184141, http://upended.net/post/25574021175/foodtruckstartupcosts, http://mobile-cuisine.com/business/breaking-into-the-food-truck-industry-%E2%80%93-part-1/, http://network.intuit.com/2012/12/05/food-trucks-motor-into-the-mainstream/#sthash.PVSSwoTW.dpuf, NY Health Department