Lisa Calhoun

Welcome to the Atlanta Startup Podcast. I’m Lisa Calhoun, a founding general partner at Valor Ventures. I am excited to have the CEO and founder of Goodfynd here with me, Sofiat Abdulrazaaq.  So glad you’re here.

Sofiat Abdulrazaaq

Thank you. So glad to be here. I really appreciate you having me.

Lisa Calhoun

Well, I appreciate you allowing Valor to invest in your seed round. I’m excited about sharing with our audience here in Atlanta all about it. Let’s start with your industry food trucks. When I first learned about food trucks, not so much from ordering, but from you about the business side, I was really amazed at the depth and breadth of the industry. Could you fill in our listeners a little bit about what’s going on in the world of food trucks today?

Sofiat Abdulrazaaq

Yeah, absolutely. I think a little historical background is really, really great here. In 2008, with any big  financial disruption, and that’s the one that we’re experiencing now, unfortunately, with the pandemic, there is a lot of innovation. Food trucks during that time were one of them. You can imagine people kind of having financial strife, maybe wanting to invest in a restaurant, because they’re a chef or whatever, and not being able to do so for various reasons that we can get into. You had this boom of chefs and entrepreneurs, many of which are minority, kind of get into this space as a way to sell amazing food, on their own terms. I think that’s still the spirit of food trucks today. You have people from all different backgrounds, who really love to make delicious items, and want to sell them not as a sous chef, or something of somebody else’s brand, but wanting to really start their own. That wave is continuing, even today. You have amazing new chefs starting food trucks, honestly, daily, even now during a pandemic, which is really great and shows the resilience of this industry.

Lisa Calhoun

Do you think the food truck industry is going to grow faster or slower than the general economy in the next few years?

Sofiat Abdulrazaaq

Faster. I really do think this is going to be another acceleration. Again, this just has all the I don’t want to say “secret sauce” but I kind of feel that that’s kind of always one of the phrases that come to mind. But it has all the secret sauce of what kind of made this industry thrive in the beginning. Unfortunately, it’s still in many ways that economic downturn, this is because of a pandemic, and the inability for people to kind of go out and to be at restaurants, etc. But food trucks have the ability to meet people wherever they are. They really can be proximate at any time, which is nice because they’re mobile. I see a lot of innovation happening in this space. I think it’ll continue to accelerate a chef’s thoughts about what it means to serve people, especially when it comes to meeting them where they are, there’s no better way to do that than to have a food truck. I believe that it’ll continue to grow.

Lisa Calhoun 

A lot of people wouldn’t associate a food truck with artisanal, handcrafted, made right in front of you oftentimes, food with technology. Is there a disconnect there?

Sofiat Abdulrazaaq

Yeah, a huge disconnect, I believe. The thing about being an underserved industry is that larger technologies can’t really pinpoint the value I think a lot of times when people build technology, it’s all about bringing big, massive, this horizontal type value to space, which is why I believe there’s so much innovation in these verticals now where people are willing to look at markets outside of the norm and build technology for vertical industries that are underserved because they’re being overlooked.  This industry is, in many ways, overlooked by existing technology and my company seeks to remedy that for these deserving founders and entrepreneurs themselves Having a restaurant, having a food truck, it has the same entrepreneurial spirit as having a startup. We look to fill in that gap in that void with our technology.

Lisa Calhoun 

 Did you come at this from the food industry? Because we both share a love of eating or is this from another angle? What was your background prior to Goodfynd?

Sofiat Abdulrazaaq

Prior to Goodfynd, I was a product manager and a large nonprofit big tech. I also was in the banking industry for a while and it was really fun there. I love to eat like you, Lisa. Me and my co-founders actually just had a really hard time locating food trucks but wanting to partake in the cuisine. We love street food, we love hanging out with friends and tasting different things. The cuisines are so vast. I mean, the options are honestly endless because the founders in this space are as unique as America is. We loved eating from them, had a really hard time finding them, and had a hard time ordering from them. We decided as technical founders with backgrounds in tech, and that’s where I come from, that we could solve this problem and kind of and kind of fill in that gap that I was talking about earlier.

Lisa Calhoun 

When you started your company, I remember you telling me it was mostly about finding those food trucks. That was sort of like opening Pandora’s box, and you learned a whole lot more. Tell me about that journey.

Sofiat Abdulrazaaq

You know what I love about any customer, is that you think that you’re seeking to solve one problem and I do think startups always solve a personal problem You need to kind of test that with others like, “Hey, is this a problem that you’re experiencing?” And you hear “yes” a few times. I’d say more than a few times. To really like, put a pin and a lot of time into it. When you hear less often like, “Yeah, locating food trucks is hard.” We heard that from everyone. We’re like, “Okay, we can do something about that.” But then you flip that switch and that is you go from solving a problem for yourself to solving a problem for others There’s this, servant-leadership type of aspect that comes once you really dig into your customer. Once you become what I would consider customer-obsessed, and they start to tell you what they need. It’s like, “Yeah, people have a hard time locating trucks, but they also have this problem and this problem and this problem” For us, we started to realize, “Okay, it’s not just locating a food truck. They need other technologies to be built around this Locating Service, and then how might help.” And then that’s kind of the source of our roadmap. We started to build from that. It was that pivot from being you know, obsessed with our version of what we thought food trucks needed to be very customer-focused and customer-obsessed, and then telling us, “No, we actually need x, y & z and then building accordingly.”

Lisa Calhoun 

I’m going to openly invite you to brag on Goodfynd. Tell me a little bit about how the early customer adoption is gone or a little bit about how your traction has been growing since you launched the first product.

Sofiat Abdulrazaaq

Since we launched our first product, we have about 500 food trucks, utilizing our platform in some way via the Locating Service, or our online ordering technology. It’s just interacting with the product and the ways in which it was made. We also launched something called Goodfynd gift which was a really big community effort where community members could donate food to causes that they care about. We donated over 1000 meals to first responders and communities. What’s great was that it allowed people not only to support and give free meals to causes that they care about but also help support these local businesses. We’ve experienced tons of traction, tons of support, tons of love. They were really, really excited to see us expand into other markets. Wow, again, just remaining super humble and customer-focused. But so far so good. We’re enjoying the support and the ride.

Lisa Calhoun 

It’s not a bad business when you can do customer discovery at least twice a day.

Sofiat Abdulrazaaq

And there’s a lot of free food on this in this business, Lisa. Let me say I’ve gained tons from working with food trucks.

Lisa Calhoun 

Well, I know that some of the other VCs, we’ve been walking together and diligence was even like, “Oh, well, we’re going to do a customer discovery face to face”. And I’m like, “Really? In COVID?” You find suddenly in either like, “Well, for the food truck.” I’m like, “I see you.” I see you on that. It was really fun. Of course, talking to your customers. I mean, they really glow about not just the base product itself, but all of the things that they plan that Goodfynd can help them solve on a platform level. But before that, can we even talk more about that per se, because a lot of our listeners don’t run through trucks. They do love the industry. They are excited about different cuisines and supporting entrepreneurship.  Speaking to you, as a founder, a lot of our listeners are founders or they plan to be a founder someday.

I mean, I’d love to hear from you about the early days, but lessons learned on the founder journey already. If you could conceptualize it also, tell folks when you feel like, “Hey, I decided I was going to be a founder here.” And your own personal journey from this is fun. This is interesting. This is a cute side project. I’m having fun to know, this is a business and I’m building and sort of milestones for you along the way.

Sofiat Abdulrazaaq

The biggest lesson I’ve had in becoming a founder and really diving deep into my business is the need for me to maintain my authenticity no matter where I go, no matter what room I’m in. And that’s actually the hardest thing to do. As a founder, I believe, especially and I don’t know, I’ll take a moment here, especially as a minority founder, it can be hard to maintain your authenticity, because you’re told when you’re entering in this phase, like what to do, how to act, how to get investment, and a lot of those things are true. A lot of those lessons are true, but I found it easier to be myself than to try to be something else in this space. I think that’s also really wasn’t one of my “aha” moments, in turning from doing this as a side hustle to being able to say like, this is what I’m really focused on, when I could look at our technology and say, “This is good” This is helping people. We know what we’re doing. We’re obsessed with the industry. We’re constantly keeping our ears to the customer. We’re building fast. I think there’s an advantage to being able to build, manage, and develop your own products in-house. You can go at warp speed. When we were actually helping people and people were relying on us to maintain their business, that was really key to me to say, “Okay, not only I do know that we built a good product, but I’m so confident in what we feel.” And I’m so confident in how we’re helping people and our connection with our customers, that I’m confident in being me. Now when I approach VCs and have those types of conversations, I can do so with that same confidence, and I can leave every call knowing that I represent not only my business but our customers in a way that I can sleep at night. I think our first conversation was really powerful in a way for me as well, where I left the call and I was like I was myself Win or lose It’s okay because I know, no matter what, I love what I’m doing. I’m passionate about what I’m doing. I’m passionate about who I’m helping, and I can stand on that. Until you can stand on it, you stand on your authenticity and on your product, this is probably not the full-time game for you because you are going to hear a lot of noise, a lot of naysayers, a lot of people questioning everything, but all your hard work and time into so you kind of have to stand in that confidence and really believe in yourself if you expect anyone else to believe and invest in you.

Lisa Calhoun 

Well, and kudos to you for gaining that confidence in such a real way through your customer base. One shape or form having 500 individual businesses, most of them sole proprietors, but relying on you in some way. Watch and monitor technically, you know, it’s happening, you’re like, “Okay, you can have your opinions about me. But these other few 100 entrepreneurs, they’re looking for something like what we’re doing, and I’m looking for your support.” And that’s always been to me, the greatest source of power is the value you’re providing customers. I’m speaking in business, but in business for those founders that are searching for their customers. They do, of course, have a certain lack of foundational power in any dialogue, because they don’t know they have a thesis, they have a hypothesis. It is a very big difference speaking with entrepreneurs like yourself, who have founded a company that is making money on its customers, and everyone else. It’s a big difference. The Delta only grows as you gain larger and larger contracts is interesting. But back to you and your journey, I’m really interested in your thoughts and how you would advise a founder such as yourself. You joined this business a little bit less than a year ago, about a year ago, something like that?

Sofiat Abdulrazaaq

Two years ago.

Lisa Calhoun 

And then you guys went full time with it when?

Sofiat Abdulrazaaq

This year.

Lisa Calhoun

Along that journey, what has been the most helpful for you as a founder?

Sofiat Abdulrazaaq

Wow, that’s a big question. The most helpful is not being a solo founder. This is not to say, because I do, I do want to be cautious here, because I think there are a lot of amazing solo founders who are really innovative, super nimble, doing two, three, and four-time jobs to make it and to see it through. I acknowledge that I have a lot of respect for it. I think that those companies are super valuable for me not doing it alone was very important. One, because when I look at businesses, and I come from again, like big, big billion-dollar nonprofits, big tech spaces where you see that the reliance on a team, these companies, they’re relying on teams of people to do things. There’s a sense of collaboration and innovation that happens through collaboration that I think is super important. When you’re about to make a switch or like to put your career goals on the line for something that you believe in so passionately about, I think it’s helpful to do it with others. In my journey, the fact that I’m doing this with two guys and there’s no one in the world I respect more than them. They’re people I respect on the same level, shout out to my mom and dad, love you. But having people on this journey with me was very important for me. I was able to gut check my ideas, the strategy, the development, we’re constantly energy-saving lives. I also care about the world. But we were able to gut check each other and to test our assumptions to research together to help talk to all of our different customer bases. We have a lot of people who are on our platform and that’s growing and so, just for me on my journey, I would have found it very difficult to do it in a silo If you’re able not to build your company in a silo, I honestly think that it’s super important to have others to be on the journey with you, it makes your journey easier.

Lisa Calhoun 

Well, thank you for sharing that experience. I think that’ll resonate with a lot of people who are thinking about their go-no-go decisions on founding a firm. Another thing I’d love to touch base on is your general experience around accelerators. I’m sure you’ve been invited to many. How do you feel about accelerators at this point in your journey for a couple of years then?

Sofiat Abdulrazaaq

Interesting. I loved the accelerators that we were a part of, and I want to go ahead and shout them out because I really did love them. I think for founders if you’re in the food space, Food Foundry is bar none one of the best on the planet. If you happen to be local to the Virginia area, Lighthouse Labs really took our brand to the next level. Two things I’ll say about accelerators: one, if you’re a solo founder, or if you’re a team of founders, which is a gap on the team in terms of you, you have a great tech idea, but you don’t have a CTO. That is a huge deficit. Accelerators can help you fulfill those gaps, they can help expand your network, get you talking to people in this space because that’s their job. Their jobs are not only to invest in you in many ways but also to be that bridge and to help facilitate connections, which a lot of founders don’t get to have until they’ve been invested in the flip side of that coin is in the order they invested in you have to be building technology and prove that you can make net revenue and all of that.  A good intermediary step to that right is being able to find those networks and facilitate and get that kind of information from industry experts that are meant to help accelerate your brand and your company. I found as a startup two years ago, right before we were revenue-generating, etc, I found it very helpful to be on top of accelerators that had the financial benefit, like Lighthouse Labs did have a financial benefit. For founders that look like me, we usually have friends and family gaps. Most startups have some type of initial funding, you had to bootstrap our business from the ground up. Lighthouse came to us at a very pivotal point when we needed to test out some systems and to do some things. That funding was really a safety net. I’m not sure if I would have been able to get to the point where we did without, without having a little bit of capital, but also that network helping us bridge the gap of ideas, test out customers, build out financial models, all of these things you just don’t think about. Accelerators help you do. I’m a big fan, if it’s the right one, I want to stress that it needs to be the right one. There are a bunch of accelerators, they have a different thesis, they do different things. Lighthouse Labs, The Food Foundry were two of the best. It gave us more than what they got to be honest. I mean, I think we’ll pay them back now, in terms of just making sure that we continue to be great founders and build a great product that they believed in from inception. But they really gave importance to us and helped us identify gaps and processes that we needed to work on and made us ready for you, Lisa.  I have really good experiences and just a lot of good things to say about the ones we’ve been part of.

Lisa Calhoun

That is great to hear. Now, I would love to ask you about, is there anything that you were told would be true about startup life or the startup world that is absolutely bogus and that is not true? Or on the converse, something you thought was probably false? You’re like, “Wow, no, it really is like that.” Now that you’re at this point, you’re like, “Oh, rats, that is true.” Anything like that around startup myths that you’re proving out by experience?

Sofiat Abdulrazaaq

There are so many lessons that I learned from the startup ecosystem. One of them was before you go out for investment like you had to have everything figured out. Go to market strategy, you needed to understand all the different personas of your customer, you just got to know that you know everything. I gotta admit that that is kind of true, but not exactly true. I think I do need to expose this to founders because I think many founders go too slow because they’re told you have to figure out every single thing before you can make yourself ready for investment. But the truth is you need to fail super fast.  The slowness of what it takes to have every piece figured out means two things to me. One, somebody might hear about your idea and be able to develop it because they’re not as scared as you. Because they don’t care too much. “I’m gonna test it to see what works” And then the other thing is becoming super frustrated in your own idea because you’re so in the weeds on every single thing. There’s a time for that. I believe that founders who are raising like Series-A and Series-B. They understand every aspect, they’re not really doing a lot of testing. But I do think in the seed stage, what you need to prove is that you’re smart. You know what you’re doing, you know your customer, that you can make money. That’s very important that you can make money in some way. I mean, gotta be good stewards of people that are investing in you, that’s a truth for life. And that was gonna be my truth. You got to be able to do those three things; gotta prove that you’re smart, gotta prove that you understand the customer, gotta prove that you can make money. But you don’t have to have it all figured out. And in fact, if you do have it all figured out, I think at this stage, those funds that invest in this stage who want a more hands-on, have a lot to offer for different parts of the business, they can help fill in gaps, right, would be less interested in a company that knows it all than a company that can prove those three things and then they can help grow and build with. That’s been my experience. Lisa, you’re one of our investors. I can’t speak for you. But I definitely felt like one of the things that we vibed on right was, this is definitely an industry that’s growing that needed help. But us as founders, although revenue-generating, we have really great ideas, we also could use some help on our journey. Hope that the fun that you run is unique to help for and there’s a fit there.

Lisa Calhoun 

We love FinTech, we love the southeast area that you’re already in and are ending in. We love things that support the founder’s journey like your software builds for the industry is very niche. We could actually talk to the customers and develop our own perspective about what you were saying the customer said versus what the customers were saying they got from you. There were some definite gaps, there always are, but those gaps were more like business opportunities style than real communication issues. Because you know, you’re absolutely right, we were compelled by your growth rate within the industry and the growth rate of the industry overall. The thought that “Wow, there’s a lot here”, entry-level entrepreneurship is something that I personally believe the United States is going to be getting behind and a big economic stimulus way over the next administration almost has to to get us out of the pandemic economic recovery.  What we’re gonna do is what types of businesses are gonna make the biggest difference, a lot of them will be easy to start, low cost of entry, a lot of those things are around food. You’re very much on trend to and that that’s a trend we were following. And Goodfynd was an example of, but it’s a trend, we also invest in tools that make entrepreneurs more successful. You know, especially the earliest stages. I wanted to ask you, your tips for pitching VCs that you would share with other founders. Since you’ve been raising your seed round, you’ve got some great VCs, including Valor on that cap table. Founders are always worried about pitching VCs. I mean, I know this. I know, you’ve lived this. I know you know lots of founders, what would you tell them about? “Hey, here are the top three things, I think work in a successful VC pitch. Now that I’ve raised my seed stage, here’s what I know that I didn’t know and I had a little bit of accelerator capital.”

Sofiat Abdulrazaaq

Yeah, absolutely. Three things for me, being honest. Do not oversell or undersell your company. And I think a lot of times when you are building your pitch deck, for example, there are things that that you might feel like is smart to omit, but then if you do either one, they’re going to know you’re hiding something, or they’re going to feel like you’re hiding something, so you’re going to be questioned about it. Or two, diligence, you’re going to get crushed because maybe they find out that it wasn’t an omission, but like you just don’t know it. There are just things, I think when you’re pitching a VC especially when it comes to the pitch deck that you should just have. You should know who your competition is, you should be able to know what your revenues are, you need to know what the projections are, you need to have an understanding of your customers. There’s like a set of 10 things I say if you really need to know and you really need to be honest about. Don’t oversell or undersell your company, because these diligence processes are as hard as they say, in many ways, especially when you’re going to like it for the lead and it is easier to have a lead and then kind of build out from there. When you’re doing these, these processes go deep, they talk to customers without you. They talk to your customers, but they also talk to prospective customers. I mean you really have to know what you’re building, know what you’re selling, and you need to be able to like what I said, not over undersell it. Just keep it honest, just know your business and say the things that you have to do to be authentic. I think that’s really important. I can’t overstate that enough that I’m just me on the calls with VCs, and potential angel investors. We have a lot of fun. I’m a corny joke girl. I laugh at my own jokes. I’m always smiling, I’m a really big ball of energy. That’s just who I am. I’m very passionate about what I’m building, who I’m building it with, and who I’m building it for. I feel that if you are authentic, people understand, “I would like working with her.”  Or, “I would like to work with XYZ.” I don’t care if this has been my experience with VCs, I don’t care how good the product is. I feel like if a VC would not like working with you, for any given reason, then it’s just not going to happen. 

Lisa Calhoun 

At the seed stage. Later stage investors might be like, “Well, this person is a real pill, but look at it as a spreadsheet, we’re not going to be on the board.” But at the seed stage, there needs to be a bit of a fit, there really does, because there should be a lot of lessons learned. There needs to be an open communication dialogue around that. And if the two cans or the three can’t communicate, just because there’s a lack of chemistry, and that’s human, it’s going to be a problem. It’s going to hold the business back and the way I phrase that sometimes with founders is you deserve the right lead. and it’s not us. Maybe you can’t hear my voice and that’s okay. You know you’ll find someone whose voice resonates with you, and then that’s gonna be a great partnership. Startup founders deserve that.

Sofiat Abdulrazaaq

Founders deserve it and I think VCs, too. To me it’s so important. If you’re not authentic, then neither one of you are benefiting from that conversation. Because they might end up investing in somebody that wasn’t a great fit. You know how you hear these horror stories on both sides about, “Oh, my God, I just can’t wait for this person to raise another round, so that we can both end this relationship, because it just wasn’t the best fit.” And I don’t have those experiences with those that have invested in our business because we brought our full selves to the conversation. We allowed ourselves to show the passion, we allowed ourselves to film the product. And I think that was really, really smart. And then the other thing is know your numbers. Because you’re gonna get killed on the numbers. They’re gonna ask a whole bunch of math. You gotta have an answer for everything on the numbers. And if you aren’t a numbers person, start becoming one because it doesn’t stop. It only gets harder. You want to start really knowing your numbers, knowing them cold. I’m continuing to work and be educated on that more and more every day because it’s so important. Those are the three things; know your numbers, be authentic, don’t oversell or undersell your company. Keep it honest. I believe you’ll be successful with whoever is the right fit for you.

Lisa Calhoun 

That’s awesome advice. And thanks for sharing it from your experience. As our final topic, I know you are busy, and I want to let you get back to building the business. I’m glad you could share with the Atlanta Startup Podcast audience. But I wanted to ask you about Atlanta. One of the reasons we got involved as co lead in the round, Atlanta was already on your roadmap. You’re in Virginia and you’re interested in Atlanta, why Atlanta? 

Sofiat Abdulrazaaq

First of all, I love Atlanta. Atlanta used to be my home. All three of us have always had a great affinity just for the vibe of Atlanta generally. But it also just happens to be a really great fit for our company. Really great metropolitan area, with huge suburban neighborhoods. Spaces where people are a big concentration of people, transportation, huge transportation hubs, which means people are always going to be in and out of Atlanta. It has great diversity which is really important for our business because food truck owners happen to be amongst the most diverse. It’s just a city that’s really comparable to our business model. Our current data says that we can do well. We’ve always been data-driven founders, by the way, I haven’t said that once. I’m a big data geek. Atlanta just made sense for us in many ways. It has an environment that we believe that we can thrive in and just a vibrant community that we are super excited to be a part of.

Lisa Calhoun 

We’re excited to have you out at our headquarters in Atlanta Tech Park, where we frequently bring food trucks in the back parking lot. I know that was a point of common reference because I know when you brought up well finding a parking spot for a food truck is not as simple as you might think. I was like, “Oh, no, no, we tried to fill our parking lot regularly at Atlanta Tech Park.” And you know, it’s a whole curation experience on both sides. Looking forward to that. In closing, is there anything you wanted to share about Goodfynd with our listeners, because I know, they’ll be looking forward to welcoming you and the team in Atlanta this year?

Sofiat Abdulrazaaq

We’re excited to come to Atlanta. If you happen to fly into DC, we would love for you to download the app and order some delicious foods from our vendors. As I said, there’s no shortage of options. You will just not be disappointed in the products that these amazing founders themselves are. The only other thing I’d have to say is going to a food truck in Atlanta. Get really familiar with them and then in a few months, we’ll come in and provide the best technology you ever had to be able to continuously interact with them.

Lisa Calhoun 

For truck owners here in Atlanta hear that information, and they’re like, “Oh, she seems pretty cool. What are they building?” Where can they go to learn more?

Sofiat Abdulrazaaq

Yes, any food truck owner/operator that’s listening to this please, please please send us a message at info@Goodfynd.com. Check us out on goodfynd.com. We are Goodfynd on all social platforms as well.  Feel free to follow us on Instagram or Facebook or any of your chosen social media. I’m happy to welcome you into the family and to take you on this journey with us.

Lisa Calhoun 

Awesome and Goodfynd is spelled with a Y everybody. It’s Goodfynd, just put a “y” in there instead of an “i” and you’ll get to where you’re going. Thank you so much for your time, Sofie. I really appreciated the conversation,

Sofiat Abdulrazaaq

Awesome. It’s been a blast. Thanks so much, Lisa.

Lisa

Thank you for listening to the Atlanta Startup Podcast. You know, we’re not just a podcast, we’re a community, and we’d love to see you at one of our digital or physical events, go to valor.VC and sign up for an event that makes sense for you. We have events for founders and the investors who back them. Another event you might enjoy is Startup Runway. The Startup Runway Foundation is a Valor organization that provides $10,000 grants to founders who are women or people of color building next-generation software products. Applications are free and we’d love to hear from you at startuprunway.org. And as always, thank you so much to the organizations that make this podcast possible. Not only Valor Ventures, but also Write2Market, a tech marketing and PR agency in Atlanta, Georgia, and the Startup Runway Foundation and Atlanta Tech Park Valley’s headquarters, and also headquarters for over 100 local entrepreneurs, building global businesses. See you next week. Please bookmark the podcast and join us.