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A Conversation With Travis Johnson, Co-Founder and CEO of foodjunky.com and A Leader With Courage (Part I)

 

foodjunky.com is a concierge service that makes ordering food from your local restaurants easy for individuals, groups, and catering. At the helm of this online platform is Travis Johnson, whose mission is to alleviate the headache of ordering lunch and instead deliver a whole lot of happiness to customers.

 

 

 

Leading With Courage Academy:

foodjunky.com has been in business since 2011, but you had the idea for the company a lot farther back from that date, didn’t you?

 

Travis Johnson: Absolutely. foodjunky.com was a basic idea I had back in 1998 while I was attending the University of Colorado. I had to write a business plan for one of my courses. I was at my apartment, and I was hungry, and as I opened a drawer full of menus that everyone has, I said to myself, "Well, this is a mess." At the time, the Internet was relatively new, apps weren’t even on the scene and I wrote a business plan to put  all the menu’s online.

 

After graduating in 2002, I came back to Chicago and I worked for 10 years in marketing, engineering, sales, and merchandising for a firm in the suburbs. I worked on large accounts launching new products for consumer packaged goods manufacturers like Campbell’s, Kraft, Fresh Express and many others.

 

When did you circle back to the idea that would become foodjunky.com – and why that name?

 

I was at a 25-person firm and I think I just hit my ceiling there. I decided I wanted to do something for myself, so I did a self-business plan.

 

I didn’t have a name at first - I probably registered over 30 different names, actually – but then a friend suggested Food Junkie out of nowhere. I can't spell, so even though Food Junkie is spelled with an IE, I thought it was with a Y. I registered that and we went ahead with the company’s name as foodjunky. We like it with the Y because it gets rid of some of that connotation of a junkie and it's just fun. Plus, graphically it works better.

 

After we got the dot com, we were picked up by Dan Gilbert’s organization and are now part of his family of companies. We re-launched the site in 2014 in Detroit and have been building it ever since.

 

We’ve identified nine de-railers to effective leadership at Leading With Courage℠ Academy that include things that you probably don't know about when you come into the world of business. But when you trip over them, they become pretty obvious. If you had to pick a few that you’d avoid, what leadership de-railers stand out based on your experience?

 

I’d say #9: Over-promising. That was something that I learned early on in my career.

 

I was at a firm where the company culture there was very much over-promise and under-deliver. It was the culture of the executives to promise things that were unrealistic, with the feeling that it's better to ask for forgiveness. That does not breed a healthy culture within any company and doesn't breed a good relationship with customers or getting repeat business.

 

The opposite, under-promise and over-deliver feels difficult to do but in the long run setting realistic customer expectations is easier and better for everyone.

 

Most people are inclined to say "Yeah, we can do that," or "Yeah, we can have it tomorrow.” It’s much better to say, "Hey, it's going to take a week to do that," and then deliver something that's really good in three or four days, or "It's going to take a month to get that," and then deliver it in three weeks.

 

To always under-promise and over-deliver is the culture we try to build here at foodjunky. Within that, I actually do have a policy of "It's okay to ask for forgiveness" when it comes to internal things. So, if you want to test something, go ahead and test it. We're not a micro management environment here. Go ahead and test it. If it fails, let me know why it failed. If it succeeds, let me know why it succeed.

 

I think the biggest failure you can have is a success when you don't know why you succeeded.

 

Can you give me an example of one of those tests? I'm not looking for failures or successes in particular, but an example of where you said, "Go off and try it” in order to empower others.

 

Oh yeah. Social media and promotions. We're constantly testing stuff like that. Failures are often what happen when it comes to testing anything marketing-based. You can think you have an understanding of what's going to work well, spend money behind it and have it completely fail.

 

In one instance, we wanted to test and try doing a direct mailing. It was a really nice promo with no minimum spend – you could just get free food from foodjunky. The only limit was that you had to be a first customer. Well, for one thing, we didn't put an expiration on it soon enough, so people could hold onto them for special occasions and secondly, a lot of people thought it was just too good to be true. No minimum? Free? Don’t even need to enter a credit card? No way.

 

So I've learned that doing smaller numbers with shorter time-frames gets people to actually use the promo.

 

Which is what you want. To get those insights, like you just described, are you talking among just your team or are you going back out to the target audience and saying, "Why didn't you use the coupon," or "Why did you use it?"

 

It's always important to go back to the customer – like a direct mailer project that didn't use the promo because you don't know. But I think the best piece of feedback that most companies do not get is to talk to the customers using your services. Ask them why they are using your services! If you know why your customers are using your services, then you can better know how to market to new, potential customers.

 

Without actually asking questions, you don't really know why people use you. You know why you would use you, but you don't know why your customers are using you unless you ask.

 

I totally agree with you on that issue of client loyalty and how it is feedback that people are afraid of. This gets into another one of those questions which is #3 on our list of leadership de-railers: Coming in with the answer. Sounds like you're not afraid to say, "What do you think?"

 

For me, it's not possible to go into something without having some preconceived notion of how it's going to work, but you have to be open to being wrong. Period. If you're not open to being wrong, then what's going to happen is, even if you succeed, you're not going to really know why you succeeded. If you don't know why you succeeded, you can't repeat that success.

 

So, if you're going to do a promotion, an advertisement, a new feature and you can think you know why it's going to be used, but if you don't allow yourself to go back and ask the question of why you used it, you’ll keep on going down the line of “This is the reason why we're using that.” Then you’ll build other things along that same path but might not succeed. At that point, you may have to rethink what it is that your business is doing.

 

 

In the continuation of our Leading With Courage conversation with Travis Johnson, we’ll talk about the difference between mono-chronic versus poly-chronic approaches to doing business, why making your job obsolete can be a wonderful thing and the secret of how to test your entire business model, product or service line before you spend any additional money.

 

In the meantime, to learn more about the Leading With Courage Academy, here’s a link to our new, interactive road map:  Discover the LWCA.

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