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Foodjunky aims for presence in all 50 states with help of Yelp partnership

The Bootstrappers Breakfast is specially for founders of early stage technology startups.

Travis Johnson of foodjunky

Travis O. Johnson runs the Iron Man, bikes to work on Detroit's riverfront along the Dequindre Cut, and pushes himself and his team to become the largest online food-ordering site in the country--Detroit-based foodjunky.
 
"Our name is going to become a noun," says the 37-year-old wunderkind who alternates between Chicago and Detroit to grow his firm at the rate of 1,000 restaurants a month and hopes to have a presence in all 50 states by the end of the year.
 
"Our business model is the only one that has the ability to accommodate 100 percent of the country's restaurants," Johnson says, declining to reveal revenue numbers for the privately held company. According to a previous story, he acquired $750,000 in seed capital and hoped to acquire more.
 
Yelp, the online resource for user reviews and recommendations on restaurants to other services, is the key to his dreams, Johnson says. In June, he inked a deal with the San Francisco-based company to power meal requests directly from Yelp business pages to foodjunky's online roster of restaurants. The deal gives more visibility to restaurants and makes online food ordering easier.
 
"Partnering with foodjunky.com allows Yelp to expand food order and delivery options for restaurants, one of our most popular categories for transactions on Yelp," Chad Richard, senior vice president of Yelp’s business and corporate development, says in a release. About 21 million unique devices accessed the Yelp app, drawing 69 million visitors to its mobile website.
 
Yelp is the plum Johnson has eagerly awaited. He has three business partners, Jeremy Jongsma, Andrew Waldman, and Phil Boardman, and sees Yelp as a way to attract investor funding in Detroit and Chicago. With more investors in Detroit he will maintain his presence here, but otherwise he’ll go back to his hometown and keep in contact through Skype.
 
"Raising capital in the Detroit area for a pure tech startup is extremely challenging, which draws our attention out of Detroit and out of the state to raise capital with outsider investors," Johnson says.
 
Much tinkering, failing, and handwringing went into the business model Johnson hosts today. Most food ordering companies, like the nation's leading GrubHub, charge restaurants a fee for every order it channels. Johnson had been unsuccessful trying to duplicate the model and disappointed early investors.
 
"How a company fails is as arguably more important than how one succeeds. If nine out of 10 companies fail, it is extremely important it fails quickly and everyone involved learn from that failure," Johnson says, who plays math Olympics games to keep his mind sharp.
 
He stays active in the entrepreneurial community, first as a student in Bizdom University, a now-defunct Dan Gilbert project, to launching the Bootstrappers Breakfast for founders of early stage technology startups, in Bizdom, then foodjunky's offices in the Elevator Building.
 
Bootstrappers is a monthly breakfast for entrepreneurs where Johnson and others share the best ideas and practices for helping someone launch/grow their dream project and network with other young business people. The $5 breakfast, which takes place on the third Thursday of every month, draws up to 30 guests and often has a waiting list.
 
"Travis has been incredibly helpful in suggesting ways to grow my yarn and crochet business," says Ashley Cirilli, a team leader for Quicken who will take over the Bootstrappers' host role when Johnson heads to Chicago. He suggested she get brand labels for her blankets and shawls and invest in a display station. "Honest advice can go a long way to helping a person steer clear of expensive mistakes,” Cirilli says.
 
At a recent breakfast, Johnson advised a few entrepreneurs against paying $30,000 or more for a software application without testing the market sensibility of the idea on prospective customers.
 
"A startup doesn't have to be profitable, but it has to have clear, delineated goals,” Johnson says. “Keep communicating with your customers, find out what they want, and how you can fulfill that need." Johnson found his own business jumped measurably when he changed his business model from charging restaurants with a small profit margin for food orders and putting the cost onto consumers.
 
Wherever Johnson lives, he expects to sustain foodjunky to greater profitability and challenge himself to better outcomes in Ironman competitions. "Our bodies have so much more abilities than most realize," Johnson says. "I say 'can't' is the most overused swear word. I removed 'can't' from my vocabulary so things like the Ironman become possible. The most difficult thing is finding the next goal."
 
Cirilli and other monthly patrons of Bootstrappers Breakfast hope the goal can be realized in Detroit.
 
Maureen McDonald is a Metro Detroit freelance reporter who writes for Issue Media Group, Detroit Neighborhood News Hub, Crain's Detroit Business, and many other publications, and taught journalism at colleges around Metro Detroit.
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