"We weren't from there. We didn't know where we were going," Kean says. "And we found that apps weren't very reliable. They said the trucks were in one place, but they weren't there. Walking around and reading 3,000 tweets and trying not to get lost is harder than it sounds. Eventually, we just gave up."
But they didn't stop wondering how many other eaters out there were being foiled on city streets every day, just waiting for an app that could direct them. The solution came while the two were volunteering at Startup Weekend Kansas City in April. (The next startup weekend kicks off Friday, November 16.) While developing a mapping program for another startup hopeful, they realized that a location-based app could help eaters pinpoint food trucks (and assist chefs who may not have learned to tweet and drive). Truckily was born that weekend.
"There have been attempts to combine the food-truck and technology worlds," Kean says. "But a lot of times it's been one-sided. It's either tech guys trying to produce a truck site or truck guys trying to make something technological. We built it with some of the trucks from Kansas City right from the get-go."
So while they sampled meatballs in the Crossroads and tacos downtown, they asked food-truck proprietors to sample their software. "It was a bit like asking your parents and grandparents to design an iPhone app," Kean says. "But what we realized was that everything needed to be the push of a button, rather than something that had to be typed."
In August, Kean, 27, left his job in digital marketing at Barkley, and Berkland, 29, left his position as a lead software architect with Centralized Showing Service Inc. They've spent the past three months developing the app, with ongoing input from such local food trucks as Indios Carbonsitos and the Magical Meatball Tour. Their model calls for trucks to pay a monthly subscription fee; eaters use Truckily for free. In addition to learning a truck's location (organized according to a potential diner's geographic proximity and food preferences), users also see descriptions, photos, menus, payment options, and a truck's friendliness toward dietary restrictions.
Last Thursday, the duo presented a working demo to potential investors and ARK program organizers. A beta launch in Kansas City is slated for the coming month. (Get it at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
"People in Kansas City will get to see it before any city," Kean says. "We hope to have all of the food trucks in Kansas City signed up by the end of the beta period. But in order for this to make sense financially, we have to take it national." That rollout is tentatively planned for January or February.
"The good thing about food trucks is that it's a testing platform," Kean says. "Chefs can work out dishes or restaurant concepts. With Truckily, we're just doing the same thing."
Finding Trucks Right Now
If you need help finding mobile food before Truckily's launch, blogger David LaCrone (of Kansas City Lunch Spots) has put together a fairly comprehensive collection of Twitter feeds from local food trucks. You can follow him on Twitter (@davelacrone) or see the feed online.
Meanwhile, now that Kean and Berkland have eaten their way through Kansas City's food-truck scene, they're ready to reveal a current favorite. Both men are partial to the paella at El Tenedor. "The Fork," as the truck is known is run by Carmen Cabia, familiar to many from her days in the kitchen at Lil's on 17th. It was there that she perfected the recipe that she now dishes out from her silver trailer.