Summer Entrepreneurial Experiences

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Entrepreneurial Management at Swizzler

Friday, August 7, 2015 8:54 pm

Working at a startup this summer has taught me an incredible amount about leadership and entrepreneurial management. To be an effective leader in the entrepreneurial world, one must be organized, flexible, determined, and creative. Swizzler has been so successful in the past year because Jack, Jesse, and Ben all embody those characteristics and manage their business accordingly. The guys keep sales up, events running smoothly, and customer engagement high through superb organization. Their marketing campaigns are well-thought out and their success well recorded through social media analytics and data collection. They make sure to be on time and prepared for the events they attend and cater, solidifying their following in the DC area inside and outside of just the lunch hour. However, another key to their success is being able to be flexible as well as organized.

The guys, just like all small business owners and entrepreneurs, deal with countless problems every day. I would say that another large part of their success is due to the fact that they are organized and disciplined, making schedules and lists, while still leaving room for inevitable bumps in the road and unforeseen issues that they can solve through flexibility and creativity, another key factor in entrepreneurial management. As I mentioned in my last post, it is incredibly important to be creative in all aspects of the business to stand out from the competition in a saturated market like the food truck industry. However, I have also learned that creativity is just as valuable in the management and leadership of an entrepreneurial startup. Because Swizzler is such a new company with not a ton of available funds, the guys used creative means to get us excited about our jobs, rather than just monetary incentives. We explored new restaurants around the city after work, went to events around DC, traded food and made friends with countless other food trucks, and created a bond and sense of camaraderie that I believe was very unique and distinctive from the typical office culture you find in the corporate world. Through creative means, the boys were able to be incredibly effective leaders by making us feel like more than interns or employees, but rather members of the Swizz Family.

Surviving & Thriving in a Saturated Market

Tuesday, July 28, 2015 9:53 pm

It’s no secret that the restaurant industry is an incredibly challenging business. Owning and running a restaurant is hard and risky work and I’ve learned first hand this summer that owning and running a food truck is no different.

Challenges and unforeseen issues are the norm in the food industry. Every morning is a new adventure and has its own unique obstacles. Some days it’s impossible to find a spot to park and sell where we previously promised customers we would be. Other times a food shipment comes in late or the produce is not as fresh as we would like it to be. Events change location last minute or spring additional constraints or needs on us day of. Kitchen appliances and truck parts need repair and attention. There are a million things that can go wrong every day and a huge part of being successful in the food industry is being able to handle a tricky situation and creatively find alternative options.

The biggest obstacle that Swizzler faces on a daily basis, however, is probably the sheer amount of competition in the DC metropolitan area. There are almost 80 food trucks in the DMV (DC, Maryland, Virginia) Food Truck Association and new trucks popping up all the time. At a major food truck spot (known as a “lottery spots” because of the random system that assigns food trucks a certain number of parking spots in these popular locations each month), there are typically 10 or more trucks to choose from. This is of course wonderful for the customers. There are new food trucks every day and foods from across the globe. The options are nearly endless. It is not so wonderful, however, for the food truck owners and is probably the largest obstacle to their businesses.

At Swizzler, we deal with this competition in several ways, but generally we try to stick out from the pack. First and foremost, we try to make ourselves known by producing the best food possible. At Swizzler they have a philosophy that every transaction with a customer is an opportunity to turn a stranger into a loyal member of the #SwizzTribe. We want every interaction with the team to be a positive one and we want everyone to love the food we produce. This is why we source local ingredients whenever possible, use grass-feed beef, and value the presentation of our food so highly.

Another way we deal with competition is by using our social media accounts to their full potential. We are constantly trying to generate engaging content on all our platforms, ranging from drool-worthy instagrams to interesting Facebook article to clever tweets. We use social media to market ourselves in as positive a way as possible and stay in touch with our customer base. Social media is also incredibly important in letting our followers know where we will be – so they know where to be to enjoy a Swizzler!

Finally, we try to be as creative and innovative as possible to stand out from the competition. There are enough kabob and taco trucks in DC to feed a person for a year, but many of them offer very similar meals and lack inspiration. From the design of the truck, to the presentation of the food, to the menu offerings, Swizzler tries to stand out from the pack. Swizzler is completely flipping the hot dog game and trying to do the same with food trucks in general. We’re constantly generating new Swizzler creations and thinking of ways to make our food stand out. This summer alone we’ve tried four new dogs with great success and several other side items including salads and even gazpacho.

Staying afloat in the food business is about being able to adapt in the face of challenge and competition. The DC food truck scene is an incredibly competitive one but at Swizzler we’re utilizing our unique spin on the daily lunch routine and strong principles to stay relevant, delicious, and successful.

Company Culture at Swizzler

Saturday, July 18, 2015 4:23 pm

My internship with Swizzler has so far provided me with an experience that is very different from the typical college summer job. A large part of that has to do with the culture at Swizzler.

Swizzler culture is completely unique from other more traditional companies for several reasons. First and foremost, Swizzler is a food truck, not an insurance company or even a clothing brand. The food industry has a very unique style different from most other fields. Work in the food industry is fast-paced, constantly changing, and very challenging. There are always new obstacles to address and overcome and these decisions must be made quickly and responsibly. Therefore, a large part of being a successful Swizzler employee (as with any entrepreneurial startup really) is being able to roll with the punches and, most importantly, adapt.

Another defining characteristic of Swizzler that hugely affects the culture of working there is that it is run by three energetic, creative, and young guys. Working somewhere with such a youthful makeup is obviously very different that a traditional corporate structure. Swizzler is a very young company itself and the fact that it is run by such young people makes for great and exciting company culture. Being so young and full of energy, there is always something going on, something changing. The guys accept as many events as they can, connect with the local colleges, attract young people, and are always willing to spice things up and try new things. This makes my work as an intern constantly changing and exciting. For example, as young 20-somethings, the guys know first hand the power of social media. Therefore, the brand puts a huge emphasis on platforms like Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook, and I am in charge of all of these things for the summer. I try to make our posts light, entertaining, funny, and eye-catching to attract new followers and keep customers interested and involved. The playfulness and youthfulness of the company in many ways shapes our marketing strategies.

Another aspect of my internship that makes the culture of Swizzler so unique is the amount of responsibility I am given. Because Swizzler is such a small startup, even as 1 intern I can actually make a difference which is very exciting and makes working at Swizzler so valuable for me. Every member of the Swizzler team has their own unique responsibilities and everyone’s participation is necessary for things to run smoothly. Working at Swizzler is a very collaborative effort. All decisions are made as a team, all successes are celebrated as such, and all mishaps and obstacles are treated as the responsibility of all members of the team. The culture at Swizzler is exciting, cooperative, and fun.

A Day in the Life of a Swizztern

Wednesday, July 15, 2015 2:39 am

“So, what are you doing this summer?” is a question most college-aged kids are used to hearing almost daily from friends, parents, and even friendly strangers. It definitely gets a little old after a while but I can tell you that have an interesting, even shocking response like “interning on a food truck” definitely helps the conversation get a little livelier. However, it’s pretty hard to capture what it means to be a food truck intern in a short conversation. The best way to describe what my internship with Swizzler is all about is really to give you a rundown of a typical day at work for me. However, it’s important to note that no one day working at Swizzler is alike. There are constantly new challenges and obstacles, interesting events, and projects to tackle.

My day usually begins around 7AM. I wake up, roll out of bed, throw on a Swizzler t-shirt and gym shorts (the “office” dress code makes mornings a breeze), and head from my house in Chevy Chase, Maryland to the NoMA neighborhood of Northeast Washington, DC. After a 35 minute metro ride I arrive at Union Kitchen, the culinary incubator we work out of and the meeting point where we start every work day around 8AM. First, we briefly meet in the communal workspace to discuss the upcoming day and week and then get right into food prep in the kitchen. Morning prep work includes chopping onions, tomatoes, and cucumbers, preparing homemade pesto, tzatziki, guacamole, and strawberry salsa, cutting and partially frying potatoes, and preparing all other food items for the day on the truck. Around 10:30, the truck pulls out of the kitchen lot to head to its spot for the day. Half of the time I work on the truck and the other half of the time I work in the office. When on the truck, I either work at the window, taking orders and working the register, or on the prep table, adding toppings to the hotdogs before they head out to customers. Service typically runs from about 11:30 to 1:45, after which we head back to the kitchen. On the days that I am not on the truck, we either work at Union Kitchen in the communal office space or head to a local coffee shop/restaurant (free wifi!) to do work. As I’ve explained previously, my office work includes all things social media and marketing. Recently, I’ve been working hard on producing Swizzler’s first ever newsletter. Around 2:30 every day we head back to the kitchen to clean all the dishes and the truck and to prep more food for the next day. I usually head to the metro around 5 completely exhausted but happy and ready for whatever the next day might bring!

Welcome to the Swizz Tribe

Wednesday, July 1, 2015 1:34 am

Most people at Wake are very familiar with the Swizzler concept. The idea was born out of an entrepreneurship class competition and since opening the food truck, the boys behind the Swizzler even made a trip back down to Winston Salem to feed insane numbers of students and faculty alike one weekend last spring. The three boys behind the truck are Ben Johnson, Jack Zimmerman, and Jesse Konig, all graduates of the class of 2014. Ben is a DC native, born just outside the city in Northern Virginia. At Wake, he was a Business and Enterprise Management major in the business school and runs all of the social media and marketing campaigns for the trucks and coordinates all the events. He is also the creative mind behind most of the menu and leads menu and recipe developing with a passion for nutrition and delicious food. I am working closely with Ben this summer as a marketing/social media intern and a foodie myself. Jack majored in Spanish and minored in Entrepreneurship and Social Enterprise during his time at Wake and currently serves as Swizzler CEO. Jack hails from Greenwich, Connecticut and constantly keeps us on track, making sure everything is running smoothly and remaining on track. Jesse was also an Entrepreneur minor and majored in English, though both guys are often found conversing with customers in fluent Spanish. As COO, Jesse deals with the daily operations of the company and can almost always be found chatting up customers in line. Together, the three make for excellent business partners and friends.

Swizzler’s overall mission is to bring people great food that’s also healthy and good for the environment. That is why they source only the highest quality 100% grass-feed, grass-finished beef, use local, organic produce whenever possible, and make many of the toppings from scratch. Even the drinks sold on the truck are specifically chosen to fit in Swizzler’s food philosophy. Currently, the truck offers Boxed Water (a more environmentally friendly alternative to plastic water bottles) and Spindrift soda (a carbonated drink sweetened with only pure fruit purees and juices). Swizzler only works with partners whose philosophies match their own, who source and sell responsibly. One of the reasons I am already so invested in and passionate about this internship and Swizzler in general is because I so wholeheartedly support their mission. I am an amateur environmentalist myself and find their commitment to local, organic, and responsible sourcing inspiring and necessary in today’s day and age to keep up with the newest generation of people who want to know where their food is coming from as well as to ease the planet’s burden, even if just by a tiny amount.

The Start of my “Swizzventure” in the World of Food Trucks

Monday, June 15, 2015 11:13 pm

This summer I am interning at Swizzler Foods, a startup founded by three 2014 Wake Forest graduates during the Spring of their senior year. I feel so incredibly lucky to have this opportunity to learn the ins and outs of the food industry and to experience the realities of entrepreneurship and I am already having so much fun.

The Swizzler truck serves gourmet hot dogs (called Swizzlers) and fries around the DC area. The hotdogs are made from 100% grassfed beef and spiral cut for maximum deliciousness. The gourmet toppings available range from pesto, mozzarella, tomatoes, and balsamic reduction on the Leonardo Dog Vinci to veggie chili, honey mustard coleslaw, and barbecue sauce on the Deacon (an obvious homage to our Mother so Dear) to olive tapenade, tomatoes, tzatziki, feta cheese, and cucumber on the Acropolis (my personal favorite), among many other deliciously addictive combinations. In just about 7 months, the Ben Johnson, Jack Zimmerman, and Jesse Konig (the guys behind Swizzler) have been able to establish a loyal fan base and extensive following in DC, as well as back home in Winston where it all began.

My internship with Swizzler began just about a week ago when I first met the team, along with the two other summer interns, at Union Kitchen. Union Kitchen is a culinary incubator located in Northeast DC that serves as home base for several food trucks, catering companies, and other food startups, including Wake’s own Slender Seven, started by alumna Nikki Azzara. Union Kitchen provides shared kitchen space, equipment, and services for these small businesses as they grow. That first day we met in a conference room at Union Kitchen for an orientation session about the Swizzler vision, food and kitchen safety, and our responsibilities as interns. Next, I met individually with Ben who is in charge of all marketing, social media, and menu development for Swizzler and is serving as my mentor this summer. My goals in terms of social media and marketing, are really to keep growing the Swizzler fan base in DC and beyond. Under Ben’s oversight, I will be monitoring Swizzler’s Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram pages as well as experimenting with other forms of social media such as Pinterest and Snapchat. I will also be responsible for marketing all events that Swizzler is involved with on such platforms and interacting with the consumers, a seemingly minor but vastly important task. Ben and the other guys explained to me the importance of making each customer feel important and valued, whether it be while they’re placing an order or waiting for food, enjoying their meal, or posting about Swizzler afterwards. We try to respond to everything posted about Swizzler and incorporate as many people as possible into the “Swizz Tribe” of loyal followers. I will also be responsible for developing a marketing metric to track virtual engagement with customers (such as through likes and comments on photos, the use of hashtags, etc.) and to aid social media decision making. I am also tasked with designing and implementing a Campus Rep program for Wake Forest, George Washington University, and Georgetown University to help spread the word about Swizzler and generate more involvement from the colleges who already so strongly support Swizzler. Some other projects that I am very excited about working on this summer include creating and publishing the first ever Swizzler newsletter, helping with the planning and execution of events, menu development, and website redesign. Overall I think it is safe to say that I definitely will not be getting bored anytime soon this summer!

However, the main part of working at Swizzler is, of course, the food truck experience. Aside from the daily and weekly tasks and projects I am responsible for in the realm of communications, I also have been and will continue to work on the truck during lunch hours around 3 times a week and in the evenings and on weekends for special events. Last week, I worked mostly at the window, a position the Swizzler guys call the “Guest Guru.” The Guest Guru is responsible for taking orders, dealing with payment and distributing proper change, garnishing plates, and handing out food. Working on the truck is incredibly exciting and fun. We try to make every interaction we have with customers as friendly, positive, and memorable as possible. Additionally, Swizzler strives to provide the best and most delicious products possible to each customer. To accomplish this, we do things like hand cut our fries and cook them to order, buy as many things locally as possible (such as our pretzel rolls and vegetarian chili), and home make things whenever we can (like our housemade pesto, tzatziki, olive tapenade, honey mustard coleslaw, sauerkraut, or famous Swizz Sauzz). Coming up to the window and ordering a Swizzler is meant to be more than just a transaction. From the vibrant color of the truck, to the smiles on our faces, to the music playing from the speakers, to the beautiful as well as delicious hot dog you’ll enjoy, coming to the Swizzler truck is meant to be an experience and I am honored and ecstatic to be a part of that experience this summer.

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