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Can someone explain to me patio11's Taco example?
17 points by summerlunch 1660 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 8 comments
https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=5603403

"I don't think that was the takeaway I was going for. An accountant, told "Tell me where the money goes in a taco truck", would be able to do do a napkin sketch of that in under a minute. "Describe at least one business problem amenable to a software solution that a taco truck has" does not strike me as being terribly difficult. (Actually selling it to them in a scalable fashion? Much more difficult, but that's largely because they're a taco truck.)"

What did Patrick mean in this paragraph? If you were to ask me "come up with a software solution for at least one business problem that a taco truck might have", I couldn't give you an answer. How could someone look at a business, and just dream up some software solutions?




Can I ask you which part of that you're having a problem with?

Can you identify a business problem a taco truck has? (I'm assuming taco trucks are something within your experience. If not, assume I said "the last restaurant you ate at") Even if you know nothing in particular about taco trucks, you can go the the reliable old standby that absolutely every business in the world feels its revenues could be higher and its costs could be lower.

Let's focus on revenue. Do you understand how a taco truck generates revenue? They sell tacos (and some other stuff), at a particular price. If they sell more tacos, holding price equal, their revenue goes up. (Take on faith that tacos are incredibly high margin and that selling more of them is a win, OK? I strongly believe this to be true for the typical taco truck. If you don't know what high margin even means, that's fine, because it doesn't change this analysis.)

So our problem is now "Sell more tacos, with software." Can you do that? If not, ignore the software bit -- can you dream up ways to sell more tacos? Can you just brainstorm twenty of them?

+ Get more people to hear about our taco truck. + Always ask people "Would you like a second taco for the road?" + Sell tacos at a better location. + Sell tacos to companies in big batches, then anchor your retail business at the company's location for a day. + ...

Now look very hard at your list. Is one or more of those amenable to being implemented, in whole or in part, in software? I suspect the answer would be yes.

You don't have to be bitten by a radioactive spider to make businesses money, and it equally doesn't require superpowers to do that with software. If you absolutely, positively feel you can't do it, I strongly suggest working in industry for a year or three. Any industry will do. Applying technology to discrete problems is a learnable skill.


Wow, now that I see you breaking it down like this, I can start to see how I can find business problems that I can potentially solve.

This is making me think why stop at software solutions? Why not just solve business problems in general, but use Ruby on Rails as a tool to solve them? Maybe some problems won't even need Ruby on Rails!

Another questions comes to mind: how would I sell a service with such unpredictable outcomes? If I sell software, then I can almost guarantee certain features. But if I were to promise "more customers" or "more sales", I wouldn't even be 100% sure myself if my methods will work. How would I market a service with an unpredictable success rate?


I'm impressed that you are breaking it down like this in a way to encourage people to think about the problem in a way that will let them identify potential issues you might not have thought of.

I personally would have jumped on the most obvious problem, which is that your potential customers have no idea where to find you. See https://twitter.com/TheTacoTruck for a software solution to that. There are much better possible solutions from the customer's point of view.


The Taco Truck gets one thinking about a concrete example and looking at its processes. Unlike a bank, any software solution for a Taco Truck is likely to be generalizable across a large range of businesses [whereas a bank might get one thinking about something as narrow as international wire transfers].

Look at the examples given in other comments - inventory, vehicle maintenance, planning - if a Taco Truck could use it, a lot of other businesses can too.

The danger is coming up with a Taco Truck specific payment handling solution rather than a generalized one. The Taco Truck Solution leads to an email feature implemented in a subset of Common Lisp. The generalized solution leads to Stripe and competing with PayPal.


The company has several taco trucks they operate in the greater metro area. Each is run as a franchise, with the parent company as the main vendor of ingredients. They want a software program to track sales, inventory, locations of each truck at which time, providing a accounting and inventory management to each franchisee, without them seeing any other truck's information. The parent owner wants to see all of them, of course.

Managing the maintenance schedule on each truck would be a nice feature, also.


The idea is that by observing people (and their businesses), you'll see choke points that software would solve. For a taco truck, maybe the owner is writing down quantities of ingredients (shells, salsa, meat, etc.) on a physical piece of paper. Once he's low, he calls up the supplier to order more.

A software solution might keep let him keep track of this on an iPad, and perhaps even integrate order forms (so he can order stuff immediately from the iPad).


Actually talking to a taco truck owner >>>> Random Guessing about a domain you have little knowledge of.

But, what I think his point was, make a list of things that taco truck owners spend time/money on.

Marketing, food ingredients, labor, gas, deciding where to post up for the lunch rush, food prep time, etc.

Pick something out of the list that you have braninstormed, and drill down into how can software solve this problem for less money or in a positive ROI money for time tradeoff, than the current solution (I think in a lot of areas of industries, it will turn out, that you just can't).


Taco truck has limited time, and many potential venues. They come to you and want to know how to best allocate their time. They have a dozen different venues they operate at regularly, which will change from time to time. They want a program into which they can enter the sales results of each venue along with the weather, date and time, and get back a schedule of venues to maximize their revenue.




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