Mavs Business Assist: Meet Mercedes Johnson, Founder of Food Magnet

The Mavs Business Assist program was launched at the start of the 2022-23 basketball season to support 100 diverse entrepreneurs and small business owners who call North Texas home.

The Dallas Mavericks have partnered with The Lonely Entrepreneur to provide program participants with access to the knowledge, tools and support they need to succeed through the Mavs Business Assist (MBA) program.

We believe in the power of storytelling and we are honored to feature various MBA members throughout the year to highlight their exceptional achievements.

Every entrepreneur has a story to tell. This is especially true for minority-owned and women-owned businesses, who often face even more hurdles to succeed with their business. The Dallas Mavs look forward to amplifying diverse minority voices Entrepreneur in the inaugural class of the Mavs Business Assist program.


Mercedes Johnson
Founder and CEO of Food Magnet

ABOUT FOOD MAGNET:
Food Magnet was founded in Dallas, Texas to help food truck owners find new business and customers. The pandemic ended most events that food trucks attended and made it difficult to find stores. Food Magnet connects trucks to local neighborhoods, offices and more that need a food truck for an upcoming event. Food Magnet also helps foodies to find, follow, and get promotions about their favorite trucks on the mobile app.

BACKGROUND:
Mercedes Johnson is a graduate student at the Jindal School of Management at the University of Texas at Dallas and is working on her MBA with a focus on entrepreneurship and innovation.

By day she’s a lead UX (user experience) designer at Capital One, and by night (and weekends and all other times) she’s the Founder and CEO of the Food Magnet app.

Food Magnet is a mobile application for a multi-page marketplace that food trucks use to book events, manage permits, market to customers, and more. Food Magnet allows food enthusiasts to find, book and interact with their favorite food trucks.

Johnson received the 2021 Texas Business Hall of Fame Award and was a finalist in the 2021 Big Idea Competition. She has two bachelor’s degrees and originally wanted to be a news reporter. However, she soon realized that she was naturally drawn to business ventures and her unique design skills quickly propelled her down the road to success. Johnson planned to climb the corporate ladder.

Then one day, her future called.

Johnson joined the CometX program – a supercharged innovation program that puts student entrepreneurs on a fast track to success. Students are incubated in an environment that prepares them to launch a new business concept. Johnson thought she would be able to build a business in the program. Instead, they wanted their idea within a week.

A short time later, Food Magnet was born.

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When I sat down with Johnson on the first Mavs Business Assist cohort, her contagious spirit and positivity was evident. I was thrilled just to listen to their vision and passion. As she later shared, the ups and downs of starting a business, going to school, and working full-time can be tiring. That’s why the support of the Dallas Mavericks and Mavs Business Assist is important to Johnson and other entrepreneurs.

The California native said Food Magnet was born out of research into the issues faced by food truck companies. She began cold calling food truck owners in the area. She wanted to know about her companies.

Johnson soon realized there was a much greater need. Many of the food truck business owners she spoke to were immigrants who struggled with the back end of marketing and business. The pandemic has also revealed a glaring need in the food truck industry. While restaurants relied on apps for food delivery, food trucks struggled to let their customers know where and when to find them.

As a designer, Johnson worked on the technical solution. She knew immediately this could work, all she needed was the funds, support and a business plan to go full steam ahead with the business.

Food Magnet is about to enter the public market in early 2023.

“When I started my MBA, I encountered entrepreneurship,” Johnson said. “After exploring the program, I thought, ‘Holy cow, this is what I already do every day.’ So I was like, ‘Okay, let’s do this,’ and the rest is history.”

Johnson works full-time, goes to school, teaches workshops, and finds time to join cohorts like the Dallas Mavericks. She doesn’t have much time to do anything else, but she understands that’s the nature of business. She is confident that her life will be impacted by Food Magnet and she is driven by a desire to help others.

Mavs.com sat down with Johnson to learn more about her extraordinary story.

Mavs.com: Hello Mercedes! First, I won’t pretend to know anything about your industry. I had to google what UX means, so I already feel a lot smarter. What else can you tell us about Food Magnet?

Johnson: We are preparing to go public in January. Food Magnet is a two-sided marketplace very similar to Uber. Where is the driver and driver side. What we do is the same concept but with food trucks. So you can hunt down your favorite food truck, book it for special events and find discount offers when there are lunchtime specials. That will be available on the consumer side.

On the food truck side, we will be more of an end-to-end business solution to help them run their business. Many truck owners and drivers are immigrants; sometimes English is not their first language. Many of them did not grow up with a strong commercial background. So that’s where I can come in and use my business background and apply it in the application to help them track all the important metrics they need to know. We’re going to make it super easy. We help them with marketing, permits, staffing and event sourcing on their behalf. Our goal is to help them scale their business by providing them with all resources in one place. I firmly believe that we can change lives.”

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Mavs.com: What challenges do you face as a black businesswoman or as a minority entrepreneur?

Johnson: Sometimes it’s difficult for me to work with investors because they expect the founder to be in the startup full-time, but I have to make my own living. I have met some entrepreneurs who can support their families or rely on partners to help them. In my case it’s just me.

The challenge I face is how to make a living and keep a roof over my head while still pursuing my dream. I had to get creative and find other ways to get those funds. Luckily, I’m a strong speaker and have won several pitching contests. But these networking events are extremely important for me and other minorities because I can meet others who might be able to help me. After all, they face the same challenges.

This way I can also tell more about my company. I can tell others that I am coming and put a face to the name. So when they see the company next year, they can put a face to the name. This program is important because everyone in this space has similar mindsets and challenges.

I look forward to learning more about everyone’s business and sharing our mutual support. One-to-one networking and the opportunity to meet is key. Not only are these events important to grow my business, but they help us all navigate this entrepreneurial journey alongside other minority entrepreneurs.

Mavs.com: What things do we often miss on the business or corporate side? What would you wish others knew?

Johnson: I wish people knew more about what the life of an entrepreneur is really like. Companies and organizations often focus on the business side, which I know is important. Of course it’s important to have a strong team behind you.

But I find it more interesting to know what a founder does when he doesn’t have a strong team. How do they manage the workload and how do they run it even though they don’t have the resources? The human interest factor is missing because startups are complex, but you can’t read grit on paper. You only know what an entrepreneur can do when you have heard his story. In my opinion, an entrepreneur’s story is important and they usually never get the opportunity to share it. I’ve carried all of society on my back and I’ve been alone at times, but I’m determined to persevere.

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What’s interesting is that I actually met Mark Cuban! I met Mark a year ago and am now at an event through his organization. I mean what are the odds? I’ve even discovered that we have a few mutual connections as well. Dallas isn’t as big as it seems. Last year we were both inducted into the Texas Business Hall of Fame together. I was inducted as a scholar representing UT Dallas and he as a legend. I will get there one day.

The entrepreneurial journey is not linear, but the dots are all connected. It was a long journey; there are definitely ups and downs.

For those evenings when I feel like I’m alone out here, options like Mavs Business Assist will recharge my batteries. I am so grateful to have the opportunity to come here and meet others who are living the same reality as me.

I look forward to all the different resources that will come out of this program. I think in my position any help is appreciated. I am here with an open mind. I wonder how I can help others and give back some of my knowledge?

And second, how can I make the most of this event and grow from it? I’m not looking for anything specific, but I’m willing to help in any way I can. I am very happy to be here. I came from a user experience design workshop at UT Dallas, where I was a guest speaker for my job.

People often ask me, “How did you get into Food Magnet?” I tell them, “I’m just a really strong designer. I know how to research, listen to my clients and design solutions.”

Mavs.com: This is the year of THINK BIG! Our Mavs team just finished a Western Conference Finals and is a constant reminder to set big goals. What does that look like for Food Magnet?

Johnson: I would compete against Uber Eats and Amazon’s Whole Foods. Food Magnet’s dream and development are strategic. We aspire to eventually compete with these companies, but we have a niche with food trucks. Phase two will include restaurants and some real estate, but we plan to fly under the radar until we have enough traction to be dangerous. Let’s just say there’s a method to the madness.

Congratulations Mercedes on all your efforts! To learn more about Food Magnet, click here.



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