The inauguration of President Trump in January 2017 affected some more than others. For 27-year-old Sam Cho, the transition of presidential power from one political party to another spurred upon a series of unforeseen personal changes.
As a former Obama political appointee, Sam was one of the many Democratic operatives who was suddenly out of a job. But, unlike so many of his colleagues, he didn't scour the internet for potential jobs. Instead, he created his own.
"It was a tough market," Sam told Circa. "We had just lost the presidential election. The Democrats were a minority in both chambers of Congress, so you had this huge exodus of Democratic staffers and not enough jobs for them. Instead of applying for jobs that I knew I didn't really want to do, I decided this was the perfect opportunity to start my own venture and see how it goes."
That venture involved eggs--yes, the staple American breakfast item.
At about the same time Trump won the 2016 election, South Korea was experiencing what government officials would later define as the country's worst outbreak of avian flu--commonly known as bird flu. In order to prevent the further spread of the disease, the South Korean government issued a protocol to slaughter millions of chickens, ducks and quail. That, as a result, led to an increased shortage in eggs, forcing market prices to skyrocket to nearly $10 per carton.
"When I saw these egg prices, and I saw the problem, I thought to myself, maybe there's an arbitrage opportunity here. I thought maybe if I can get eggs for cheap in the U.S., I can sell them for a little bit of a profit in Korea."
When he returned from South Korea--the country of his ancestors--Sam trekked to Costco for some research. There he found the names of farms who sell eggs in bulk. What happened next was truly serendipitous.
One of the farms he discovered was located in Washington--just outside of where his parents lived.
After a few calls, Sam was able to organize an agreement with the farm and look for potential buyers.
That marked the unofficial launch of Seven Seas Export.
"We're in the B to B business--business to business, which means we don't sell directly to consumers," Sam continued. "I don't sell to markets. I don't sell to groceries. I don't sell to those mom and pop chains. Who I do sell to, however, is food producers and companies that may use my eggs as an ingredient for their end product."
Some of those companies included bakeries and mayonnaise businesses. Sam said this decision was strategic, knowing that there would be more volume, more sales, and stable demand.
Partnering with these companies also alleviated some of the anxiety associated with shipping fragile food items thousands of miles across the ocean. Bakeries don't use egg shells to make their products, so that meant Sam could ship frozen eggs without compromising benefit. In fact, Sam says it helps him out in the long run.
"The eggs are good for a year in the frozen state. For a lot of countries like Korea who have these bird flu contamination, they can actually keep inventory of eggs for over a year, and when these crises flare up, they have these frozen eggs that they can use as reserves."
That strategic thinking provided instrumental in Seven Seas Export's success. Since March 2017, Sam's startup shipped more than 1.5 million pounds of eggs.
But Sam's journey has been anything but smooth sailing. He explained that there were multiple times he was forced to "pivot"--the business term for "trial and error." For example, Sam failed to meet the customs regulations for his eggs. That meant he was forced to throw away thousands of pounds of eggs.
He said that the most difficult part of launching an international company was dealing with the seemingly bureaucratic regulations of US and Korean customs.
"Exporting any agricultural or food product is really tough. There's a lot of regulations, a lot of hoops you need to jump through to make it happen. It's not as seamless as a lot of people think it is. That was the huge learning curve that I had to get over."
But thanks to a series of mentors, Sam was able to overcome the challenges to become a successful entrepreneur at the ripe age of 27. Despite his accomplishments, Sam is most proud of being able to pay tribute to his South Korean roots.
"One of the most rewarding parts about this experience has been the fact that I get to work with, in a way, my motherland, the country of my parents," Sam added. "I take tremendous pride in the Korean heritage. To be able to work with Korea, and in a sense, help stregthen economic ties between the two countries, it's been a tremendous experience."
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