Running a business isn’t easy. Learn how to overcome common business challenges with my talk with Jen.
Jen is the CEO of Truefin, buy sustainable seafood business that distributes seafood throughout the Gulf of Maine.
Now, on to my talk with Jen.
How do you like to practice sustainability in your daily life?
I compost at home and recycle everything that I can. I also ensure to get the most fuel-efficient vehicle I can buy even before the EVs come out. So when it’s time for me to get my next vehicle, I’ll probably make sure again to get something even more environmentally friendly.
Why does sustainable fishing matter?
Since food is critical to sustaining us, we need to ensure that we’re sustaining the resource we depend on. Seafood, in particular, is the most environmentally friendly animal protein in the world.
It has lower greenhouse gas emission input, requires less feed freshwater, and it’s good for us as it’s high in protein.
So what we do is buy locally from fishermen who fish in the Gulf of Maine. This positively impacts the local economy and helps us produce food domestically while also supporting our local coastal communities.
How did you stumble upon your business idea?
I think the big ‘aha’ moment for me was when I was at a high-end retail store in Massachusetts where they were selling whole fish from Japan for $20–40 a pound. Since we don’t even pay that for filets here in most traditional stores, I started looking at the factors that enable them to get such high prices for these cool fish.
It turns out that the main factor affecting this is the way they handle the fish as soon as it comes in the boat.
Luckily, I had the opportunity to do some research and bring in experts to train me and some fishermen on these handling practices. This way, we got to produce higher quality products, which not only get a higher value to the boat but also allow fish to last longer and prevent the shelf life from rotting as quickly.
So we started trying to get seafood companies to work with fishermen who would handle their fish in this high-end specialized manner, pay them more for that, and then market it to high-end buyers.
However, we couldn’t find buyers who would like to take this idea on as a business since they also have to depend on imported seafood. This made us decide to do it ourselves instead.
In the summer of 2019, we started troops to have a mechanism that would be able to purchase fish from fishermen and process it (whether it’s cutting or just even boxing at a whole), ship it out, and then bring it to high-end buyers across the country who care about quality, provenance, and sustainability.
What’s the biggest obstacle you faced when building your business?
The beginning stages of starting the company were very challenging. We just don’t need to get fishermen to sell to us but actually handle their fish in a new way. It took us time to build that trust because they already have existing relationships with others.
This is the same with our sales, in which we have to get companies and chefs to have faith that they could get quality products from us, even if we’re just an unknown, brand new seafood company back then.
So getting the company off the ground, getting fish from fishermen, and getting sales up to folks definitely took some time.
When March 2020 came, we were just hitting our stride — bringing in growing volumes of fish, getting it boxed up, shipped out, and starting to build our base — when food service was shut down because of the pandemic.
Then, we started an email campaign to tell people in their local areas that we had fish and that if they wanted to buy from us and cook it at home, we would make it available to them.
So we went from selling cool fish to selling filet to businesses and individuals. Since we’ve never done selling filet before, we have to bring in some chefs with knife skills to help us.
The process was extremely stressful because we had to constantly innovate and adapt to the changes around us. We also need to figure out many things we don’t know yet, such as packaging pounds of filet. Thankfully, we had home cooks who came and supported us.
Now, I’m proud to say that our monthly revenue never went down. We continued to grow, despite the pandemic, which brought major blows and changes. I think it ultimately made us a better company.
What’s the best way for us to get started in a business?
I think everybody’s journey is so different. But one thing I would advise to people who want to start a business is to surround themselves with those who know things that they don’t, learn from them, and be open to what these more experienced and skilled people tell you.
However, at the end of the day, you should still make up your mind and not slip along with what everybody else is saying. This is what I did. Since I haven’t had experience running a seafood company before, I have to learn from others.
Another important thing to remember when running your business is to stay with your vision and mission. Make sure you’re always moving in the direction aligned with your brand and the reason for your being.
I hope you enjoyed my talk with Jen and that you took away some value. If you want to listen to the entire interview, click play below or head over to your favorite platform (Apple, Spotify, or Google.)
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