shipping containers
Image: iStockphoto/wissanu01

Fortunes have been minted in tech by creating new online marketplaces, disrupting traditional analog retail and wholesale distribution networks that for some industries were centuries old. Bringing buyers and sellers turned out to be a great business for hundreds of start-ups now worth billions, from Amazon to Uber.

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So, it’s always a bit surprising to discover enormous market opportunities seemingly overlooked by venture capitalists and entrepreneurs. Flexport, for example, cleverly figured out a way to streamline the enormous hassles and expense of shipping containers across oceans and raised more than $2.2 billion in venture funding to serve a market analysts estimate is worth more than $6 billion a year.

And then there’s Tridge (the name stands for Transaction Bridge), a Korea-based startup you’ve never heard of, tackling a $640 billion global fresh produce market you’ve probably never considered. Odds are good, however, that you’ve already benefited from Tridge’s services and can expect to derive even more benefit as Tridge grows.

Feeding the world

Unlike Flexport’s containers, fresh produce is perishable. The window to sell and buy is narrow. Trust is critical. Yet the market lacks transparency, complicating things and slowing them down. Buyers and sellers rely on informal networks to find a fair market price for hundreds of products. Price discovery hasn’t advanced much since the 18th Century when British ships could reap enormous prices and profits off spices they shipped from Asia.

Tridge solves that problem by publishing current market prices online for hundreds of categories of fruits and vegetables in markets around the world. It relies on public price information as well as a network of local analysts in nearly 100 countries and their proprietary research. Buyers and sellers can meet on the online market site and trade, too.

The company also buys directly from farmers and sells directly to stores acting as a trusted intermediary in an industry plagued by mistrust.

For example, when the United States and Mexico briefly faced a trade war and sanctions in February this year, Tridge helped U.S. avocado distributors Cotija Avocados find alternative buyers for tons of fresh fruit from their 43 hectare farm in Michoacan where most of Mexico’s avocados are grown.

Screenshot of the Tridge UI
Image: Tridge

“We trust Tridge,” said Bryan Prihoda, co-founder of Cotija Avocados. “Right now, we move more than 120 tons a week from our farms and those of our neighbors. Tridge really is more a partner than a customer. They can match us with buyers anywhere in the world, and we can be confident on payment and that the quality of our fruit will be ensured in shipment.”

Tridge also stepped in last year to help buyers and sellers when a container ship got stuck in the Suez Canal, blocking more than 10% of global trade. In March, when sanctions over the war in Ukraine halted many shipments of fresh produce, Tridge helped buyers and sellers connect over new routes.

Tridge makes little money on its marketplace from buyers and sellers, which removes a potential source for irritation like we’ve seen with Apple’s App Store and other marketplaces. For Tridge, the money is in the data. Its network tracks the price, quality and volume of everything it handles in real time. By aggregating that massive amount of data, it can sell critical research information to not only buyers and sellers of fresh produce but also hedge funds, commodity traders and financial brokers of all kinds.

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This approach may not be surprising, given that the founder has a financial background. CEO and founder Hoshik Shin is a former private equity fund manager at Korea Investment Corp., Korea’s $200 billion sovereign wealth fund. He saw that the traditional agriculture giants like Cargill had created global markets but just for its own products. Same with Del Monte and others. No one had yet put their arms around the entire industry.

“Our goal from the start was to build a global network of trusted businesses and professionals that ultimately form a healthy ecosystem where global trade thrives, and businesses work together in an efficient manner,” Shin said. “We always make sure that business entities, industry experts, community members, our employees and any parties involved are trustworthy, capable and reliable. This helps us cultivate a dynamic ecosystem and global network where safe and reliable business transactions can take place.”

It seems to be working. After 10 years in business, Tridge now operates in over 40 countries, serving big-brand customers like Walmart, ABInBev, Carrefour and Costco. It may not be a household Silicon Valley name, but Tridge’s data and the technology used to share it may be responsible for the mixed berry breakfasts being consumed on Sandhill Road.

Disclosure: I work for MongoDB but the views expressed herein are mine.

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