#105 | Building an Export Business Through Organic Growth

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Ognadon Eddy Djagou (“Eddy”) is Founder and CEO of Muscatine, IA-based Djaagou-a Export LLC. He is also the Small Business Administration’s Exporter of the Year for 2022!

Born and raised in French-speaking Togo in West Africa, Eddy holds a BA in Marketing from a West African university and immigrated to the US in 2011 on a Diversity visa. The Immigration Act of 1990 inspired the Diversity Visa program, a lottery by which 15,000 people come to the US each year.

In Togo, explains Eddy, between one and 2 million people apply for the lottery; only 100 to 200 are selected and submitted for consideration by the West African government. “My dream changed” upon arrival, he says.

Following a two-year “integration” period in Illinois – learning English, working, obtaining proper identification – Eddy relocated to Muscatine, IA, where he quickly realized that its residents typically traveled at least an hour to neighboring cities to get any international or ethnic goods – like fufu!

Established in 2017, Djaagou-a Export LLC grew out of an organic process of simply sending samples of US food products to friends in Ghana, Nigeria, Cote d’Ivoire, and other regions of West Africa. What started with small packages of goods by 2020 turned into container shipments of rice, sugar, meat and fish, snacks.

Eddy set up a storefront, found a supplier in Chicago, and simultaneously launched an importing business, addressing individual requests from customers both domestic and abroad. A visit to his homeland found larger orders from West African-based importers and turned Djaagou-a Export LLC into a B2B, B2C, and B2G (government) operation.

Today, Djaagou-a Export LLC has the added mission of supporting the local community with their own exporting endeavors, so Eddy continues to work closely with the State of Iowa, the US Commercial Service, EXIM Bank, and the Small Business Administration (including a STEP Grant used for website translation). The opportunities that were made available to him are available to anyone: trade shows in foreign countries, 50% reimbursement grants to get started in exporting (for sending samples overseas, for example), funding for expansion.

His best advice? Small US businesses that imagine exporting as “risky” should be assured that there is a lot of opportunity and government resources that will help you succeed. “Do not look afraid, try something good!”





Connect with Wendy - https://www.linkedin.com/in/wendypease/

Connect with Eddy -

     LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/eddy-djagou-4321611a0/

     Twitter: @EddyDjagou

Music: Fiddle-De-Dee by Shane Ivers - https://www.silvermansound.com

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ATTENTION: Below is a machine generated transcription of the podcast. Yes, at Rapport International, we talk a lot about how machine translation is not good quality. Here you see an example of what a machine can do in your own your language. This transcription is provided as a gist and to give time indicators to find a topic of interest.


[00:01:00] Wendy: Welcome to another episode of the Global Marketing Show. This is another episode in the series that we're recording at the EXIM Conference in Washington, DC. Next we are talking to somebody who just got awarded the SBA Exporter of the Year in 2022. He's in a lot of leadership committees, he is a Goldman Sachs 10 ksb grad. He's a who's who marquee member. He's volunteers for a lot of things, so Ognadon Eddy Djagou, welcome. And I hear we should call you Eddy so people can find you on social media. All right. Welcome Eddy.

Eddy: Yeah, thank you. Thank you for the opportunity you gave me to, you know, give a little.

Explain a little bit what my business is [00:02:00] doing to people so that they can reach out to us. So thank you for the opportunity.

Wendy: Oh, it is my pleasure. It is always so exciting to interview exporters, to hear what they're doing. So why don't you tell us about your business?

Eddy: Okay. First my first name is, and the last name is Diego.

So people call me area all the time because it's kind of a simple for them. And I'm was born and raised in Africa and then I came in US in 2011. And then so when I came in, US you know, my country was a French country, so I came to us. You, you have to learn a little bit in English, so I take classes.

So this is. I started my junior, you know, as an America. So after one year of you know, esl, English, second language I understand how to speak clearly, you know, and I take a full-time [00:03:00] job. This is how my junior start with you know, us. Before that, let me tell you that I have my bachelor degree in market management in my.

Before I have the opportunity to come here. Yeah. So my business name is Djaagou-a Export llc. So we start in 2017 and in January. So it's about, uh, six year now. So that we take entrepreneurship or career to, for the goal is to support you know, the community that I'm located in Muscatine, the state of Iowa. So, and then the next goal is to reach out to the world what we are selling in our local market. . Okay.

Wendy: So let's go back to, you came to the United States, was it to learn English or is that what brought you here?

Eddy: You know I feel lucky people ask me most of time why, you know, Jaguar or Eddie come in us.

I, I win the lottery Visa is a [00:04:00] program called diversity program initiative by the Congress, so that every. The government select about the 15,000 people. They come us legal. So this is how I was selected. You know, I played that by you know, fill out the application. So million of people playing that game.

But if you win, You're gonna follow the process with the embassy and then they will bring you to us. So this is how I came into us, and when I came in, you know, my dream changed and, you know, .

Wendy: So, and then did you move directly to Iowa?

Eddy: Yeah, first I stay in Illinois. Illinois is my first you know, state that I I, I came and then after what is the reason I located in Iowa?

Because I'm looking for the job and you know, when you come in, you don't know anybody. You don't have a family here, so you have to survive. [00:05:00] So I take like a two year, you know, to full-time job and, you know, establish my, share myself. And then they call integration. Integration. You know, be part of the community, see so English work, and then know people how to apply for the job.

You know, even if your your green card or your id, whatever, you have to be part of that. So before you can start in workings for any, you know, business. So this is how my journey started. Yeah. In 2012 and 2013. Yeah. So in a

Wendy: prior episode of the Global Marketing Show, we did talk to somebody about the kinds of visas that you can come in on.

Yeah. But I never knew there was a diversity lottery visa that had come in on, and it sounds. They pick very educated, diverse people to come. Is it mostly Bipo people that would come in?

Eddy: Yes. That program? [00:06:00] I, I think most of people don't know that, that, yeah. Yeah. Because in my country Almost a million, 1 million to 2 million people playing there.

But the government shows like a hundred or 200 people. So this is how, you know, my name came out and, you know, , that was my lucky day that time. . Wow.

Wendy: So from Toga West

Eddy: to Illinois. Illinois and moved to

Wendy: Iowa. Yeah. Okay. So the other thing. I've observed through, you know, running a translation company, Rapport International.

Cause the sponsor of the podcast and doing this podcast is that a lot of heads of. Global businesses or exporters entrepreneurs who are doing global work actually come from another country, right? So you come in here, you're motivated. What Mo got you to start the, the [00:07:00] business and get into

Eddy: exporting.

Okay. Yeah. So in 2015 when I located in in Iowa, the city of Moeen what is the main thing that drive me to entrepreneurship is I saw a lot of people basically in the local community, they drive like one hours to go to other city and get the goods that they need. So drive like one hour because a Mass County is just a local community, so they don't find.

The right product that they need because people seem like, oh, you know they have only Walmart there, but you know, we African or other type of like Chinese food, those things are not in the city. So I say, oh, you know, why not to have a shop here so that the people come in and, you know, buy the thing that they need instead of a driver to go one hours or two hours.

[00:08:00] So save. The mileage. So this is how I have the idea and, you

Wendy: know, put the, so this is to put like a, a, a store in Iowa? Yeah. Store with international

Eddy: product. It's not, yes. Yes. So this is how I have my store and then, uh, in 2000. 16, 17 we started, I started, you know, was keep my own job and you know, people come in, spread the world and let people know that, you know, there is a new story here, you know, come and shop.

So this is how my vision come because I find a problem in the community. Yeah. Okay.

Wendy: And so that, that meant you were more of an import.

Eddy: In import. Yes. Yes. So basically the good chance is I got a supplier in Chicago, so I don't need to go to outside and then bring the girls. Ah, yeah. So I got a supplier in Chicago that you know go, [00:09:00] just call him and send the driver.

And then they brought me the food that we need and, you know, so this is how you know. I started. Yeah. Okay. So

Wendy: just off on a tangent, what products did you miss from Togo when you moved here?

Eddy: One product they call Fufu. Fufu. Oh, fufu. Yeah. So people like fufu a lot. So those are the things that I miss.

Wendy: So I've had fufu before, but why don't you tell our audience what

Eddy: fufu is? ? Okay. So Fufu is is a ye. so you miss with water like after five or 10 minutes. You miss them together and then they come letter, you know, come compact and strong and so you can just make a susu, a full soup. That could be any type of soup that you want, but you take the fufu and then eat with, so [00:10:00] it came from em anyway.

Wendy: Wait, so the fufu that I had was like a big puffy, almost like bread. Yeah, yeah, yeah. So that's what it is. Okay. Yeah,

Eddy: yeah, yeah. I'm happy that you got a chance to, you know to taste and see how fufu looked like .

Wendy: Yeah, I liked it. I thought it was good. I actually ate it in Minnesota.

Eddy: Oh, wow. Yeah. Yeah.

Minnesota was you know, it's a great. State for, you know, international community or you African people? Because I know a lot of people from Liberia, they are living in Minnesota. Yeah, yeah,

Wendy: yeah. Okay. Okay. So you start the store and you're, you have a supplier that's bringing goods in, you're selling it.

Mm-hmm. . Okay. So how did you get into exporting

Eddy: that? Okay, so finally what happened is when we have the. I got a relationship in Africa, so this is how the global markets [00:11:00] started. Yeah. Have a friend in Africa, Ghana, Nigeria Kooi. They say, oh, you know, Uh, why not to send the one package of rice to us so we can try and eat and see how the rice, us rice look like.

Yeah. So I told them, okay, you pay me five foot dollars or $10 for the shipment. Oh, you know, the good price is you know, $20. So they wire me the money and. I send the product to them. So, 17, 18, 19, I started with just a small package, you know, putting the letter package and send to them. We put a letter package and sent to them, but starting by in 2020.

We begin by a container.

Wendy: Wow. Yeah. So fairly quickly. Yeah. People

Eddy: started demanding you and demanding, you know, [00:12:00] and asking, you know, why not to have the right, why not to have the meat. We want the sugar, we want the other type of English. And you have, so this

Wendy: is, um, okay, so you have rice. Yeah. Sugar

Eddy: meals.

Yeah, we have a seafood, like a chicken, we have a fish, like a tilapia. So that is my store. You know, the, and then we have those type of snack, you know, like cholet, whatever, you know. In the store. So people like that and they say, oh, you know, we want that, we want that, we want that. We want two of the three of the four.

This. So this is how my export teenagers started because there is opportunity outside. So before the I travel, If you go to my website to j.com DJ A G O u a.com. Wait,

Wendy: say that slower so people get it.

Eddy: D Okay. Dj, [00:13:00] A A G O U. Space a.gov, a.com sorry. Dot com. So do com. Yeah. So when you go to that, and we'll put it in the show notes too.

So yeah, so when you go to that website, you will see that you know, in 2020 and 2021, I went to Africa to go to different city and country to meet with people who want to buy a larger community of the product. Yes. So that means that the distributor import. Companies, small business, and I have a little connection with them and ask them what they really need in us that my company can bring to them.

So I, you know take a note of all the other mm-hmm. that they looking for. Say, oh, this is you know, big, big, big business. So I came back and, you know, starting doing that, . That's

Wendy: fantastic. So do [00:14:00] you still have your store? Yeah, I still have the

Eddy: store. Yeah. So you

Wendy: gotta import, export,

Eddy: export.

Wendy: Yeah. Yeah.

Now the, the target audience or the target market is very different. I mean, you're selling to consumers, consumer,

Eddy: yeah. And then we have all the, the other part is the export side, and then we deal with the business. So it's a b2b, b2c. And sometime b2 g. Business to government and business to business and business to consumer.

So how

Wendy: do you do your global marketing or how do you get new clients internationally?

Eddy: Uh, yeah, that's a great, uh, I got opportunity to work with the state of Iowa. The government and when I received the award in 2022, this year, the government asked me to come and, and then they give me little resource from the Iowa State, like the website designed the website.

I had, I [00:15:00] received a grant for that. So to find the international buyer, they put me in a relationship with the US Commercial Service. And also, you know, today is m manual conference. So I have opportunity also to to have some connection with m agent you know, to give me little help or with other.


Wendy: Yes. And so what does the XM Bank do for you? Like how do

Eddy: they help you? Oh, XM Bank you know, have a different program. First they have a export credit insurance site. The, you, they will help the foreign buyer as a crazy and then the second thing is they give us the buyer the money they need to buy the product from us.

Okay? Yeah. And then also they have a different program called March with, you know, like a one-on-one meeting [00:16:00] with other entity outside of. Like in Ghana, they have a resource in Ghana. You know, people company in Ghana, they do one-on-one. So that you could meet with, uh, the other company in the other side so they could tell you what they need from us and you can supply them.

Wendy: So they've been, so the accent bank has been extremely helpful to you.

Eddy: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Also the sba program, a lot of SBA programs, so I got a chance to qualify for that. And we receive many grant from the government, you know, to, to translation translating the website.

Wendy: Oh, you did, you got a step grant to do translation.

Wonderful. Yeah.

Eddy: Yeah. Yeah. To do the translation and then also to improve our website, uh, to more, you know, strong and, you know, have access to different , [00:17:00] uh, language. Yeah. Yeah.

Wendy: So for any of the listeners that don't know, the, the state governments offer a step grant that you can apply for? You can apply for it, yeah.

Yeah. For your website and for getting grants.

Eddy: Even sometime if you want to do the threshold in other country, they can help you also. And also other program that I qualify is they cover 50% of all your costs that you did outside of the us. Yeah, like one of the buyer in the outside you have to ship like a sample to them.

So maybe you ship like the sample cost you like a hundred, the government give you 50, you pay 50. So those kind of thing that You know, my business receive from, you know, to push the the small business. Keep pushing forward. Yeah,

Wendy: yeah, yeah. So if anybody's interested, you can go to r the website, Rapport [00:18:00] translations.com and go to the search button.

Look for. Step grants and they'll take you to the link of your, your state contact. So that's, so how did you originally hear about it?

Eddy: You know you know there is one thing that I find personally important. When you are you wanna be successful in entrepreneurship, is the passion for what you are doing.

Yes. So, I have a passion, so to learn more. You see? So you have to dig and see where the information. So even if somebody call me and say, Hey, Eddie, there is any, you know, webinar here, do you wanna participate? You, I'm going there and learn from what the, they can say you know, during that session.

So you know, try many, many times. So I get like, oh, you know, go ahead, go ahead. So there, there, there is a many resource out there for people especially who want to be an entre. [00:19:00] Or exporting or export, even if you have a product that you want to export outside of us, there is a lot of resource available for them.


Wendy: yeah, there is. Fantastic. And that's, it's great that you found out about it. Now, have you ever heard of Black and Global?

It's a organization founded by Melissa Mohammed because she had worked for the US government for 20 years. We just interviewed her on an earlier podcast, and she started this company to help people access the resources for the government. But they have a, a whole big conference that's supporting other bi.

I guess black in particular entrepreneurs. Oh, okay. She's here

Eddy: today. Okay. So, okay. Yeah, I will definitely, I will look into it. So to know them and, you know I, I never heard about that, but it's my first time, so I think that will be a opportunity to see them and meet with them and see how [00:20:00] they can continuously help.

Wendy: yes. Yes. She's got global connections all over the world. So I'll introduce you if we see each other at the conference. If not, I'll connect you and you can listen to the earlier podcast about, I'll be happy to what she's Yeah. so. What recommendations do you have for other entrepreneurs that are thinking about exporting or wanna get

Eddy: better?

You know first when I started I heard that you know, from US small business who want, who own a business in the us they seem is very risky to. They think it's risky. So what I want to tell them is there is a lot of opportunity that the government have, especially with the SBA that could help them in export business.

So do not look. [00:21:00] For, you know, try something. Good. And then also almost 95% of customer, they are outside of a us.

Wendy: Yes, great point.

Eddy: Yeah. 95% percent of, uh, consumer for us, me, they are outside effort. So that mean that the story I heard about the lot of company, they won the story in the ES export business after two or three years.

They grow tremendously. Yes. So that means there is a lot of opportunity outside that can help them make money and sell big and, you know, and be profitable. Right. Yeah. So I will, you know, encourage them to try and then especially with the government support, they can, you know, succeed on that. Even if they don't know they could ask a question.

There is a, a same. There also cba there, even the the state, every state [00:22:00] have a international trade you know, office that could help them, mentoring them, and also, you know government health program. You know, I, I was a part of that program for almost a three. That was a very huge program. The Goldman Sachs take care.

Yes. That help you put in place your group plan, and then. Know exactly what, how you can, you know, spend your, your, your business outside of us here. Yes.

Wendy: Yes. Where can people reach you if they want to learn

Eddy: more? Okay. First my office number is uh, 2 7 7 8 0 0 2. Uh, 5 6 3 2 7 7 8 0 0 2. You can reach out to me on the trader and Lincoln Eddie, j e d d y, and the last name is D J A G O U

Wendy: D J [00:23:00] a G O u G O U. So Eddie, Yeah. And on LinkedIn or Twitter. Yeah. Yeah. Okay. And you know, I end with this question.

I think you've been forewarned. What is your favorite foreign word, ?

Eddy: Faith. Faith. Yeah. Faith. Have a faith. Have faith. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. No matter how, you know, the life will look like, still have a faith, don't lose your faith. Even if you start small, have a faith that is gonna go one day. So keep working no matter how things are getting worse or whatever.

Because I know that entrepreneur journey is not easy like people thing, but it's, you have to have a faith and keep working on that to make it successful. So if I was. the governments, you know, gimme that award in this year as a sport of the year because you know, I make a hard work. Yeah, yeah.

I make a hard work and I didn't give up on what [00:24:00] I'm doing, especially if you are immigrant entrepreneur. We have a difficulty with accessing capital or whatever, but you guys are born in the country. You guys have a lot of tremendous opportu. So I wish you guys to have a faith and, you know, keep pushing forward.

Yeah. Thank you. Oh my gosh,

Wendy: that's such a heartwarming word. It caught me back God. But I really, really like that. Well, Eddie, thank you so much for taking the time.

Eddy: Thank you. Thank you for the opportunity and you know I really like your show. and you know, if I, you could invite me second time, I will be happy.

Oh. Because I have a lot of things to talking about. You know, you just, we just have a roommate. Yeah. So I don't know that we gonna finish all today. So thank you for the opportunity and you know, may God bless you and keep you push forward and especially supporting the small business like you, you are doing now.

Wendy: Thank you so much, [00:25:00] Eddie. It's been a pleasure and we will definitely have you, you back. Thank you. Thank

Eddy: you.

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