Ep. 20: Seth Syberg - Coconut Jerky Maker, Programmer, and All-Around Dilettante


OH SNAP!  We just hit our TWENTIETH episode!  Didn’t think we’d make it this far?  Well neither did we!  To the hundreds of you who have been downloading our episodes, thank you so much for tuning in.  We hope that these episodes are at the very least, educational, and hopefully, as inspirational to you as they were to us. 

This week’s episode highlights the many things that characterize Hidden Apron: tangents and twisting paths, serendipity and “success”, and not entirely being sure where the delicious roads of our lives will lead.  Our guest for today is Seth Syberg, who caught my attention at a Food+Tech Connect event here in NYC with his story of how he founded, ran with, and grew his company Cocoburg.  Cocoburg produces what they call the world’s only raw, vegan, paleo, gluten-free, soy-free, Coconut Jerky, which by the way, is sourced, handled, and produced in the Philippines!  They operate under the motto: “Just Eat Real Food".  Now, you may be thinking: "OK, Seth’s probably some hipster, warrior vegan who bikes everywhere and wears Vibrams, hellbent on changing how people eat.  Well, there’s some truth to that.  He does describe his diet as "vegan-ish", bike competitively, and wants to use Cocoburg to offer people healthier snacking options BUT, he also spent two decades in the world of tech doing everything from app/database development, programming, and even teaching.  He describes himself as a complete dilettante having done things like become a car mechanic, a woodworker’s apprentice, a CTO for an e-commerce platform for small farms, and with this current venture, an entrepreneur, a label he himself did NOT realize applied to him until a year into running his company.  Now his product is in Whole Foods, retailing nationwide, and is creating lasting change for his partners in the Philippines.  

It’s a longer episode filled with a lot of unexpected turns.  We talk about:
- A programmer’s approach to recipe testing and building a business,
- How testing for failure actually led to massive success,
- The dilemma of educating consumers a product they’ve never heard of,
- Product development and the challenges of operating in the Philippines,
- Using business for good,
- And just what the hell even is Coconut Jerky?  

Seth is a great example of how there are many, many roads to your destination and you don’t have to fit the textbook formula for your given field.  Play a little!  Give this one a listen, and again, thank you for keeping us rollin' on this unexpected ride of a podcast.


5:00 - From CTO to Coconut Jerky Maker
8:15 - An Impulsive Beginning With a Skeptical Friend
11:30 - Being a Dilettante & An Accidental Entrepreneur
15:35 - Programmer’s Brain // Agile Development, A/B Testing, etc.
20:25 - Trying Diets: Raw, "Vegan-ish", and stumbling on Coco Jerky
31:20 - The industry (healthy, vegan, snacking, etc.) then and now
35:00 - Why didn’t Cocoburg get traction in beginning? // Consumer education pt. 1
38:30 - On accidental success and the "problems" with Beta Testing // Getting into Whole Foods
43:00 - Cocoburg’s programmer approach to recipe testing & development
45:10 - When you “know” you’re ready to go-to-market
46:35 - Aligning customer expectations to product perception // Future product lines?
52:50 - AHA Moment and Solving the Root Cause // Production in the Philippines
56:50 - Made in the USA vs. Made Where the Ingredient’s From
58:40 - Commodity Markets: Further fragmenting the food system
1:03:35 - Using Business for Social Good // "Enabling" jobs and amplifying the value chain
1:07:55 - Challenges operating in the Philippines: Labor, Coconut replanting, Politics
1:10:40 - What’s the End Game?
1:12:00 - How do you keep it all together?

Rapid Fire with Seth:
Most Influential Person: No one 0_o
Most Useful Tool(s): A pot, Asana, Slack, Google Apps/Suite
3 Ingredients That Describe Seth: Hot Sauce + Jerky
If Seth's Life Story was written in one sentence: "Just Eat Real Food"
Resource for the Common Person: Cowspiracy (on Netflix)

Vocab & Other Links:
The Public Radio  - Single station FM Radio in a Mason Jar
Michael Pollan - "Eat Real Food, Not Too Much, Mostly Plants"
Dang Coconut Chips
Legazpi Market, Makati, Philippines
Land Reform under Marco Martial Law in the Philippines / Coconut Production in the Philippines
Buko Pie ("Buko" = Young Coconut)

Follow the Story...
Website: coconutjerky.net
Blog: blog.coconutjerky.net
Facebook: Coconut Jerky
Instagram: @coconut_jerky
Twitter: @CoconutJerky