In March 2008, I sold my car, packed two large suitcases and moved to Manhattan’s East Village to open NYC’s first self-serve frozen yogurt shop. There were a lot of doubters who thought that I was crazy to open a frozen yogurt shop in a seasonal weather market like NYC, where the rent is expensive and my first store was surrounded by nine competing frozen dessert shops.
But I was confident that I had the best business model and that I would work it until 16 Handles was No. 1 in the East Village.
Today, eight out of those nine competing stores have closed, while our store has prospered. Today, 16 Handles has 40 locations across six states on the East Coast. We have signed a 150-store master franchise agreement for expansion in the Middle East. The first three international locations are scheduled to open in September of 2015.
How was I able to go all in and execute my business idea with such confidence? Well, I did my research and I learned the business inside and out while I worked at a family friend’s shop.
But I was also well-prepared for the journey by USC Marshall, where I graduated with a degree in Business Administration and Marketing in 2002.
Dean Ellis’ Advertising and Promotions class left an indelible mark on me. I still remember the life stories he shared with us. Dean Ellis taught us to strive for success and genuinely wanted to help us get there. He told us we could pursue our goals for passion, not just for money. Finally, he taught us that the more connected we were with influential people, the more influential we would become, and the faster we would get ahead and reach our goals.
I took those lessons to heart, and I’ve stayed involved with my fellow Trojans. I've had the privilege of being a Marshall Mentor and a guest speaker at Marshall NY Chapter’s After Work Series, while also making myself available to the NYC Office of University Advancement.
It was through these channels that I was introduced to Loren Brill, a graduate of the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, and the entrepreneur behind Sweet Loren’s cookies. We now feature her cookies at our stores. Without a doubt, finding a way to do business with another Trojan has been the cherry on top of my sweet success.
An alumni network is only as strong as its participants. One of the business terms I learned at Marshall was synergy — where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. The strength of an alumni network is not merely the number of members on a list, but the influence of the actions and contributions of the participants.
I encourage you to get involved, to go all in, to find your own success not on your own, but with your Trojan family. Your support and involvement helps keep Marshall strong for students and alumni!
Solomon Choi, BS ’02
CEO of 16 Handles