March 20, 2018 My First Year at Chobani
Today marks my one-year anniversary at Chobani, and what an amazing year it’s been. As the weather warms and flowers start budding, I can hardly believe spring’s already here. While this season often inspires a sense renewal and refocus for us all, for me it also prompts a bit of reflection.
Being a founder-led company means we have the privilege of sharing some wonderful traditions with Hamdi. One of the very first events I joined at Chobani was our annual spring celebration, which coincides with the holiday Nowruz. As employees received seed pouches and fresh fruit, the team was gearing up for another incredible year of growth and impact. The metaphor was lost on no one, and the energy was infectious.
Having worked for nearly three decades at a large multinational, it’s been thrilling to go back into growth mode with a young and ambitious company. I love the imperfections that come with growth—lessons that have yet to be learned, new processes and tools that have yet to be built. Every day you get to see and experience something different. Every day there’s a new concept or new innovation. It’s inspiring, but you have to keep up. 10 years young, Chobani still holds onto its entrepreneurial spirit and an addiction to moving quickly.
At Chobani, fast is serious praise—and you can’t fully appreciate it until you’re in it.
For example, on my first day I was brought into conversations and decision-making for Chobani Smooth, a traditional non-Greek yogurt that has less sugar and more protein than competitors. This product had practically gone from ideation to launch in just three months. At other companies, that would take three years.
Part of what keeps Chobani quick, nimble, and young-hearted is that it’s never lost touch with its roots as a food startup. That’s a big part of why we launched our own food incubator—paying it forward and helping passionate food entrepreneurs with coaching, mentoring, and a $25,000 no-strings attached grant. So far, 13 companies have participated in the program—and we recently welcomed 9 new food startups into the Chobani Family on the same weekend we saw the last class graduate. I had the privilege of walking the floor and meeting these amazing startups in each of their booths at Expo West a few weeks ago. Keep your eye on them—they’re the future of food.
I’ve also been privileged to witness speed in Chobani’s tradition of giving back and helping those in need. Last fall, when a string of natural disasters devastated communities across the country, our team moved with lightning speed to get nearly half a million products and thousands of pounds of milk powder to folks in Puerto Rico, Texas, Florida, and Northern California. Soon after tragedy struck, our people quickly put a plan together and leapt into action, leveraging the resources of both the company and the Chobani Foundation to help those who needed it most.
Hamdi often talks about speed as a critical asset for the company. A tool we can leverage that big food can’t. It couldn’t be more true—and more important. Just look at the evolution of our brand over the past few months.
Shedding your skin to reveal something new and different takes guts and bravery, and I love that our team chose to mark our ten-year anniversary with a new look and feel. One that best reflects who we are as a company.
More craft. More natural. Connected and grounded. Moving from a yogurt company to a food-focused wellness company.
What does the next year hold for Chobani? Well, our continued evolution means that we get to embark on a mission of delivering universal wellness wherever we can, with a specific focus on nutritional, social, and environmental impact. Be on the lookout for some exciting developments on these three fronts in the coming months and year.
Or, since we’re talking about Chobani, perhaps even sooner.
For me, personally, life is always about learning. This signifies growth. So what have I learned the past year? To start, nothing great comes from being comfortable. Operating outside your comfort zone requires a thick skin and perspective. Embracing the difficulties gives a chance to appreciate the differences for what they are: a path forward. For me, this included a new company, new people, a new category and a new home under construction. I’ve also learned that disruption comes from different thinking. As just one example, there’s a reason for the upheaval in our legacy food systems. The trick is taking the good from both the old and new. I’m aiming to do just that in both my life and work, and I’m grateful and excited for the journey ahead.
As Tennessee Williams says, “Luck is believing you’re lucky.”