[MUSIC PLAYING] HAMDI ULUKAYA: Thanks. Thanks, Scott.
Hey, everyone. How are you? I'm the last speaker. This is the last words that you're going to take it back, so I hope it's going to be worthwhile for you.
I'm in a special place. Cornell is a special place. Always been. But for me, has a very special place because it's in upstate. It's very close to our factory is, our plant is. And I've been to campus a couple of times.
I knew of Cornell before of course, being very amazing, successful agriculture, dairy university that everybody looks up to around the globe. But then I had a chance to visit and get in touch with the faculty, meet some students, and then it became, like an addiction. So I'm a big fan of Cornell.
Of course, when I get an email from [? Catherine, ?] who is the Data Science Dean, and I couldn't say no to join to you today. I don't know if [? Catherine ?] is here. I don't think she's here, but I'll tell her I did this. She's amazing.
Before I go further, is Madison Leonard is here? Where is Madison? I told her father I will say hi.
SPEAKER 1: Maybe downstairs.
HAMDI ULUKAYA: So I did it. I don't know if you guys have been to Stew Leonard's Stores. It's one of the most amazing. I mean, her father is an entrepreneur that I like and admire. But when he sent me an email last night and I said, I'll tell her. I'll tell her I say hi. OK.
Entrepreneurs. You know, the first thing that I realized, I couldn't spell entrepreneurs a couple of years ago. It is not the word, but what it means. What it means. What it holds inside.
And when I realized what I've done, it was three, four years later. You jump in the ocean for some reason and you swim, you swim, you swim. And then, there's a time that you look back at how far you've come and what it did to you. That was 2012 that I looked back. And that was the time that I could call myself an entrepreneur when I understood what it meant.
What does the word me? And what's the journey mean? So when somebody wants to be an entrepreneur or wants to start this journey, I said, don't do it. Don't do it. It's not easy. It is the hardest thing that you're going to do.
You're going to push every single boundaries that you have-- physical, emotional, relationship, family, health, anything you can think of. And guess what? Whatever I say, whatever she says, whatever the stories that you read, but you jump into your own water, own ocean. It will be a different one.
There's nobody can teach you what to do, how to do it. Maybe a little bit. Each story, each journey, even if it's the same product, it'll be totally different. So one aspect of that is most majority-- I shouldn't say most majority. A big portion of that will not be successful. It will fail. And there's a fear of that. Who wants to fail? So that's one thing.
And then, those challenges. And then, you just want to-- I'm just saying, don't do it. But if it still come back to you, you cannot help it. You just have to do it, then you're in the right place. You're in the real right place because there's no other way. You got to do it. This thing is killing you. It's a bug. And that's why I say entrepreneurs are crazy ones.
Why? They're different. They are entrepreneur before they do anything. Before they start their journey. Before they make their products. They always be an entrepreneur.
I was walking on the streets of New York today. I walked from Chobani Soho to my office. What a beautiful day to walk. It's fall in New York City. The color of the leaves, coat, little bit of [INAUDIBLE] of rain. People are rushing on the street. I have my music on.
I realized one thing, that I've always been conscious to my environment. I've always seen things. I think it comes from my childhood, where we grow up as a farmer up in the mountains. I saw the most beautiful thing. And majority of it was in human beings. I saw so many different people.
If you're not aware of your surroundings, that's a problem. And if you're aware of your surroundings, and if the human being is not in the center of it, it's a problem. You've got to see the person. That has to be in center.
And then, the other one is the most sacred place, the most amazing place you can always go back to is you. In you, the place that you always want to go is your heart. Because if your work, its source is from your heart mixed with your feelings, your desire, then the work that you're going to put out in the world is going to be authentic, is going to be from you. And it's going to be delicious.
And what we look for is that flavor. And it will affect not only what you do. It will affect how you do it. And then later on, why you do it. You'll find it out.
It's extremely important to realize this. Because if you know this, then all the challenges that you have along the way, which is very, very difficult, you'll always go back to where the source is-- your heart.
And from there, you'll fire up again and you'll go forward. It's extremely important. So New York City reminded me today of that. This quick walk reminded me that. And you all have ups and you'll have downs. These could be dramatic.
When I reached the 400,000 cases in year 2, I said, what the hell? How did this happen? I didn't know what to do. Should I jump? Should I scream? What should I do? How much excitement can you get from there?
When I get there, I was so calm. And I went to the factory floor. I had to walk. And the excitement was inside of me, but I was calm. I learned to be calm when amazing things happens because when not so good things happens, then bad things happens, you have to remain calm as well.
There's this amazing story that this king had a problem. And they looked for the teachers and one of them came and says, what's your problem? He says, well, I'm going between ups and downs and this thing is killing me. I am going from most exciting war. And I'm winning it. And I'm feeling like I'm up by the cloud and then I come back I'm in the bottom of the ocean and this distance is killing me. And he said, I'm going to give you a ring. You put this thing in your finger. And every time you have the highest thing happens and you say, this, too, will pass. And every time you have the lowest thing, this, too, will pass. It does pass.
You know what's important is? When it passes, what is the remaining of it? The sand. The sand that you have remained. When you have the river that goes crazy, and then in the end, it's with some stones and rocks. Those sands creates who you are and what you are. And in the end, it becomes a bunch of sands. It's never about money.
And that brings the second topic, is what is your approach to money, is the most critical thing in this journey. Because the time will come. You'll make decisions. And then, it will be money. In the beginning, there's nothing, right? It's easy.
But later on, the decision that you make, you're either going to lose or not lose. And if you put value to that with planes, and apartments, and houses, and all that kind of stuff, you're going to have a very hard time moving forward. You're going to ask someone to take some of the risks. It's going to be an obstacle.
But if you recognize money, just a tool, then it will be easy. If it's a tool, not a simple tool. It's an amazing tool. You could do amazing things with it. Personally yourself, your family, your relatives, your friends, your community, and to the world when you recognize as a tool. So that was this point.
I was going to buy a company after 2 and 1/2 years. And I was signing a contract. And then I saw $150 million I am going to buy this company. And it was 6 o'clock at night in upstate New York, in Norwich in my office. And I look at this $150 million signing. I said, 3 years ago-- I mean, if they said that you were going to sell $150 million, I was just like, are you nuts? I couldn't even imagine money like that.
I said, if I spend a million dollars a month, every month. I don't know how you spend a million dollars every month, but let's say I did. This would last as long as I'm 70 years old. Why am I doing this? That's what I mean when you look at the money as a tool. I said, it was like 15 minutes thinking, and I signed it and sent it out.
It's not like I don't value that $150 million. I value it a lot. I like to protect it. I like to make more of it. But my value to that $150 million is not associated with planes, and yachts, and this and that. [INAUDIBLE] differently.
You may end up buying those things. It's your right to do that. That's a different story. It's still a tool when you buy it. But what you're going to find out, it becomes not about money after a while. Because if you started from that right source, it's about-- you want to climb the mountains. Where is the money for the climbing the mountain? You want to cross the ocean. It's pushing yourself.
While you're pushing yourself, you find about yourself. And that is the most amazing thing in the world is the discovery of the South. So if I go back at the Chobani story, which have been on the center of it, it's the best thing that ever happened to me in my life. Best thing.
From five factory workers in upstate New York village in a factory that closed 90 years later, starting with painting the walls. If somebody told me, five years from now, you'll be a billion dollar business. These 5 people are going to be 3,000 people. You're going to have a factory in Idaho. You're going to have a factory in Australia. You'll be the fastest-growing company. You'll be the number 1 brand in the country. You'll do all these amazing things. This community is going to do something different. Farmers are going to come back. You'd say, OK, whatever. Are you drinking or smoking? It's too much.
But when you're climbing that mountain, my friend, who's a mountain climber said, you put that into your mind and into the cloud, but you worry about what you do every single day. Because if you look at the mountain, it will be so difficult. At the time, you'll give up. But if you worry about what you do every single day, it adds up.
My first yogurt was 300 cases. It took us six hours to pack. We finished it in the middle of the night. Now, we do 2 million cases every week. It's every day what you do while you don't lose the touch of a mountain that you put in your mind that you want to climb to. And then one day, you look back and you say, my god. How much have I come?
And in order to do these things, there is one important reality. My favorite poet, Rumi, from Turkey. And he said, you're not just a drop in an ocean. You're an ocean in a whole-- you're the whole ocean in a drop. Ah. You just have to say it like that.
Meaning you have all the characteristic of that ocean. It's in you. When you need it, it's going to come out. I promise you.
I had no idea I had those things in me until I come across that I need it. So trust yourself. Be confident. When the time comes, it will come to you. And you'll make the good decision and you'll move on.
So with that, I don't know how much time I have. But I'm going to leave the rest of it to your questions because I know there could be from left to right. But today, when I come and talk, my friends at the universities, I wanted to bring all the attention to you, personally. To entrepreneur, who wants to start it, who has worries, who has hopes, who gets excited, who gets lost, ask a lot of questions. I'd like you to think that-- just close your eyes. Walk. Find a place where you can always recharge.
Mine is a creek in upstate New York when I go next to it and Maria who works at the factory. Find a place where you can always be recharged. You're not going to find from me. You're not going to find it from the professor. You're not going to find it from any other stories. You're going to find it from your self.
Sit there, or walk, or watch, or do whatever that is. So in doing that journey, when the goods happen, when you're on the high, when you're low, always visit that place. And then in the end, you'll find out that this is the most amazing thing that happened to you. God bless you all.
SPEAKER 1: Thank you. So I'm going to start with a really serious question here, which I'm sure everyone knows I'm going about to ask. What is your favorite Chobani flavor and topping?
HAMDI ULUKAYA: Man, I'm talking about philosophical thing over here.
SPEAKER 1: I'm doing my job here.
HAMDI ULUKAYA: I'm just kidding.
SPEAKER 1: Showing the audience curiosity.
HAMDI ULUKAYA: The last one has been the pumpkin spice. We just came out--
SPEAKER 1: Seasonal answer.
HAMDI ULUKAYA: Yeah, the seasonal. It is out of this world. It is amazing. If you haven't tried it, you should try it.
SPEAKER 1: I wish we could say we have it outside for everyone afterwards, but maybe we do. Oh, we did? There's a 1% chance. We'll see what happens. Or we'll go buy it if it's not there. All right.
So what would you say is your biggest learning moment that you've had as a founder of a company?
HAMDI ULUKAYA: What moment?
SPEAKER 1: Your biggest learning moment as a founder of a company that has grown so much over the years. The biggest learning moment.
HAMDI ULUKAYA: It took me a while to get the confidence on myself. The biggest learning that I shared, it was part of this, is the second year in, a year and a half in, I knew this idea was going to be a big one. I just wasn't sure if it was going to be me who was going to make it at the next level. Because you hear that you had to be this. You needed to be in this place. You needed to be in that place.
I never had a business experience like this size, of course. And I never went to school, business school, which I should have and I never had mentors. I never met anyone before. So I didn't know what I didn't know. And I thought, I need to hire a professional CEO to do this for me.
But every time I said, you know what? Let me try a little bit more. And I found out that I could do this. And the discovery of that was the biggest learning for me. And I only learned it through the journey.
SPEAKER 1: What was the tipping point that you think made Chobani successful?
HAMDI ULUKAYA: Our journey has been a short one, five years. I think when I put the Chobani to ShopRite, when the buyer called me back and he said, I don't know what you're putting inside of this yogurt. I don't want to know. I cannot keep it on the shelf.
In my mind, that was the tipping point. And I said, OK, this is not going to be about selling. It was going to be about, can I make it enough? So that was a shift that happened in my mind.
When I made it to Stop & Shop and Costco, that was another tipping point. That was huge. So there was quite a bit-- one of them.
But I think when we had the second factory in Idaho, that's when we know that we were going to be a dominant person here.
SPEAKER 1: And then, can you talk about the decision to grow through organic profits rather than taking outside investment? And were you ever close to making a different decision?
HAMDI ULUKAYA: Yeah, look. I had different ideas from the beginning about private equity, and investors, and all that stuff.
My first start is small business administration I had an SBA loan. And a little bit of grants from the state and the city. That's how I started the budget was about a million dollars.
And the end of the fifth year, we had investment of $890 million in factories and infrastructures. And my sale was over a billion dollars and I didn't have investors yet until early this year.
I think what is the most important thing is, who are the investors and what's their mindset? Some investors, they come in. They share your dream and they want to support it. Money-- you know, the funds and stuff like that. That's good.
But unfortunately, every single one of them that come, they think that they know a lot. They know some, but every individual story is a different one. And it's extremely important that whoever comes and invest in you doesn't become an obstacle of what you are thinking because your role is in the cloud and it's very difficult to explain what you have in your hand and what's your vision into people who's worried about their dollars. It's extremely different. So that's the balance that we need to be careful about when we are picking our partners.
SPEAKER 1: When you think back about the important decisions you made and the ride, what do you think prepared you most to be an entrepreneur? In life, what do you think-- experiences or education, what prepared you most to--
HAMDI ULUKAYA: Well, I didn't know until-- I saw an ad and it said yogurt plant for sale. My attitude to that ad, I throw it. And then 30 minutes later, I picked it up. That was the best garbage story ever. And I picked it back, and then I called the number and I went there.
So I look back and I say, had I not picked that ad, I would have never made what I have done. I would have never been here.
So is there luck? Maybe. But what I said on my conversation is, you're a entrepreneur before you do anything. You're curious. You pay attention to the garbage sometimes. You look at the world. You think that everybody else looks at it the same way, but no. You look differently. You see things differently.
And sometimes, it's loud. And sometimes, it's not. It doesn't mean that when you're entrepreneur, you're so active. You're outgoing. And you talk to everyone. I'm the shy-- I was. Still is. I was the shyest person ever. So internally, we are different.
When I say it's not good. We are also-- it's not easy for-- we are not easy people either. Some of my friends and family members, they probably don't like me much. So it is really a different personality. A mindset. And I think events like this, conversation like this, or search like this, does it make an entrepreneur? Or does it-- it wakes up what already you have? And I believe in the second one.
SPEAKER 1: I know we have some food and beverage entrepreneurs here watching. And one of the questions we got here is, what is the biggest challenge specific to selling a perishable product?
HAMDI ULUKAYA: Yes. Especially when you try to make it natural. When you try to do it without preservatives, without colors, without all that kind of stuff. It's a lot easier now than it was 50 years ago. Refrigeration channels in this country is one of the best that exist.
You can actually do it. And you can deliver to the customers and it could stay in the whole refrigerated channels.
The second thing is in the factory, you have to be conscious of air, surroundings, and food safety. It's very, very important. Because if you don't use preservatives, anything can distract what you do, what you're making.
But we need you. We need the food and beverage makers because we have a food problem in this country.
The way that I started is, why a perfect cup of yogurt has to be a specialty? And it has to be only for a certain amount of people who lives in certain places. Why is it not available for everyone? So my idea was good food for all. Delicious, nutritious, natural food for all.
And if you are thinking about making packaged food, or drink, or beverage, think about you're starting small, but your audience is everyone. Not only rich and people who lives in the city. For them, too. They deserve your food, too. But it should be for all. That should scare you.
When we made the first cup, we went to the store. It says, who the hell are you? You think that you're going to go against the two biggest companies in dairy in the world. But look what we've done. The whole yogurt aisle totally changed in five years. Completely changed. And these people were making yogurt the last 30 years, and they've never changed it until they get challenged. So we're living in a very amazing time where-- don't worry about the market and don't worry about this and that. When you make a great product and when you put it out there, spreads like a [? wild. ?]
And you have an advantage. You don't have all the luggage, bad behaviors of 30 years. You refresh. You're tomorrow's person. Your tomorrow's company.
For them to change is very difficult. For you to get bigger, a lot easier.
SPEAKER 1: All the new entrants into the space, how have they changed your business in terms of how you think and how you innovate?
HAMDI ULUKAYA: Yeah. I've seen a lot of similarities of approach to the food aisle. Actually, it became a food revolution in the mass. Everybody deserves good food. Everybody. A mom in Norwich, New York, and professional in New York City, they all deserve good food. But the challenge is nobody makes it. They make it for the specialty stores. But if you go to Walmart and Kroger and Costco, which is large chains, only 10 food companies play in this place.
So when we proved that someone at startup in food also be as effective. And they open up their mind and looking for more people to come and offer them their products. And they also said, OK. If you can't supply to our 2,000 stores, supply us 10 stores first. They changed their way of distribution also. So think big.
I mean, you could go to Whole Foods, which is fine. But go to Costco. Go to Walmart. Go to Kroger. They'll have you. They'll take you.
SPEAKER 1: So it's a new era of opportunity for entrepreneurs in the space?
HAMDI ULUKAYA: Absolutely. What happens is if you have the cloud in your mind that you're going to make it for everyone, you're thinking big. But you're starting small. But in your act, you have to act big until you become big. It's extremely important.
If you have a confidence that you'll be there, the others will believe also. I mean, you can get killed in those places, too. But--
SPEAKER 1: I'm writing that one down. Act big until you become big. So there's a question here about how the CEO job has changed from running a company of five people to a billion dollar company. And I'm imagining it's-- my actual question would be, what's stayed the same? Is there anything about your job when you were starting that you continue consistently to do today and you will not delegate to anyone else?
HAMDI ULUKAYA: The yogurt stays the same. So what I mean is when your role change, you can never take your eye from your product. Never. I always bring people back to cup of yogurt.
We make yogurt. We used to make it 300 cases. Now, we make 2 million case. But we still make yogurt. And the consciousness of the product and the perfection of that product can never go away.
The minute it goes away, then what made you amazing is gone. That cannot go away.
Second thing is as an entrepreneur, you look at things in a completely different way. As you grow, your role is, how do you keep that passion, that energy, and you bring discipline in? Because if you go to all discipline or area, you will sound like other CPG companies and you lost what made you who you are.
And the third thing is you've got to let people make mistakes as you go out there. Because you're so crazy about your food and your product, but you're going to have to let somebody else do that. And you go up [INAUDIBLE].
And while do you do that-- I got to tell you a secret-- the person who could see the details but never get lost in it. And the person who has the cloud, the dream. And if you can travel between that and that, within seconds, within minutes, within days, then you will have the best mindset.
You will see a lot of people sits in the cloud, never knows what happens in the product or in details in the plant. And you'll have people who get lost in the plant and products and lost consciousness of what they want to go. So you'll have to have that, and micromanage the hell out of it until you know it's perfect, and then let it go. And let people make mistakes.
SPEAKER 1: Hamdi, thanks again.
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Hamdi Ulukaya, founder and CEO of Chobani, delivers the keynote address at the third annual Cornell Entrepreneurship Summit Nov. 7, 2014 in New York City.
Business leaders talked about the strategies and vision that helped make their companies successful at the daylong conference, "Beyond the Horizon," hosted by Entrepreneurship at Cornell.