How Chobani CEO Hamdi Ulukaya Pushes Through Creative Obstacles

Sometimes the smartest way to find a path forward is just to take a step. Any step.

How Chobani CEO Hamdi Ulukaya Pushes Through Creative Obstacles
Hamdi Ulukaya, founder and CEO of Chobani [Photo: ioulex]

When You Don’t Know What To Do, Try Doing Something

When he bought a decommissioned Kraft factory in upstate New York with a loose plan to launch a yogurt company, Chobani founder Hamdi Ulukaya didn’t have a clue how to proceed. Rather than sitting around, he simply . . . started.

“I did not know business. Innovation, marketing, branding, financing, I had no idea of those,” Ulukaya said at the Fast Company Innovation Festival in November. “[Our first handful of employees] were looking at me, saying, ‘Okay, what do we do now?’ So I said, ‘We’ll go to the Ace hardware store and buy some white, blue, and red paint.’ That was strategy number one: We’re going to paint the wall outside. [One] guy, very quiet, says, ‘Hamdi, tell me you have better ideas than this one. This wall hasn’t been painted for the last 30 years. Why do you care?’ I said, ‘Mike, I don’t have a second plan.’ I just thought the wall needed the paint! I did not have any other ideas how I was going to make it to the next month. Painting that wall became our thing. [Now] we never sit around and wait and wonder, What are we going to do next?

“We always come up with the ideas while we are doing something. It turns out that’s the way I am. I just don’t like sitting around and waiting and thinking. I always repeat this: [13th-century Persian poet] Rumi said, ‘When you start walking the way, the way appears.’ It really does. The motion of painting the walls—you start coming up with the ideas. By the end of the summer, the building looked better than before. We were proud of ourselves with the thing that we’d done. And that led to the next thing.”