Making Something From Nothing: Nathanael Hausmann Of Läderach North America On How To Go From Idea To Launch
An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis
Embrace responsibility — having the responsibility of a market is all-embracing. Whatever you are told to be responsible for will be understated. You are no longer responsible for a department but a market and everything happening in it.
As a part of our series called “Making Something From Nothing”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Nathanael Hausmann.
Nathanael Hausmann is the President of Läderach North America — a family-owned premium Swiss Chocolate company dedicated to creating sweet moments of joy in everyday life by delivering the ultimate fresh chocolate experience. Nathanael’s story is about building an unknown premium chocolate retail brand in the US and Canada amid a pandemic and establishing it into one of the leading premium chocolate retailers in 2.5 years. The idea to build and establish US and Canada subsidiaries started in 2018 when Nathanael helped shape Läderach’s North American expansion in partnership with the CEO and Swiss leadership team. From 2019 through today, he has successfully built a brand and business in the US and Canada from zero to nearly 40 stores, with e-commerce and over 300 employees. This expansion includes helping lead the takeover of more than 30 Godiva store leases in the US and relaunching the stores as Läderach over the past year and through 2022. His passion for building and growing international businesses has been evident throughout his career. Prior, Nathanael led sales to grow Läderach across the Swiss, German and Austrian markets. He has also held various management roles in business development for large transportation and mobility companies in Switzerland and the US. Nathanael earned his Master’s in International Management from the University of Applied Science and Arts Northwestern Switzerland and is a Board Member of the Swiss American Chamber of Commerce in New York City.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a bit about your “childhood backstory”?
I was born and raised in Switzerland, and being Swiss, consuming chocolate, along with hiking and skiing in the Alps, were frequent in my life! I also loved playing football (soccer) and cycling with my brother. My first job was actually in chocolate at age 14. I worked part-time at a chocolate factory, where I helped make small pastries. Growing up, I held various apprenticeships and valued these experiences — understanding shifts, repetitive work activity, and what it means to get up for work at 2 am. As a result, I was able to get a first taste of what hand-crafted means and what needs to go into the production, especially when it’s artisanal — an essential element of Läderach chocolate today. So little did I know, I started getting groomed for my role as a President of a premium chocolate company early in life!
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
There are a lot of quotes that talk about the most growth comes when you’re out of your comfort zone. The late American Author — Napoleon Hill sums it well “Strength and growth come only through continuous effort and struggle.”
The essence of this quote has been my mantra in life and grounded in a curiosity of adapting to new cultures. Ever since I can remember, I’ve been curious about countries worldwide and putting myself into these environments. Not just for traditional leisure, but for sheer curiosity, education, and how I could adapt and succeed. For example, at age 18, I was curious to visit places that people would typically not visit. I started traveling to eastern European countries and visited war-torn Bosnia because I was curious to see and experience how society adapted. That curiosity led me to travel around the world to North America, Taiwan, South Korea, Brazil, and Japan to challenge myself by studying and working abroad.
Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
The book Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill. Understanding the importance and connection of Faith, Desire, Purpose, and Persistence to success was excellent guidance, especially in building a subsidiary in a new market. All of these characteristics were paramount on a personal level too. Today the same applies to leading over 300 employees at Läderach. Faith, Desire, Purpose, and Persistence are critical factors in motivating the team to thrive in building a brand and business from zero to nearly 40 stores with e-commerce and over 300 employees in 2.5 years.
Ok super. Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. There is no shortage of good ideas out there. Many people have good ideas all the time. But people seem to struggle in taking a good idea and translating it into an actual business. Can you share a few ideas from your experience about how to overcome this challenge?
Yes, when I relate to realizing the idea of opening a new business or, in my experience, subsidiaries for a foreign company, I can break it down to three essential tips:
1) You must have strong stamina and don’t be afraid to fail — pursuing any new idea will always put you into a highly uncertain environment across all areas. You have to work at it for quite a long time, being repetitive and learning more about how and where to succeed. You will make mistakes. You have to go beyond your comfort zone, but know you’re the owner — calculate your failures, take full responsibility and just like an athlete, recover quickly.
2) You need leaders who will give you permission to make mistakes –it’s critical to make mistakes to grow and succeed in new ideas. Your leaders must know that an inherent part of establishing something new is making mistakes.
3) You need teamwork — to scale and make a significant impact, you can’t do it alone. You need to partner and build on an idea (a mission and vision) together where everyone feels skin in the game — like an owner to succeed. Everyone needs to understand their why and what they do.
Often when people think of a new idea, they dismiss it saying someone else must have thought of it before. How would you recommend that someone go about researching whether or not their idea has already been created?
To paraphrase the saying, you can achieve anything if you put your mind to it. But it’s not just the idea. It’s about immersing yourself into that environment, having that passion, that sense of curiosity to learn and know that you’ll fail but grow as a result. For me, I was passionate about helping expand Läderach into North America. I was confident in stepping up to this challenge and opportunity because I had familiarity, having experienced living in the US before, studying in Asia, and extensive touring in Latin America. The experiences in these various cultures have helped me personally and professionally, especially with building a business amongst the large diversity of backgrounds and cultures in the US.
For the benefit of our readers, can you outline the steps one has to go through, from when they think of the idea, until it finally lands in a customer’s hands?
I can share various steps (in no particular order) of taking a foreign retail company and opening stores in new countries like the US and Canada:
Sometimes what you think is obvious; however, in our case, providing the best customer service and highest quality chocolate will not solely enable success. We need to go beyond the logical sequence to make a sale with the customer.
We knew how to make and sell chocolate in Switzerland, but in 2019, not in the US and Canada yet. We needed to figure out the gaps and categorize them — asking questions beyond the core competence of our business to the vital aspects to run it in the specific market. Questions like:
What are all the vital elements of my business to enable the business? One example for us was ensuring our online cash registers were running successfully to complete a sale.
Am I aware of all the potential legal issues, how to sell the right way, and what taxes I need to pay?
What about compliance? Do our packaging, labeling, and ingredients comply with the US and Canada standards?
Then staffing, what’s required to hire and retain employees in the US and Canada.
Lastly, pure operations — for example, ensuring stable and fast internet service.
Even though I manage a chocolate company, I often find myself occupied in these other areas to ensure the momentum and success of our business.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Started Leading My Company” and why?
For me, I landed in the US in August 2019 to launch Läderach later that year. At that time, I wish someone had told me the following five things:
- Embrace responsibility — having the responsibility of a market is all-embracing. Whatever you are told to be responsible for will be understated. You are no longer responsible for a department but a market and everything happening in it.
- Speed beats perfection. Decide fast, implement fast, correct fast. Fail early versus fail late. You don’t want to fail late. Having that speed that agility over 100% accuracy is critical.
- Prioritize the vital to the obvious. For us, the ability to accept payment often proved more critical to our overall success than the availability of our products, which obviously had a lot of focus on already and worked. Don’t mistake the obvious for the vital.
- Organizational change takes time. The organizational and cultural transformation into an international company will take years. You’re also a test drive, and all of your experiences will help the company further globalize.
- Learn on the fly — get used to feeling comfortable to implement/decide on topics while still getting to understand them.
Let’s imagine that a reader reading this interview has an idea for a product that they would like to invent. What are the first few steps that you would recommend that they take?
If you’re looking at an expansion and taking it to a new market, here are the first two steps I recommend:
- Do I care?: Ask yourself: How convinced am I about this idea? Do I really want to do that? Given that I need to struggle, do I want to do that? You have to be convinced. I love Arnold Schwarzenegger’s quote when reflecting on his move to the US from Austria: “Forget plan B. To test yourself and grow, you have to operate without a safety net.”
- Will others care?: Is there a market ready for my product or the more challenging; will there be demand once the product is available and why.
There are many invention development consultants. Would you recommend that a person with a new idea hire such a consultant, or should they try to strike out on their own?
Consultants can be of great help in consulting. The decision and responsibility, however, always stay on you. Therefore, the tricky part is not only the decision of whether to involve consultants or not; it is also the question of when to listen to them and when you should not.
What are your thoughts about bootstrapping vs looking for venture capital? What is the best way to decide if you should do either one?
First, you need to ask yourself, can you even launch an idea without external capital. Then, you need to ask yourself, “do I want to be rich or king?” If you get money, you give away decision power. With money, you invite interest and people to the table. The more venture capital you have, the less decision power you have. You need to look at your character and determine what you’re comfortable accepting. Evaluate all the possible scenarios — the pros and cons and the business model. For example, a space travel business launch would be hard to pay out of pocket. You also want to consider timing and how much the business model could change.
Ok. We are nearly done. Here are our final questions. How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
- I’m proud and grateful to have realized an idea and helped create 330 new jobs for people in the US and Canada.
- I hope my actions, along with our staff, to boldly move with purpose and grow amidst a pandemic or challenging times to inspire others or companies contemplating a new growth opportunity.
- At Läderach, we want to create many moments of joy every day by bringing high-quality fresh chocolate into the lives of our customers and employees.
- To that point, I feel a job should be more than just a job — that it should innovate the people around me and me. That it should bring purpose and joy. I take my leadership role to heart and am motivated to help evolve our culture of working together and contributing more to ourselves and others beyond the job.
You are an inspiration to a great many people. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
I would love to inspire a movement that helps motivate people to focus on joy more than fun. To help them evaluate where they spend most of their time, which in many cases is work. Then, ask themselves if they are spending the most effort to improve how they experience joy there. Joy is more enduring where fun can be easy, somewhat effortless, and not as fulfilling. When people ask me if I enjoy my work, I always say: It is very fulfilling, and I enjoy it, but it is far from being always fun. I want to create this feeling for my team. The utmost goal is fulfillment and joy, not simply fun in the first place.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
Lance Armstrong — I would love to understand more about his drive to win no matter what and how that created a relationship between winning and doping — understanding where’s the limit and when does it start to cross ethical boundaries. Sports is a role model for how many of us do business and live our lives. In this case, from listening to Lance, I would like to understand when does the fulfillment in being successful stop.
Warren Buffet — I would love any helpful tips on business management and growth with purpose in North America. He’s a fan of chocolate and candy with his investments, and I’m sure he could offer some valuable pearls of wisdom as we continue to grow our new subsidiaries in North America.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.