“Good Things Take Time” Words of Wisdom With Bjorn Oste CEO of Good Idea
“Good things take time. The first Oatly patent was filed in 1995, and the product was introduced shortly after. It took almost 20 years for sales to explode. The foundation for Good Idea was laid more than ten years ago.”
I had the pleasure to interview Bjorn Oste, the Founder and CEO of Good Idea
Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?
After finishing my M.Sc. at Linköping University in Sweden, I started a software company with some friends. Severa years of hard work and many lessons learnt later, I was able to make a successful exit in the mid. 90´s. Building a software company was interesting, but now I had the opportunity to engage in something that could make a real difference in people´s everyday lives. The obvious choice was to go all in with my brother Rickard, a professor in nutrition, who had just invented a healthy oat-based dairy alternative with enormous potential. Together, we co-founded Oatly, and after conquering the Nordic countries and Europe, our outstanding vegetarian milk alternative is now spreading like a prairie fire across the USA, and we´re taking our first steps into China. Oatly´s success is the result of advanced cross disciplinary research going hand in hand with smart branding and market activities, and in parallel, my brother and I also founded Aventure AB — a research based company specialized in the development of advanced and functional food concepts. The basic idea is to develop attractive food products with preventive properties that make it easier for people to move towards a healthier lifestyle. Our newest product — Good Idea — is a typical example. It´s a carbonated water with a blend of five amino acids and chromium that is clinically proven to reduce the blood sugar spike after a carb-rich meal. It´s a totally new approach, and we chose USA as our first market for obvious reasons. Lifestyle related diseases such as type 2-diabetes, obesity and CVD are sky rocketing, and we see a real need of changing the paradigm — from cure and treatment to prevention by lifestyle change.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
In 2015, we introduced our concept for the first time at a conference for nutritionists and dietitians in Vancouver. We were obviously quite nervous, and had no idea how these health professionals would react to someone new climbing into their territory with a totally new approach — a blood sugar lowering sparkling water. But the response was overwhelming, and we could return home strengthened, empowered by the feeling that we were doing something important.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Just like Oatly, our product — Good Idea — can make a real difference in people´s lives because it includes truly healthy properties in a product that is easy to embrace. It has been shown over and over again that even if the knowledge is there, it is hard to move towards a healthier lifestyle. Good Idea makes it a little easier. Also, there are so many products out there with unsubstantiated claims and promisesbuilt on dubious science. With Good Idea, we have done our homework. It´s built on solid science and repeated clinical studies have shown that it works. This gives us credibility and the opportunity to work hand in hand with the professional health community to improve people´s health. As our product spreads across the USA, we hear lots of stories from people who say they are feeling a difference. Many of them say that they feel less tired after a lunch with Good Idea, which is a sure sign of a more even post-meal blood sugar response.
What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?
Being Swedish, I probably have a typical Scandinavian approach to leadership. For me it is about creating a trustful and open environment where the company can get the best out of every employee. In a knowledge-based company you will be surrounded by people who know more than yourself. You need to trust them and give them a chance to grow. Inflexible hierarchies can easily kill creativity.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are?
One person? My wonderful wife Heidi. Without her, I wouldn´t even be in the US, and definitely not in the position where I am right now. She, herself a social entrepreneur and author, gives me support 24/7 and introduces me to new perspectives on a daily basis. I also have to mention my brother and partner in business, Rickard Öste the inventor of Oatly and a whole bunch of other healthy products. A mutual friend of ours has said that Rickard has more ideas during an ordinary weekday dinner than most persons have in a lifetime, and there is certainly some truth in that. Another person that means a lot to me is Oatly´s CEO, Toni Petersson, who took Oatly from being a food brand among others to being the lifestyle brand. Finally, my friend Andrew Martin, a serial entrepreneur who knows everybody in the food business, has taught me a lot about building a successful brand on the US market.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
That´s easy. Our products are packed with health and goodness. Clinically proven, and designed to fit into attractive lifestyle patterns. Good Idea and Oatly are both good examples where we have identified real needs and developed products to meet them. The result is a blood sugar reducing sparkling water addressing unhealthy eating habits, and a nutritious milk alternative that leave a small environmental footprint and can be consumed by the 80% of the world´s population that cannot drink dairy milk.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became CEO” and why.
• Trust your instincts, and lead with your gut. When Oatly was new, we had an executive from Scandinavia´s leading dairy visiting. He spitted out the product in the sink and said it would be impossible to sell. Luckily, we didn´t trust his advice.
• Good things take time. The first Oatly patent was filed in 1995, and the product was introduced shortly after. It took almost 20 years for sales to explode. The foundation for Good Idea was laid more than ten years ago.
• Having the best product is not enough. The Oatly and Good Idea-cases show that branding and communication need to be at the same level as the product…and you also need a little bit of luck to be successful.
• You need to “be and live” your product. We´re on a mission to make the world healthier. Among other things, that means that we must be transparent and honest in all we do. We will not only say that our products are “good” or “healthy”, we must also be able to prove it.
• Stay open to new impressions, and be prepared to change directions. Every business case and every market has its own anatomy. To be successful you need to be able to read and trust the terrain before the map. Those small everyday decisions can make a great difference.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”?
Be a rebel — go your own way!
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 whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this :-)
I´d love to have a private lunch with the Swedish soccer superstar Zlatan Ibrahimovic who just played his first games with LA Galaxy. We would discuss how to make it in the US and probably his latest goals. I think Zlatan would be the ideal ambassadeur for Good Idea.