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With Its Upcoming IPO Chobani Founder Hamdi Ulukaya And His Employees Are Going To Get Rich

Chobani yogurt founder Hamdi Ulukaya did not grow up wealthy by any means. He is the son of feta cheese-producing Turkish dairy farmers. He was a factory or agricultural worker, so he is familiar with what it’s like to work hard. Additionally, Hamdi and his staff will also become wealthy when Chobani goes public in the upcoming weeks!



Jason Kempin/Getty Images

Images by Jason Kempin/Getty

Rags Before Riches

In Turkey’s Liç, Hamdi Ulukaya was born at some point in October 1972. His family ran a dairy, goat, and sheep farm. They were known for their feta cheese. Hamdi doesn’t know his precise date of birth, so I said “sometime” while addressing it. He was born on one of the seasonal, nomadic mountain treks of his family. He decided to make October 26 his holiday.

After earning a degree in political science at Ankara University, in 1994 he moved to Long Island, New York to study English at Adelphi University. In a short period of time, he changed schools and enrolled in business classes at the University of Albany.

Hamdi eventually accepted a position at a nearby farm. He later received a visit from his father in Upstate New York at some point. His father, a lifetime maker of feta cheese, tasted the local feta cheese selections during this visit and was unimpressed. He encouraged Hamdi to begin importing the family’s feta to sell around New York. Exactly that is what Hamdi did.

From Feta to Yogurt

Hamdi established his own feta cheese brand, Euphrates, in 2003 and operates it out of Johnstown, New York.

Euphrates turned out to be a merely average company. Hamdi would later admit that the company barely ever broke even.

One day in 2005, Hamdi received a piece of junk mail that advertised the sale a fully-equipped yogurt factory located an hour away in a town called South Edmeston, NY. The facility had produced cheese for Kraft Foods most recently for more than eight decades.

Hamdi bought the business using a loan from the Small Business Administration, defying the advise of his accountant, consultants, and friends. He started a new company called Agro Farma out of the brand-new plant. Some of the recently laid-off Kraft employees were also employed by him.

It took Hamdi and his small team 18 months to perfect the recipe for yogurt. They experimented with various flavors, textures, recipes, cultures, fermentation times, and more.

There was one significant issue when he found the ideal recipe. The process he came up with required a machine that “strained out” the whey to make a thicker, creamier, higher-protein output. What the issue was? A milk separator is the device used to strain yogurt. A milk separator typically costs…

$1 million

Hamdi lacked even $100,000, much less $1 million. Unfazed, he searched national classified ads for used machines for sale. He soon found the exact machine he needed at a dairy in Wisconsin that had gone under. He made the vendor a blind $50,000 offer for the milk separator. His proposal was approved.


Late 2007 saw the launch of Chobani. A grocery store on Long Island, New York, placed the company’s very first order, which was for a couple hundred cases. The grocery shop manager placed the exact same order again a week later.

Although Chobani lacked the resources for marketing, its reputation was excellent. Instead of paying stores for shelf space, as the big manufacturers would do, Hamdi set out to create an organic local demand so the stores couldn’t help but place orders and stock the yogurt in the best places.

He organized in-store testing. He hired bloggers to try the product and then rave about it in their posts. In order to distribute free yogurt samples to parades, concerts, and festivals, he put up a “CHOmobile” that traveled about. In 2010 alone, the CHOmobile gave away 150,000 full-sized Chobani samples.

Investing in Factories and His Workers

Chobani invested $88 million in the middle of 2012 to increase its presence in New York. Chobani bought the 100 acre property next to its original factory and built a new 80,000 square-foot plant.

For the first time, the company’s revenue exceeded $1 billion in 2012.

Going Public

At a $10 billion valuation, it has been estimated that the average employee of Chobani will earn $450,000. Some senior and seasoned employees will suddenly find themselves millionaires.

How about Hamdi? He reportedly still has at least 50% of the company’s equity under his control. He’s set to become the $5 billion yogurt overlord of the globe at a $10 billion valuation.

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