The Chobani Story

Hamdi Ulukaya is the CEO of Chobani Inc and one of the best entrepreneurial stories of the decade. He started Chobani in 2005 and Chobani Greek Yogurt two years later. He’s a World Entrepreneur of the year winner (2012) and when you meet him literally oozes entrepreneurial spirit. Sales this year in Chobani are expected to exceed the $1bn mark (yes 1 billion dollars in Yogurt!) and on an accelerated growth path in that doesnt seem to be slowing down as the company becomes a gigantic institution. Yet when I had the privilege of meeting Hamdi he had his feet squarely on the ground and unquestionably the one person I’ve met that afterwards I could help but wanting to emulate. Hamdi Ulukaya owns 100% of the company, which is unheard of for a company so successful. Convincing banks to finance such a aspirational business goal must have been a constant challenge.

Hamdi Ulukaya and Ronan O'Brien
Billionaire Hamdi Ulukaya and I

10% of Chobani’s profits are donated to the company’s charitable foundation, Shepherd’s Gift Foundation. Hamdi Joked that it’s a great idea when your starting but when the figures get to the hundred of millions and advisers suggest giving away hundreds of millions – well your commitment can be tested. Fortunately Hamdi is committed to being remarkable and making a difference, so his tithing is set to continue.

Motivational Alarms

Lately I’ve been pushing things harder than ever before, while i normally bounce out of bed – Lately I’ve needed to get up several hours earlier than sense would dictate.

My coach sent me this clip on facebook and as an experiment I’ve decided to reprogram my alarm to use it’s audio to wake me up in the morning. For those app developers out there – I think there might be a business in it. Wake up every morning to a new inspiring, motivating and be ready to take on the world – Now i’d pay for that.

Obviously the motivational video is meant for sport, but for me my game is business. If you want to be the best in the world at anything, you need to out preform all others, it does matter if you want to be the best parent, business or sports star. The difference is making the hard decision when the easy decision would suffice.

The Super Hero In You

One of the things that I get asked during interviews is who inspires me and who are my hero’s. It’s a question a always struggle to answer, there’s honest answer – but I might aswell make up random names as very few people have heard of them.

Well Peter Diamandis is one of my hero’s. If you want to be truly inspired, study his work.

3D Printing – It’s history and future

If there is one thing that I am most excited about in the technology world it’s the leaps in progress in 3D printing. Not since the mobile phone has their been an items that can change our existence and standards of life so quickly. For those that don’t know what 3D printing is, think how a letter is printed with a single layer of ink, now replace that ink with a 1mm layer of plastic or better still chocolate, as it dries another layer is placed on top of it and the cycle continues until a real life 3D object is formed.

Now this technology has been around since the 1980’s, but like the evolution of all things took time to get to the point we are at today – where basic models are available in businesses and homes. That’s right was as little as a few hundred euro a company like Makerbot will sell you a fully working model and websites like Thingiverse will allow you to download the plans to create literally anything your mind can imagine.

At the moment the main drivers of the technology are the three human basic requirements:

1. Health
2. Food
3. Tools

From a heath perspective, 3D printing in the next 10 years will be able to print organs and within the next 3 to print replacement skin – something the huge military budgets just love the idea of as well as the unbelievable potential to extend lives and avoid the awful transplant waiting lists that exist worldwide.

It might sound a bit star-trek but if you think about the composition of food, it’s something a 3D printer could emulate. An end to starvation and on a commercial side dieting – delicious foods without the parts that cause obesity epidemic the western world is facing.

As a species we’ve separated ourselves by our creation and use of tools to better our standards of life. In a talk I gave to an EU committee and policy makers in Brussels, I was discussing the legislative nature required to react to this advent of 3D printing – a concept the majority of the room were unfamiliar with. As you can imagine telling a group of people they had to create rules and laws about the handling of a concept that was as limitless as this wasn’t ever going to be received easily.

The truth remains though that 3D printing is the advent of making complexity almost free, in a decade we will have machines that will build houses and hotels, including all their fittings, in a tiny fraction of the time and cost that it would have taken before. By the line of code the machine will change from adding concrete to make the wall to putting in a copper pipeline alternative for plumbing and a nice wood resin finish to cover it all up. That’s right while we continue to educate children to be white and blue collar workers we are simultaneously replacing some of these jobs with a machine that never sleeps and if it breaks down – can print it’s own replacement parts.

Video with thanks to the folks at 16×9

With all breakthroughs in technology comes dangers though, the creepy serial killer-esq looking “Cody” (10 mins into the video) is using this technology to develop the blueprints to allow anyone to create a weapon at the click of the button. This isn’t a what if or some day scenario, this technology and blue prints are available now (just not widely available yet).

On a more positive note I have a friend who has set up a new business printing medical parts which will have a profound impact on heath care and patient recovery time after operations. It’s truly fascinating and ground breaking stuff, I’m delighted that Ireland will have such an impact on the world this way and always look forward to hearing about their latest break throughs – some day I’ll share these with you but at the moment I’m not certain what is public knowledge or not.

So what now? Well we need to be proactive. All children would be taught about this technology in school and start learning the basic skills needed to adapt to this new reality. CAD and designing skills will be far more beneficial to them than woodwork classes or academic business models from twenty years ago. With any shift in technology there is massive potential for business opportunity – but will you be proactive or reactive?

The Business RTE Radio 1

David Walsh (founder and CEO of Netwatch) and I joined George Lee on RTE Radio 1’s.

The Business RTE Radio 1

On the program we discuss the cross boarder trade within the EU and David Walsh tells a fascinating story of how they took the first steps to crack the US market and how Ireland should be tapping one of our most valuable natural resources – The gift of the gab, by starting a center excellence in sales training.

Also on the program we discuss how 27 different Vat regimes cause small businesses extra burden to tax collect for 27 different goverments and adhere to 27 different sets of rules – for example a Wheelchair in the Republic of Ireland has an exemption that no Vat is charged, but if we drive up the road to Northern Ireland there is no such exemption so Vat must be appraised on each unit sold relative to it’s delivery address. With such administrative burdens, cross boarder trade can seem unappealing.

Ernst And Young Entrepreneur of the Year

One of the highlights of 2012 was reaching the finals of the Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year. It was an experience i’d recommend to anyone who is creating jobs in Ireland, being part of the competition was one of the best decisions i’ve ever made. Here’s some clips from the TV show as they visit my fancy dress business:

When I started the process that surrounds this awards, everyone told me it was all about the journey and the network. I’ve never really been one for aggressive networking, so I was a little slow to believe them if I’m honest. But I have to say they we’re all right, the inspiration I have got from mingling with business people with years more experience and achievements far greater than mine really added rocket fuel to my business goal and we’re a better company today for it.

Single Market Debate on EU legislation

Google and the European Parliament arranged a debate regarding the Single Market Opportunity the exists and the legislation around it.

I wasn’t able to attend on the day but I dialed in on Google Hangout to take part.

High Level Group on EU Administration Burdens

I had the pleasure recently of speaking in Lisbon, Portugal, at the European Parliaments High Level Group of Administration Burdens regarding Job creation and Distant Selling Legislation.

It was a two day event when people including high level government officials and industry experts gathered to discuss the pro’s and con’s of cross boarder trade and what legislative issues and restrictions hold back progress within the EU economy.

One of the things that was a real eye opener is the pace and cost of such governmental events. With less than twenty people on the panel and lots of formalities, the pace was a lot slower than that of corporate environments were conclusions and decisions are made. There were interpreters to translate into several languages – which must have cost massively. While I loved the experience public service pace is definitely not for me.

The highlight of the trip was lunch with Maria da Assunção Andrade Esteves, President of the Assembly of the Republic. An invitation was brought to me after my speech, inviting me to lunch in Official Residence. Maria was extremely insightful, unlike some other politicians I’ve met, she had strong opinions and the arguments to back up and convince those who didn’t see her point of view. When she enters a room she completely owned the room, it’s a skill I’d aspire to emulate.

Inspirational Talk – Neil Gaiman

Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the year finalists 2012

2012’s Top Irish Entrepreneurs we’re announced today and I’m on the list. Here’s the list of the finalists, we’ll all meet up in Silicon Valley, San Francisco for the EOY CEO retreat and the TV program which air’s in October.



Zatori Results – Ronan OBrien

Aspen Grove – Seán Ryan– Paul Kenny

Connect Telecom – Matthew Brown

Glenilen – Alan and Valerie Kingston

Optivia Biotechnology – Peter Milner

Simply Zesty – Niall Harbison

Voya – Mark and Kira Walton


Barry Fitzwilliam – Michael Barry

Decora Blind Systems – Stuart and Russell Dickson

Digiweb Group – Colm Piercy

Finnebrogue – Denis Lynn

Genesis Crafty – Brian McErlain

Keltech – Ray Breen

Nightline Logistics Group – John Tuohy and

David Field

Willowbrook Foods – John McCann


Apex Fund Services – John Bohan

Cove Energy Plc – John Craven

Dairymaster – Edmond Harty

Excelsys Technologies – Gary Duffy

Kenmare Resources plc – Michael Carvill

OSG Group – Malcolm Hughes

Oxygen8 Communications Ltd – Shane Leahy

Rigney Dolphin – Frank Adrienne Dolphin