After my walkabout [year-long trip many Australians take after college, but before launching a career], I realized that I loved Colorado and I wanted to stay. I was working for an IT company on the customer service side. I’m not a highly technical human being and this was really far away from where I was at the core. There was nothing fun or creative about it.
If I was going to stay in Colorado, I had to figure out what I wanted to do. I hadn’t been thinking about a career at all from the time I graduated from University. I was thinking about travel and experiences. When I hit that wall of reality, I had to do some soul-searching.
It led me to food. Food has always been this passion-point for me on so many different levels. Who loves to go grocery shopping? I do! I love seeing and discovering things at grocery stores or at farmer’s markets. Living in Colorado and being in the midst of this amazing natural foods community, I thought, A-ha, I want to work in food. But I didn’t know what I wanted to do in food. Once I realized this was the space I wanted to be in, I was willing to do anything to break into that industry.
It was hard at first because I wasn’t focused and I was very spotty on paper. I applied for every job I thought I was reasonably qualified for. It was hard to convince somebody to give me an interview, but I was determined — I knew something was going to happen.
I finally got an operations job with the startup beverage company Izze. I knew that if I got my foot in the door, if I worked really hard, opportunity may come up.
When I started at Izze, it was a very junior role. I knew it was the industry I wanted to be in and I leveraged that to the best of my ability. I asked the leadership team if I could sit in on meetings and they said absolutely, as long as you get your day job done. I’m surprised how many people pigeon-hole themselves in their respective roles. I think that there’s always so much opportunity to learn in any role you’re in. Sometimes, you have to ask people to let you have that opportunity.
I’d only been working for Izze for a year when I discovered what is now Noosa [a locally-made yogurt from Queensland’s Sunshine Coast in Australia). It took me another two years to seize and capitalize on that moment. That’s a really long time to think about something, but I don’t think I was ready or had enough experience under my belt to launch a business. In that two-year interim, I started doing research on the category.
When I was hitting that two-year point, it looked like Izze was going to be acquired and it ultimately was. All of the employees had received options. I hit the intersection of finally having industry knowledge, a financial windfall I never expected and then a meeting with the family in Australia that created the recipe for noosa with them agreeing to license it to me.
As I sit here many years later, having started a business, the irony is that my position in operations was such a grounding and foundation point for starting a business. That operational experience gave me the experience I needed as we got into the nitty-gritty elements of starting noosa.
I think that when you’re hitting the inflection points of your life and you’re not doing something that is your heart and your soul, you should look outside of yourself and think about what it is you want to do. Building blocks can get you to a point, but you have to be open to opportunities and ideas. That comes from curiosity and really continuing to hone in on something that you’re passionate about. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would be a food entrepreneur. It was a passion. In a very compact period of my life, that passion became an amazing opportunity that I recognized and I seized it.
Koel Thomae is the co-founder of noosa yoghurt, a creamy and delicious yogurt like no other. Today, noosa is sold in 25,000+ stores nationwide.