Home Interviews Gardar Steffanson of Good Good: How To Successfully Ride The Emotional Highs & Lows Of Being An Entrepreneur

Gardar Steffanson of Good Good: How To Successfully Ride The Emotional Highs & Lows Of Being An Entrepreneur

by Maud DeVito
Gardar Steffanson of Good Good: How To Successfully Ride The Emotional Highs & Lows Of Being An Entrepreneur

Being a founder, entrepreneur, or a business owner can have many exciting and thrilling moments. But it is also punctuated with periods of doubt, slump, and anxiety. So how does one successfully and healthily ride the highs and lows of Entrepreneurship? In this series, called “How To Successfully Ride The Emotional Highs & Lows Of Being An Entrepreneur  we are talking to successful entrepreneurs who can share stories from their experience. I had the pleasure of interviewing Gardar Stefansson.

Gardar Stefansson, CEO of GOOD GOOD, studied in Aahus, Denmark and started off in the salt business. In 2015, he exited the salt business when he was approached by his co-founders of GOOD GOOD. Their first product was created in his kitchen, they later launched in the US in 2018 and the rest is history.

 

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

Gardar Stefansson:  When I studied in Aarhus, Denmark, I began a business plan for a company using geothermal heat as an energy source to evaporate seawater and turn it into salt. From this idea, I co-founded two salt works based in Iceland that are doing well today. These were my baby steps in food entrepreneurship and innovation, and a crash course on how to start a company and sell it. It was absolutely one of the most valuable experiences and education I could ever have!

In 2015, after successfully exiting the salt business, I was approached by my fellow co-founders of GOOD GOOD – Agnar Lemacks and Johann Kristjansson. We all joined into a venture at the time called Via Health, which was a stevia and erythritol natural sweetener company. I became absolutely fascinated by these two ingredients and how well they could substitute sugars. I immediately recognized that with stevia, erythritol, and other natural alternatives to sugar, we could create all kinds of products free from added sugars that could benefit everyone, especially those who are dealing with diabetes.

Our first product was made in my kitchen; I gathered some strawberries
and blueberries and started to make jams with our natural sweeteners.

Later on, I asked my aunt, who has diabetes, to assist with the recipe, which became the basis of the jam recipe we still use today. Now, a few years later, we believe our products are among the best jams on the market. GOOD GOOD provides natural sweetness without any added sugars, and we now have a wide assortment of products, including chocolate spreads, syrup, keto bars, sweeteners, and soon a pancake mix and more flavors of jam.

What was the “Aha Moment” that led to the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?

Gardar Stefansson:  Our “Aha Moment” actually came over a year into our company’s founding. We already knew how remarkable these natural alternatives to sugar were in terms of health benefits, but our eyes really opened when in our second year of operations, we found ourselves with an excess of our stevia-based natural sweetener (our only product at the time). We didn’t want these great products to go to waste, so we started to develop jams using fresh fruits and our sweetener. The great taste and positive feedback that we received were the first hints that we could create not just one natural sweetener product, but rather many types and flavors of no added sugar products. This is when we first started to recognize all of the exciting directions in which our business could grow.

In your opinion, were you a natural born entrepreneur or did you develop that aptitude later on? Can you explain what you mean?

Gardar Stefansson:  I think all entrepreneurs grow into the role over time, even if they already possess many of the qualities that are associated with being entrepreneurial, like creativity and perseverance. This has been true for me, as well. I have always been curious and organized. I am extremely receptive to new things. However, being an entrepreneur also requires you to get comfortable with and develop your own approach to making blind calls, taking risks, and networking. That aptitude really starts to develop after a good amount of experience – from challenging experiences, in particular. We often have to fail as entrepreneurs in order to learn how to become better at entrepreneurship.

Was there somebody in your life who inspired or helped you to start your journey with your business? Can you share a story with us?

Gardar Stefansson:  Our fellow Icelander, Siggi Hilmarsson, is one among many who helped us early along our business journey. He has been a great mentor to us. His experience establishing siggi’s in the US – making skyr, which is a type of Icelandic yogurt – is a true inspiration to us. He has been very helpful in terms of sharing his knowledge around setting up a business in the US and structuring the enterprise in terms of logistics and customer satisfaction.

Of the endless advice we’ve received from Siggi, I remember in particular when we were at our first US trade show in 2018, when Siggi laid the importance of having feet on the ground in the US in order to succeed in this market. From that day forward, we built on that advice, attending in-person sales meetings, working with our US stakeholders, and of course exhibiting at trade shows. I think we flew over 15 times a year from Iceland to the States – prior to COVID-19 – where we set up a US company and eventually hired US salespeople. His advice certainly helped us put ourselves out there more as a brand and as start-up founders. It’s challenged us to think more globally about our business.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

Gardar Stefansson:  It’s definitely our products. We truly strive to make the highest quality, best tasting products that are also good for you. GOOD GOOD is not a “health brand” per se, but we certainly take pride in knowing that we are helping families and individuals achieve the health benefits of limiting sugar intake without compromising taste.

We care a lot about how customers experience our products, so after we develop any given product – which is a huge undertaking in and of itself during which we test hundreds of variations of recipes and move forward with only best ones – we then incorporate these prototypes into our own lives to see how family members and friends react to them. A funny story is when I brought home our new Choco Orange spread, which is launching this spring, and didn’t even get a chance to have any. My family, particularly my 4-year-old, figured out all kinds of tasty combinations and ways of eating it, and suddenly there was no spread left for me! It was perhaps one of our best proofs of concept that this product is amazing.

You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

Gardar Stefansson: 

Honesty. Honesty with my team, our customers, our business partners, and myself. It’s important to address the problems ahead, reflect, and get feedback. When I’m open and honest with my team, they are honest right back – for instance, pointing at problems that I didn’t notice before – and this has benefited the business in countless ways. Likewise, it’s vital to communicate honestly with your customers and partners so they will be willing to tell you when you aren’t hitting the mark in terms of quality or service. Being honest with yourself entails getting rid of what has proven not to work despite your emotional attachment or sunk costs.

Adaptability. A new business environment means that being adaptable is a key ingredient to surviving/succeeding – both on the personal and the organizational level. We try not to rely too heavily on what has worked in the past, although it still informs our decisions, and instead we focus on taking calculated risks based on hypotheses we have about the market. This helped our business continue to grow during the pandemic, as we adapted our supply chain from growing with traditional brick and mortar retailers to including the fast-moving world of e-commerce. Being lean is what enabled us to be adaptable; at GOOD GOOD, we often ask ourselves and each other, “What is the leanest, most flexible way to solve this problem?”

Growth mindset. There is always room for personal and professional growth. Knowing this about myself has opened the door to learning from different situations and improving as a result. I would say that my team at GOOD GOOD doesn’t strive for perfection, but we are constantly exploring better ways of doing things, better ways of achieving our mission. Having a mindset that’s oriented towards growth is conducive to business success because personal transformation unlocks a lot of creativity and confidence- qualities that feed innovation. Punishing or blaming for mistakes does the opposite- it burdens your team and harms the company culture.

Often leaders are asked to share the best advice they received. But let’s reverse the question. Can you share a story about advice you’ve received that you now wish you never followed?

Gardar Stefansson:  I think advice around the customer always being right is often misconstrued and sometimes leads to biased decision-making. Creating an amazing customer experience should always be a top priority- there’s no question about that. But you need to be careful about making decisions that affect all of your customers based on what only a small, loud fraction of them are communicating to you; you don’t want to fall into the information bias trap.

When I started as an entrepreneur, I took this saying, “The Customer Is Always Right”, at face value and tried to please customers – what I thought was pleasing them – so much that it actually started to hurt our margins and created a bad precedent that was not sustainable for the business. I eventually learned what may have already been obvious to more seasoned business leaders- that the most vocally critical customers do not necessarily represent your core audience, the people and communities you aspire to serve.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them create a work culture in which employees thrive and do not “burn out” or get overwhelmed?

Gardar Stefansson:  In my opinion, it is to celebrate the small victories. From my experience, this makes all the difference in uniting the team and reminding everyone of how each small victory contributes to a big one. Do not dwell on mistakes or lost opportunities. Try to be as positive as you can be, although it is perfectly normal not to be constantly happy. A small celebration can be in the form of buying lunch, small gifts, or a surprise. It is vital to celebrate and show your team that you value their efforts. And when one feels valued and supported, particularly during uncertain times, it may be easier to cope with overwhelming circumstances. Valuing and supporting your employees fosters a sense of safety that creates room to experiment with new ways of doing things and to engage in opportunities for innovation that break the mold of the current business.

What would you advise other business leaders to do in order to build trust, credibility, and Authority in their industry?

Gardar Stefansson: Be honest when it’s most difficult to be. When addressing the team, be direct about the challenges that lie ahead, and ask for feedback on possible solutions. When addressing the customer, describe the difficulty and bring out a couple of future solutions. Honesty and pragmatism are valuable assets in business and life, and they are vital in building trust, credibility, and authority.

Can you help articulate why doing that is essential today?

Gardar Stefansson: People need to know who you are and what you stand for. Honesty helps communicate that.

What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start a business? What can be done to avoid those errors?

Gardar Stefansson: One common mistake is to underestimate how long all the nitty gritty, small projects will take; suddenly before you know it, you have not accomplished the most important tasks of the business. It is essential to identify and articulate your vision and purpose, and prioritize your tasks accordingly. This will save you a lot of time and resources, and add a lot of value to your business.

Ok fantastic. Thank you for those excellent insights, Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview about How to Successfully Ride The Emotional Highs & Lows Of Being An Entrepreneur. The journey of an entrepreneur is never easy, and is filled with challenges, failures, setbacks, as well as joys, thrills and celebrations. This might be intuitive, but I think it will be very useful to specifically articulate it. Can you describe to our readers why no matter how successful you are as an entrepreneur, you will always have fairly dramatic highs and lows? Particularly, can you help explain why this is different from someone with a “regular job”?

Gardar Stefansson: As difficult as it may be to experience the dramatic highs and lows, these are inevitable elements of doing something that hasn’t been done before. They help us thrive in the long run because they catalyze our growth as business people, as decision-makers, and as leaders. The highs and lows reveal our passion for our company, idea, project, or product, and this passion inspires others to join us on the journey. To be an entrepreneur is to almost be the company – you merge with it. You live and breathe it. The sense of purpose and pride you feel about growing an enterprise from the ground up is certainly at a different level. Definitely not your “regular job”.

Do you feel comfortable sharing a story from your own experience about how you felt unusually high and excited as a result of your business? We would love to hear it.

Gardar Stefansson: When we made our first major sale to the grocery chain, Meijer, in the Midwest, I was incredibly excited. This meant that we weren’t just selling to one major retailer, but it also opened the door for us to work with a national distributor – KeHE.

Do you feel comfortable sharing a story from your own experience about how you felt unusually low, and vulnerable as a result of your business? We would love to hear it.

Gardar Stefansson: As disclosed before, I was super excited to get the Meijer listing, however one year later, they discontinued our product on their sweetener shelf space. I was feeling quite vulnerable after that, as working with Meijer was one of the biggest achievements for our business at the time. The following year, however, we luckily got our newest product at the time- GOOD GOOD’s no added sugar jams – added to their shelves. The highs and lows ideally balance each other out over the long term as in this scenario.

Based on your experience can you tell us what you did to bounce back?

Gardar Stefansson: I got back on the horse and didn’t give up. The road to success is always a rocky one. Don’t give up, even though you experience failures. Learn from your mistakes and carry on. Persistence is key to bouncing back and moving forward.

Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “Five Things You Need To Successfully Ride The Emotional Highs & Lows Of Being An Entrepreneur”? Please share a story or an example for each.

Gardar Stefansson: 

  • Try to remain calm. It is important when you experience highs or lows to keep yourself together and focus. When experiencing lows, one can easily fall into despair and when experiencing highs, one often thinks he or she is invincible, leading often to very costly mistakes. Know that your team will feed off of your demeanor, and if you want them to remain calm, then you should, too.
  • Pay attention to the small things. Embrace small victories and learn from small failures. Don’t always wait for the big high to start celebrating because it may take you a while to get there. Enjoy the process.
  • Learn to identify the high and lows. Knowing exactly what you are experiencing is a good tool to manage the often intense feelings. This requires a lot of inner peace and resilience.
  • Let go of guilt. At the end of the day, you are still a human. Don’t feel bad for what you are experiencing. We truly put our hearts and minds into the business we are building, and that is special. Embrace the highs and lows to the extent you can; at least there is never a dull day!Reflect. Keep a diary about your day and sort your emotions. Ask yourself, “Why do I feel this way about that?” For me, a diary helps me level and channel my emotions in a positive way, and keep track of my emotional well-being.

We are living during challenging times and resilience is critical during times like these. How would you define resilience? What do you believe are the characteristics or traits of resilient people?

Gardar Stefansson: For me resilience is about not giving up and thriving no matter the circumstances. I think resilient people trust themselves to bounce back from difficulty, and they often build a likeminded team that they trust with the product or idea they are pursuing.

Did you have any experiences growing up that have contributed to building your resiliency? Would you mind sharing a story?

Gardar Stefansson: I grew up and live in Iceland. From the time we are born, we are well aware of and reminded about the harsh environment we live in- a cold island in the middle of the Atlantic with limited daylight during long winters and always under the siege by the natural elements. Whether it is earthquakes, volcanos, or storms, we learn to adapt to these circumstances. In business, as with nature, there are some things you don’t have control of. Learn to work around that, adapt, grow, and find a way to succeed.

In your opinion, do you tend to keep a positive attitude during difficult situations? What helps you to do so?

Gardar Stefansson: Of course, a positive attitude is key to working through most of life’s problems. However, in my opinion one should not mask a difficult situation with a forced smile or fake laughter. If times are tough, be transparent about the difficulties. What helps me stay positive is knowing how positivity can multiply among my team.

Can you help articulate why a leader’s positive attitude can have a positive impact both on their clients and their team? Please share a story or example if you can.

Gardar Stefansson: A positive attitude is infectious. It sets the standard for how to relate to each other during good times and hard times. And it’s the leaders who set the tone for the rest of the company; it trickles down from the top. Positivity is key to creating a vibrant culture and a healthy workplace. I notice that when I or my fellow co-founders are encouraging and make light of certain situations, it brings people’s guards down a bit and helps them bring more of themselves to any given project or meeting.

Ok. Super. We are nearly done. What is your favorite inspirational quote that motivates you to pursue greatness? Can you share a story about how it was relevant to you in your own life?

Gardar Stefansson: I like the old Viking saying “A tree does not fall with the first blow”, meaning important work – greatness – takes time and effort, and is built upon years of learning and discovery. And we see this to be the case across the spectrum of business, scientific research, etc. All of the big achievements in my life to-date – with my previous two businesses, in my personal life, and now with GOOD GOOD – have taken time and a great deal of effort.

How can our readers further follow you online?

Gardar Stefansson: 

They can visit us at goodgood.net, or follow us on Instagram (@goodgoodbrand) or LinkedIn (https://www.linkedin.com/company/goodgoodbrand10635959/)

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with
this. We wish you continued success and good health!

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