As a part of my series about the “Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times,” 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 your time! I know that you are a very busy person. 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?
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 based in Iceland. I became absolutely fascinated by the natural sweetener ingredients stevia and erythritol, and how well it could substitute sugars, without having any effect on the anatomy of the body. I immediately recognized that with natural sweeteners, we could create no added sugar products that would benefit everyone who wanted sweet food, especially for those who are dealing with diabetes, etc.
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 got my Aunt, who has diabetes, to assist with the recipe, where we made the final adjustments to the jam recipe we still use today .Now, a few years later, we are satisfied to have the best keto jellies on the market. GOOD GOOD provides sweetness without any added sugars and brings more and exciting products to the market, including chocolate spreads, syrups, Keto bars, and soon pancake mix and more flavors of jams.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?
There are so many mistakes that one makes in this entire process, it is a steep learning curve. One funny mistake, that wasn’t so funny at the time, was when we were at Natural Product Expo West in Anaheim, CA, in 2019. It was our second time there — we had set up a beautiful booth that was stunning. Everything was ready, catalogs, business cards, but somehow our product samples had not arrived. As we arrived late from Iceland before the show and to save on luggage, we did not bring any samples with us. On the morning of the show, we found out that the product samples had not been delivered but were back in Virginia. It was a nightmare. So, after some research, we drove to a few independent retailers across LA, bought all our products from the shelves, and called our broker, who luckily, had some samples. 15 minutes before the show, and a lot of adrenaline later, we had enough samples and the trade show went amazingly well.
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? Can you share a story?
Our fellow Icelander, Siggi Hilmarsson, has been a great mentor to us. His journey with establishing Siggi’s Skyr in the USA, making Skyr, which is an original Icelandic yogurt, is a true inspiration to us. He has been very helpful in terms of sharing his experience with us. From the phase of setting up a business in the US, as well on how to structure the enterprise in terms of logistics and customer satisfaction.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your company started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?
Since we started in 2015, our purpose has always been to create no added sugar products with natural sweeteners. We consider us as a “part-of-the-solution” brand, focusing overall on offer sweet products without added sugar, which weighs in diminishing sugar consumption for individuals and families. We wanted to make it easier for our families and others to limit sugar intake. Going cold turkey is possible for some, but most people need a little help.
Hence, the idea of the name of the company came to life: GOOD GOOD. Good taste and good for your health. This is our mantra and will always be, a certain standard for the company and our products offering as a better-for-you brand.
Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion. Can you share with our readers a story from your own experience about how you lead your team during uncertain or difficult times?
I would say open communications and transparency is vital during both uncertain and what we knew as normal times. When I work with my fellow team members, we start every day with a stand-up. These methods I borrowed from the SCRUM project management methodology is one of the best tools for our company as adopted. The “stand-up” means that all team members must literally be standing during this very-short overview meeting. Each team member then has a couple of minutes to describe what they did yesterday, what they are doing today, and whether something is holding them back. This is discussed briefly, and project/problems appointed to team members to be solved/processed. The stand-up is an amazing tool, that takes only a couple minutes each day and hence all team members, despite role or location have an overview of the entire business.
Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through your challenges? What sustains your drive?
Of course. Despair is a good feeling to have, even if it is only for a moment. It reminds us that we are working on something that really matters and that we have an urge to succeed. My motivation comes from the fact that our product offerings bring joy to our customers. Knowing we are making their day a little bit better, without any sugar added, really is the driver of our motivation.
What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?
Stay calm and focus. Rely on your team, and be transparent about the difficulties ahead. Do not try to be a sole superhero, work with your team and focus on achievable goals that makes you and your team feel accomplished.
When the future seems so uncertain, what is the best way to boost morale? What can a leader do to inspire, motivate and engage their team?
In my opinion, it is to celebrate the small victories; many small victories make a big one. Do not dwell on mistakes or lost opportunities. Try to be as positive as one can be, however, it is perfectly normal not to be constantly happy. There are great opportunities for innovation or find new ways of doing things. 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.
What is the best way to communicate difficult news to one’s team and customers?
Lay it out straight. Meaning, share with the team and customers the difficulties. When addressing the team, ask for feedback on possible solutions. When addressing the customer, describe the difficulty and bring out couple of future solutions. In my opinion, being direct is the best way to go when working with your team or customers. Honesty and pragmatism are a well-valued currency in business and life.
How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?
One can’t unfortunately make a solid plan. The key here is to make the business model lean, focus on the short term, and looking ahead at the same time.
Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?
I think the British got it right in 1939. “Keep Calm and carry on” meaning that focus and being stoic is very important. Panic does not help at all.
Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen other businesses make during difficult times? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?
Blaming the game. In many businesses that are having a hard time, it’s in the culture to blame someone for the things that are going wrong. I am a believer when transparency and open communication is a key feature of the organization that the company is working as a team, not individuals. Hence problems that arise are the team to solve, not the sole individual.
Learn from past mistakes. When times are difficult, panic often arises. Mistakes happen often, again and again, causing customer complaints, late deliveries, quality issues etc. Focus on the process of solving what is causing the mistakes; simplify, solve and repeat.
Cash-flow is king. Put special attention on the cash flow of the company and focus the efforts on classifying essential expenditures vs. non-essential. Incredible many companies fail in this sense, but it is important to be lean in terms of the cash flow.
Generating new business, increasing your profits, or at least maintaining your financial stability can be challenging during good times, even more so during turbulent times. Can you share some of the strategies you use to keep forging ahead and not lose growth traction during a difficult economy?
In my opinion, it is always about the quality of the product or services one has to offer. High-quality products are always in demand! In that sense, it is key to keep a good relationship with your key customers and your relationship with them is of vital importance.
Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should do to lead effectively during uncertain and turbulent times? Please share a story or an example for each.
1) Build a good team that you can rely on
-This is a key feature. Your team is the key in any situation, hard times, and good times. Having a trustworthy, reliable, and hardworking team that has shared vision and goal is of utter importance. Lay a plan and follow the plan.
2) Plan and focus on what is achievable
-Put a plan together with your team and focus on what is achievable. In uncertain times everything changes, the old way of doing business is substituted for the new way of business. Learn the new rules fast, adapt, and carry on. Where are the low hanging fruits in this new environment?
3) Be honest with your team, clients and your self
-Identify, analyze, and address the lions in the way. Be honest with what needs to be done, address your team with the problems ahead, reflect, and get feedback. Furthermore, be honest with yourself as a leader, if something is not working, then kill your darling.
4) Be lean and flexible
A new business environment means that being lean is a key ingredient to surviving/succeeding. Be flexible to attain new opportunities.
5) Keep on innovating
As an innovating company that is trying to disrupt, don’t forget the core DNA of the company. Keep on innovating new products or methods. When times are tough some of the best ideas are born.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I like the old Viking saying “ A tree does not fall with the first blow” meaning important work takes time and effort. It fits quite well with my life and business.
How can our readers further follow your work?
They can follow us on www.goodgood.net or Instagram/goodgoodbrand. Also via my LinkedIn page: https://www.linkedin.com/in/gardar-stefansson-7a169869