It Took 2 Years for This Entrepreneur to Convince an Icelandic Dairy Company to Partner Up on a Yogurt-Like Snack
For Jon Flint and his firm Polaris Founders Capital, winning over an Icelandic dairy company came down to appreciating the culture. That's both the cultures used to make Icelandic skyr, a dairy product similar to yogurt, and the culture of Iceland itself.
"At first, the team here was very apprehensive," said Ari Edwald, CEO of MS Iceland Dairies, a cooperative of more than 600 family-run dairy farms. "Who is this American? Does he have any knowledge of bringing this tradition that is so rooted in this country?"
Flint and his Polaris partner, Terry McGuire, were the founders of Polaris Partners (the VC firm behind companies including Akamai, WordPress, EXOS, and LegalZoom) and they formed Polaris Founders Capital, along with partner Gregg Rubin, to invest in consumer and sports-related companies. They already had a reputation in the small island nation because of their investment in deCODE genetics, an Icelandic genomics company. Still, it took two years until MS agreed to partner up.
"They've never done a partnership with anyone," Flint said. "We convinced them what the market opportunity was over here (U.S. yogurt sales are around $9 billion, but have started to decline as more options have appeared) and that with our experience building entrepreneurial companies, we were the right guys for them to partner with."
That was mostly due to Flint and his team putting in the work, Edwald said.
"We felt that there had to be a huge cultural difference, but after seeing Jon and his team over and over again, in our offices, in our factories, asking questions, wanting to know about us and our history, we knew he was authentic and it just started to feel right," he said. "He wasn’t some ordinary businessman, he had vision and soon became an Icelander by proxy."
The two partners formed a company called Icelandic Provisions to make and distribute skyr -- which the company says is thicker, creamier and has more protein and less sugar than yogurt -- in the U.S. Its products launched at the end of 2016 and can now be found in 6,600 stores. Its best sellers are its Vanilla, Strawberry Lingonberry and Coconut 5.3-ounce containers. A new whole milk skyr product called Krímí will be out in July of this year.
"Skyr is unique in that it is a simple recipe that starts with milk from family-owned farms and very special heirloom skyr cultures," Edwald said. "While we’ve adapted our methodology for making it with new, modern equipment, the recipe itself hasn’t been tinkered with. Entrepreneurs can learn the simple lesson of not messing up a good thing when you have it. In Iceland, we have a saying: ‘petta reddast.’ It means, basically, that it will all work out in the end. It’s the motto many Icelanders live by and it goes a long way in business."