Since meeting Christoph nearly three years ago, I have come to understand that he is one that sees the biggest challenges that we face as opportunities to disrupt markets, and I wanted to find out about his process.
Already in a position to reach more than a billion consumers, he has built an organization where aspirations lead to discoveries which translated into products, that can then be brought to the market. It is a process that is codified throughout the organization, their exploration processes, and is a driving force for his 20+ team.
It is a quick, and highly tactical 15 minutes, and I recommend it for anyone that is still in the ideation phase… or may be stuck between a couple of great ideas, but only have the resources to execute on one.
Turnover is vanity. Profit is sanity. Cash is the only reality.
About the Entrepreneurs For Good Series
Through this series, we speak with Asia based entrepreneurs whose mission it is to bring solutions to the environmental, social, and economic challenges that are faced within the region to learn more about their vision, the opportunities they see, and challenges that they have had to overcome.
It is a series that we hope will not only engage and inspire you, but catalyze you and your organizations into action. To identify a challenge that is tangible, and build a business model (profit or non) that brings a solution to the market.
Chris is a serial entrepreneur with a solid track record in Austria, the UK, Russia, India, China, Singapore and the ASEAN region.
In 2014, Chris co-founded NamZ – a bio-science based, consumer minded incubator who, in in less than 5 years, enabled the establishment of three differentiated subsidiaries each equipped with an IP portfolio and its own set of competitive strategies.
– The first, is about to profoundly change the way 2.6 billion instant noodle portions are being made through a three-stranded technology which will make the additional deforestation of about 130,000 basketball courts worth of primary forests redundant.
– The second, will replace coconut sugar through the novel use of the tall perennial true grass of the genus Saccharum.
– The third, is the 28cubed direct-to-consumer skin care brand that makes use of molecules commonly used in foods and beverages instead of syntethic ingredients, and delivers their products in a 100% recycled plastic dispenser..
Through these three technologies, and their products, the NamZ Group is on its way to be experienced a billion times!
Driven by the belief that change begins with a single step, Richard Brubaker has spent the last 15 years in Asia working to engage, inspire, and equip those around him to take their first step. Acting as a catalyst to driving sustainability, Brubaker works with government, corporate, academic and non-profit stakeholders to bring together knowledge, teams, and tools that develop and execute their business case for sustainability.
Full Interview Transcript
RICH: So welcome back everyone. I’m here with my good from Chris from Namz. Just had an amazing interview with this…I’ll call him a serial entrepreneur. What he’s doing here back here, future of food, also outside the body looking at resources and how to better allocate them. We just had a great discussion about how you approach a business, how do you get ….how you build your team and how you try and scale to where you become the real market and market disrupter and everyone follows your standard.
RICH: Thank you very much for your time. Do me a favor and give me a little bit of your background as a personal introduction.
CHRIS: MY name is Christopher Langwallner. I am the co-founder of a company called Namz. We are a science/bioscience based organization that looks into disruptive technologies for what we called the outside and inside of the body in sustainable manner.
RICH: What is the core idea and what is the disruption you are hoping to bring to the market?
CHRIS: The core idea was to basically say, there are big companies out there who try to come up with sustainable approaches with regard to what we call the inside and outside of the body. That means personal care products as well as food and beverages. However, doing something different in a multinational is almost impossible or very, very slow moving. So we decided to basically say lets take an opportunity to step outside of such an environment and lets look into opportunities with an unmet needs. Wherein you can actually say if we could resolve it, if that were to happen, what if we can resolve it, what would happen? How would we actually impact.
What we did was try hard for about a year, 9 months to come up with 15 ideas and we launched a company and took 12 ideas into the lab trying to say ok, how do we approach this? What is it that we have to do or can do with regards to technology advanced and sciences, applied sciences in particular in order to fulfill or meet these unmet needs particularly on a consumer basis. That within the view of being sustainable.
RICH: What are the issues that you are dealing with? What are scarce resources that your most concerned with?
CHRIS: We are all living in a world where, we all know that by 2050 we will be 9.6 billion people, whatever depending on which reference point you are trusting more. We are going to be that many people and we need to increase the production capacity by about 70%. Now if we have to do that, the approaches that we had in the last century are not available to us anymore. They are more luxurious because we could actually take the forest down and just increase acreage in order to increase production. That to us is not available anymore particularly because, particularly in the context of food security, water scrutiny and energy security.
REALIZING THE BEST IDEAS
RICH: You mentioned that you start out with 15 ides, you brought 12 into the lab. Generically without getting to technical about your secret sauce here, what’s the process that you took from going from 12 to the 1 or 2 you knew had the most potential that technically could deliver to the market that you could get your big Z…which is your scale.
CHRIS: It took us 4 years to be able to communicate that. I think what it really runs down to is our strategic pillars that we call aspire, discover, translate and size. In order to be able to filter something to apply a filter of ideas, bringing them forward and getting them from ok I have an idea, and you try out an approach and you probably have an discovery. You identify something new to use or an invention. That may or may not have any great economic value at the end of the day.
So what we are really, really trying to hard at the beginning of each and every single project to ask tough questions what if. Also, allow yourself at the beginning of a project even before you go into the lab, to dream about a different future. Travelling in your mind. We call it aspire, dream. Travel into that future and say so if our technology truly can make markets, meaning disrupt the market, how does that future then look like? How would the industry behave differently? What is our role then? I think that is one key aspect of it.
Then we take it forward to what we call a discovery phase. Whereby we say let us talk to consumer. Then we start it off talked a lot to industries and industry players. But we very quickly figured out and we learned that talking to individual brands, you get a very, very biased few. The biased few from an angle, from a few of the brand and how the brand of that particular potential customer fuels the world. That maybe consistent with a larger needs within the consumers, but it many, many cases it isn’t. It is very, very tainted in a way.
So we do a lot of that work to start with. We are working together with recognized people in the industry. We have people in-house that are doing consumer insights. Then we take it into the lab and say if that is a true unmet need, how can we actually, what can we do in order to help a process and new way of doing things to come about in order to really be able to disrupt?
This discovery process and the aspiration are aligned to it may take years. Once we hopefully win and say that there is something that we can take forward, we then look into can we carve this out? Can we create a subsidiary company? Can we equip subsidiary company with different skills? People that are actually good with translating science into how to process factories, and so on. Then lastly, scale it up from there and go on the market and succeed.
RICH: What does scale look like for you? Hop do you define success of a product or an innovation that you bring out of this lab? What is your big goal?
CHRIS: I think the moment we wake up in the morning. We come to work because we would like to be experience a billion times. We are on the path to be experienced 2.6 billions times a year., which is great. Now we can actually drill down and can we now create, can we replicate what we’ve done with this first partner to be able to be experienced a billion times in a quarter, in a month, etc.
That’s behind that aspiration aspect of being experienced a billion times. If I were looking tomorrow, the financial aspect of it. I would say lets try to analyze it to what’s the minimum size required to actually make markets. So that your technology finally becomes the norm, the standard, the status quo at some point and time. So that you have the technology, the go to technology and how can you leverage from there. That will be more of the aggressive a business aspect of it.
RICH: What’s that number? How much of the market to you have to own before you really that impact that you want?
CHRIS: If you look at the entire life cycle of a business it would be about 30% of the market. Whether or not we ever get there, who knows. But unless and until you aim high, how can you get there in the first place?
RICH: Between achieving 30% and today still in the lab, how do you keep yourself kid of mindful that’s your goal, but keep everyone moving on a day to day basis in a grid?
CHRIS: I don’t think it’s me. I think actually its the folk around me. Because what we’ve done in this business we’ve set out the company and how it functions like a system I keep on telling everyone I am not the CEO, the project is the CEO. If the project needs a particular CEO because the CEO has a particular skillset or experience, so be it. Take over. Run with it.
That helps you tip toing on each other, helps you be focus, helps you stay alert, that helps you having your big goal in eyesight. So, I would not to do justice to what we stand for if I would say it is me. No, it is not me at all. I’m just one of many here who are really driving this project.
RICH: When you’re going through this process you hit this challenge you know that on the other side there is something amazing. How do you get yourself through that, that challenge? Like you can’t get the experiment to work. You can’t get the team to buy into your idea. What’s a process for you to get through a challenge that’s worth getting through?
CHRIS: I never find it difficult to be self motivated. An experiment, a failed experiment is just a data point, it’s just one learning. It’s just saying ok, this approach didn’t work lets try the next one.
RICH: Do you have a support network outside of this albeit investors, advisors, friends, family, things like that. That you’re able to call on when you have a questions that can’t be answered by yourself or by the family in the company here?
CHRIS: Yes, we do have. We are fortunate to have what we call the three F’s behind us. We are first to family, the friends and the fools. This is a support network that we have that the function is supporting partners, sponsoring goals. The function is counselors, advisors. They are here to ask the difficulty questions. They are here to ask those questions we haven’t asked yet.
I don’t think any single person, any single companies own right can be successful unless and until you built this ecosystem around you. The ecosystem includes not only the three F’s as I’ve explained, but also the partners that work with you on saying, hey I have an appetite to translate my business.
RICH: If you were going to be advising the 25yo Chris who is entering the market, food entrepreneurship, what advice would you give him to just take it to the next level?
CHRIS: The 25yo Chris. I think the 25 you Chris didn’t have a problem of taking risk. That was always the sort of aspect of mind I probably scared a lot of my family members on the way. But I honestly I think as an entrepreneur, I have done an MBA throughout my career and what you learn doing an entrepreneur is that you can quantify risk, or you think you can quantify risk. Therefore, if you think you can quantify risk, you become more risk adverse than you should be as an entrepreneur.
At the end of the day, 25yo Chris I would say take the risk and make mistakes. Learn from them. Implement a better of yourself and don’t believe you have wisdom. It is a collaborative approach that brings people forward. It is not a single person. You can have an idea, but unless and until somebody else picks it up. Like in football or soccer. You can have the ball all 90mins without scoring a goal, but if you have a team that helps you out, you could win the match. The same is with a company. Your really have to think like that.
I think that’s what’s really, really important. Of course, then comes the more tangible aspect of becoming an entrepreneur. A crucial aspect of being an entrepreneur is always making sure you’re not running out of cash. The best idea can become meaningless the moment….the best idea, the best business proposition can be meaningless the moment you run out of cash. If you are lucky, somebody else takes over but then you’re not enjoying the fruits of your labor.
So cash management is of utmost importance. Always make sure you are not running out of it. I have learned in my past that turnover is vanity, profit is sanity, cash is the only reality. That holds true for that sort of entrepreneurship.
I think theses are the core aspects of really being daring to go out. Daring to go out and if you start something with friends, make sure you are ask the right questions. Make sure that you have an honest approach to things because…Actually I didn’t tell you, but my very, very first entrepreneur exposure was with two other friends and we failed because we didn’t ask the right questions. We only burned cash. That’s life.
ORGANIC VS INVESTMENT LED
RICH: Some of the most valuable lessons I ever learned was actually through a crisis of cash flow management. I’m a completely organic entrepreneur. Everything is about how much I can sell. How much I can sell. How may I can reinvest. In that vain, you’ve taken on external funding and you also put all your own in. What is the balance for you? Organic vs Investment?
CHRIS: I don’t think that we have a formal 90/10, 10/90, 80/20 whatever it might be. I think all formulas we would like to work on in what we call strategy partners. Money that is of strategic importance.
We at this point in time are not it the capital market that seeks venture capital funds neither private equity funds because that particular industry is not really yet geared up to support an agri kind of food setup. Particularly in this part of the world. Maybe not the part of the world, but I don’t know the ecosystem in California and places like this. Probably there is money that is better suited for that sort of industry. But here, it isn’t.
You don’t want to go into you know getting a license, a factory license takes you 9 months and then you have a funding you who wants to sell you in like 12 months. It just doesn’t work. There is a misalignment from what the cash wants to do to the business aspects are. So I think the expectations with regards to the cash management of what the cash ought to do for the business has to be considered very, very smartly. If that is align, doesn’t matter who owns what stake, but what’s the value that we can generate. It could be something very, very small, but hugely big in terms of return. It could be very, very small loan, but a huge return on something that is greater.
The recipe as of now for us is work with strategic partners, you can call it smart money. In the true sense it has a to have a strategic impact on the business. Just bringing in money for the sake of bringing in money ends up with managing balance sheets and P&Ls and it doesn’t really help you on the project.
For more interviews from the “Entrepreneurs for Good” series, check out the playlist here.
Stay tuned for more clips and full interviews in the coming weeks.