Why You Should Be the Sore Thumb

Hamdi Ulukaya came to the U.S. and wrinkled his nose. This stuff is disgusting, he thought. It’s like eating water.

Ulukaya had grown up in Erzincan, a Turkish city enclosed by snowcapped mountains. He lived with his family on a dairy farm, where his mother would make yogurt fresh. When he came to the United States at 22, he could not fathom how horrible American yogurt was in comparison.

So, when he read about a rundown yogurt factory up for sale, he had to check it out.

“The factory was a sad place, sort of like a cemetery,” he later described. “The best thing about the place was the price.” It was owned by Kraft, one of the largest food conglomerates in America. Ulukaya was intrigued.

His attorney shook his head when Ulukaya approached him. There is a reason Kraft is giving it up, he said. Besides, Ulukaya was in no place to afford the near $1 million price tag. His attorney brought up good points. But Ulukaya was determined.

He bought the factory with money he borrowed from banks and federal agencies. 15 years later, his yogurt company, Chobani, is the leading yogurt brand in America. The Kurdish immigrant transformed a factory that had failed a billion-dollar corporation into a tool for his own billion-dollar success.

What’s the secret?

According to Ulukaya, one major part was the packaging. “American yogurt has always been sold in containers with relatively narrow openings,” he explained. “I wanted the package [for Chobani] to signal that the product inside was very different.” So, Ulukaya went wide.

Compared to mainstream yogurt brands, Chobani’s yogurt was noticeably wider and squat. It stuck out like a sore thumb. And that was exactly what Ulukaya wanted. To a grocery shopper who had never heard of the brand before, Chobani’s packaging indicated its uniqueness.

Over time, more and more intrigued shoppers picked up the snack. It became a household name. Today, Chobani is known for its distinct look, creamy flavor, and use of fresh ingredients. While many brands have since raced to imitate the iconic packaging, Chobani continues to stand out. The company “seemingly come out of nowhere to become the top yogurt brand in America,” Mashed reports. “Everything about it is so amazingly fresh that you’ll be blown away.”

As underdogs, our urge is often to conform and try to fit in. We crane our neck to see what everyone else is doing under the guise of “competitor analysis.” But we don’t always need to. Our biggest disadvantage is also our biggest strength: we stick out like sore thumbs.

For Ulukaya, being the sore thumb helped him stand out in a crowded market where everyone was doing the same thing. For you, it can be what helps you raise eyebrows, catch people’s attention, and make them look twice. “It sticks out like a sore thumb” doesn’t have to be an expression you say with disdain.

That is, until your hand gets stuck in the car door.

This article is part of my series about achieving the impossible. Read the introduction to the series here and subscribe to future updates by clicking the orange mail button near my name.

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Author of “Think Outside the Odds” & student at UC Berkeley. Thinking about empowering the underdog and how we can all live more intentional, innovative lives.

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Vedika Dayal

Vedika Dayal

Author of “Think Outside the Odds” & student at UC Berkeley. Thinking about empowering the underdog and how we can all live more intentional, innovative lives.

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