Hamilton Colwell cooked up Maia yogurt back in 2007. It was designed to be an all-natural snack for his pregnant cousin. How did it transform into a business? Read on.
Alex Schattner: What was the inspiration behind Maia?
Hamilton Colwell: I created Maia on my NYC apartment stove to address the health concerns of a pregnant cousin. She needed the healthiest product possible, that was also easy to eat while juggling a million things at once. And of course it had to be delicious. Healthy, convenient and delicious -- that's a pretty tough combination to achieve in this day and age. Most food that is convenient isn't healthy. And many foods that are healthy just don't taste very good. I started experimenting with yogurt because my family loved it and was the perfect snack.
To make Maia commercially, I tested my home recipes in various dairy barns and eventually found the perfect home for Maia in the heart of Dairy Country in Pennsylvania. I worked exclusively with family farms with grass-fed cows. Add some amazing cultures, real fruit and just a touch of natural cane sugar, and Maia was born. Everything real, natural, gluten-free and non-GMO. Sounds simple, right?
A: Not really, but I guess that depends. Did you have previous experience in the food industry?
H:After graduating college, I managed restaurants in several cities, and studied the science at Cornell. Still, I needed a lot of help. I reached out to leaders in the field including dairy experts, food scientists and registered dietitians.
A: When did you know that your yogurt idea was worth pursuing?
H: I always believed in the idea, but belief doesn't necessarily translate into a viable business, nor does it really even matter what I think. It matters what the customer thinks. I gave samples of my first batches to my friends and they were blown away. That was encouraging. Then we started bringing Maia to local retailers and giving samples to their customers -- sometimes right on the street in front of the store. The response from customers was really incredible -- despite all of the other options on the shelf, no one had really tasted real, unprocessed yogurt. And they liked it. They liked how they felt when they ate it, and they were amazed that something so healthy could actually taste good. Really good. So that's when I knew we might be on to something, and I decided to put everything I had into Maia.
A: What's the biggest risk you had to take?
H: I think the biggest risk was just deciding to go all-in. We knew that making an incredible product and competing in an explosive category would be tough (times 10). Deciding to resign from my career, invest my life savings, and devote my life to Maia was tough. But we were passionate about bringing a better product to market, and confident that customers would appreciate our devotion to their health and happiness.
A: What have been the biggest challenges?
H: Scaling production to keep up with demand, getting the demand in the first place, negotiating contracts with the trade, selling a no name yogurt into big name retailers, shipping thousands of pounds of pineapple cross-country... every day is a new challenge so it's hard to say that one is bigger than the next.
A: Are your goals still the same as when you started out?
H: Our goal has always been to make the best product possible and bring it to as many people as possible. We truly believe that we're on a social mission to improve people's health and are accomplishing a social good by selling the healthiest product on the market that people actually enjoy eating.
Learn more about Maia at MaiaYogurt.com.