The failure of Happy Cow Milk


Glen Herud wrote:

I founded Happy Cow Milk to make a difference. But last week I had to admit to myself that I failed.  I made the decision to shut down the business and I faced the hard truth that I haven’t really made any difference at all. So what went wrong?

So begins the post mortem of Happy Cow Milk, as told by the founder himself.  It’s not an uncommon story.  Founder has a dream.  Founder starts a company to make that dream come true.  Founder discovers the flaw that makes that dream nonviable.

For Happy Cow Milk, it was a glass bottle, health regulations, and the lack of a supply chain that could (or wanted to) deal with glass bottles.

Reading this story, what jumped out to me was the confluence and confusion of two separate missions.  a) Sell milk in glass bottles, eliminating plastic, and b) Keep calves with their moms.

I can buy milk in glass bottles at my local market here in a Seattle suburb.  I can have milk delivered to my house in glass bottles.  That challenge can be overcome with enough investment.  Happy Cow Milk didn’t have the heft to make that investment.

They didn’t because of the other mission, to keep calves with their moms.  Glen explains the challenges of that, and how he worked around them with a mobile milking facility.

This isn’t my startup, but what I see in this port mortem is an entrepreneur who was a bit too stubborn, who gave up his company because he wouldn’t listen to his customers, because he wouldn’t listen to nature, and because he insisted on the dual mission at the start instead of finding a way to get there in multiple steps.

This seems like a company that didn’t have to die.

Either sell in plastic bottles until profits grew big enough to change the supply chain, spending money on the mobile milker.  Or find a way to raise the calves near but not next to their mothers, spending money on glass bottles but a traditional milking shed.

Sometimes, your dream just doesn’t work as a business.  Your job as a entrepreneur is to figure out when you are on such a path, and to determine that there is a dead end well before raising money and well before you find that customers won’t buy what you dream they will.

By "Luni"


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