Koel Thomae is arguably the world’s biggest yogurt enthusiast. Her ferocious love for the dynamic dairy product and her dedication to experiencing the coveted “taste moments” led her to founding noosa with Rob Graves in January 2010. Noosa crafts premium, creamy yogurt with only ingredients of the highest quality; from Madagascan vanilla and Guittard dark chocolate to raw wildflower honey and fresh whole milk from the noosa farm in Colorado. Plus, noosa does not shy away from decadence, all of their products are full-fat. Thomae happily declines a seat on the ever-popular health food bandwagon—she’s all about flavor, not about counting calories.
“I was working in IT at the time and was literally having the soul sucked out of me...so I did some soul searching and food has always been this sort of common thread in my life and passion point, and Colorado has this amazing natural foods community, so I said, ‘I’m going to work in food, I don’t care what I do. I’m going to break in'"Why did Thomae choose noosa as the brand name? Well, its namesake holds the charming story of the company’s inspiration. Prior to tying the knot, Thomae brought her now-husband to meet her family on the sunshine coast, and it was at Noosa (the place) that they planted the seed for noosa (the yogurt). “[My now-husband and I] were walking back from the beach and I stopped him at a local corner shop,” Thomae says. “I spotted this clear container—there was no branding on it, but there was a pop of passion fruit puree, so I picked it up. A few minutes later I was having my first taste and thought that it was the best thing I’d ever eaten. That sparked selfishly a desire to eat the yogurt more than once a year.”
Earlier in her “pre-noosa life” (as she likes to call it), Thomae was dissatisfied with her job and seeking out change. She says, “I was working in I.T at the time and was literally having the soul sucked out of me... So I did some soul searching and food has always been this sort of common thread in my life and passion point, and Colorado has this amazing natural foods community, so I said, ‘I’m going to work in food, I don’t care what I do. I’m going to break in.’” Thomae stayed true to her word, doing exactly that upon returning to Colorado. She readied herself for entrepreneurship by extensively researching the yogurt field and soon flew back to Australia to get a loose license agreement for the yogurt that inspired noosa.
Fast forward to a Colorado coffee shop, fated it seems, as it was there that Thomae spotted a flyer about Graves’ dairy farm, just as she was on the lookout for a dairy partner to bring her company to life. “He thought I was crazy,” Thomae says with a laugh, “so I told him I’d come back in two weeks with actual yogurt samples and he’d believe me. My mom shipped the yogurt from Australia. He had that same taste moment. So it’s sort of this story of somebody selfishly motivated by their own stomach, and two complete strangers bonding over a taste moment. And sort of throwing caution to the wind.”
“What’s made us so successful is being self-manufactured and staying true to who we are and that commitment to quality. When we think about innovation and flavor, it’s always like, ‘It has to taste wow.’ It has to taste as close to the real fruit as possible.”
It’s safe to say the yogurt fanatics of today would not call their stomach-motivation selfish, as they now have a brand they can rely on to pack a flavor punch and excite their taste buds on a daily basis. Yes, they’ve got classic flavors like blueberry and peach, but they also carry unique combos like Blackberry Serrano, Orange Ginger, and Raspberry Lemonade.
Noosa’s latest innovation comes in the form of an innovative packaging, once again thanks to another brilliant female mind at the company. “There were certain flavors we just couldn’t do in our 8 ounce format,” Thomae admits, “so we brought in two really smart, savvy women who divide and conquer on sales and marketing, and our head of marketing was like, ‘What if we created a custom pack where we could do two different flavors?’ So this is taking great combinations and allowing people to either eat one flavor at a time or mix and match. This allows our customers to have their own food adventure and us to deliver it in a way that I don’t think anyone else on the market is doing.” They’ve got Pineapple Coconut for that seaside feel of sipping a tropical piña colada, as well as Caramel Apple for a nostalgic trip back in time to childhood fairs or fall strolls through an orchard.
“When you talk to any entrepreneur, there’s always an element of luck. It was late 2008, the biggest financial crisis, and we were like, ‘let’s keep going.’ And certainly bucking all of the category trends as far as low fat or no fat, and here we come with whole milk, full flavor, big tub.”
"So this is taking great combinations and allowing people to either eat one flavor at a time or mix and match, sort of have their own food adventure"
The eight years since noosa saw the light of day, or the light of refrigerators in select stores across the country has been both challenging and rewarding. At the very start, Thomae was working two jobs and still struggling to make ends meet. She’d grown up watching her mother do the same thing—having two jobs, emerging in the entrepreneurial world—so she knew it required nonstop persistence, but that didn’t make it any easier. Thomae recalls feeling left out of her social sphere, “It was a weird time because social media was starting which was great for the brand but on a personal level I was like, ‘I’m working 24/7 and all my friends are having this perceived fun lifestyle,’ so I had to block that out.”
At the end of last year, noosa finished at $220M, the silky smooth yogurt’s popularity skyrocketed. So what’s next for noosa, now that a solid fan base has been built? That would be a “side-hustle campaign”, which will involve choosing five winners to help create noosa’s next innovative flavor. “It’s called Flavor Finder, and we’re opening it up to everyone,” Thomae explains, “so winners will essentially get flown to Colorado and we’ll do a deep dive into how it’s made and the culture. Each of the five winners will get a $2000 stipend for travel or however they’re going to unlock the next big flavor for noosa.”
Three years ago, I made a deal with myself - I wanted to have $100,000 saved when I'm 25. But I didn't mind if it didn't happen until the day before my 26th birthday.
One of my biggest priorities in life has always been to save as much money as possible — and I owe much of that to my parents, who made sure I had a strong financial education at a young age.
My dad even helped me start a vending machine business when I was nine. The experience taught me essential skills like how to pitch a business, cope with rejection and open a checking and savings account.
For the past three years, I've never made more than $80,000. About a year ago, I reviewed my rate of savings and investments and realized that I was on track to save $100,000. With only a car loan away from being debt free, I've got another year and $10K to go!
I want to acknowledge that privilege is a key part of my story. I'm white, I come from a middle-class family, and I was able to graduate college without any debt. All these things helped a great deal.
But my parents didn't raise me with a silver spoon. Paying for college was a collaborative process. We'd sit down at least twice a year to discuss how we were going to pay for the next semester. The first question they'd always ask me was: "How much can you contribute?"
I've been fortunate. But it also takes a lot of hard work, sacrifice, and responsibility to save and maximize your earnings. Feeling motivated and knowing that I'll be prepared for whatever life throws my way fuels my drive to keep making smart financial decisions. Here's how I'm getting to $100K.
- I side-hustled
This kick-started my journey towards six-figures. In addition to saving the majority of my 9-5 salary, my first year of freelance social media marketing made me quite a bit of cash that I could immediately save. I was able to establish both a SEP IRA and a fully-funded emergency fund with my earnings.
2. I started investing early
Knowing that compound interest is so important, I wanted to start investing early to have my money work for me. Once I started my first big-girl job, I opened my first Roth IRA. Starting to save for retirement at age 22, I was able to max out my Roth each year and also contribute to aSEP IRA and a non-retirement investment account. My first job out of school had a 401(k), but you couldn't contribute until you were there at least a year. Knowing I wasn't planning on staying long — I was at that job for a year and a few months — I opened a Roth 401(k) and then rolled my earnings to my Roth IRA.
3. I negotiated salary offers and raises
Negotiating should be a collaboration, not a confrontation. Growing up, I watched my father sit on hold, patiently waiting to negotiate our cable and phone bills. Negotiation was always part of my life, and I grew up with parents who knew how to do it. So when I was offered my first social media freelance gig, I negotiated over $10k more than they offered. And after achieving a 20% bump at my first 9-5, I negotiated $20k more than what was offered at my next job. And $10k more at the next job. If negotiating for raises freaks you out, here's a guide that can help.
4. I've automated my savings
Automating your money not only makes your life easier, but it makes you feel like the percentage you're saving just doesn't exist. I have 26% of each paycheck automatically deposited into a high-yield savings account. This savings account is purposefully at a different bank than my day-to-day checking account, so I'm less likely to withdraw from it and less likely to think about it. This "set it and forget it" level of financial freedom was something I worked hard for -- through money diarying, budgeting, and conscious spending. So now, my savings amount is completely on autopilot.
At the age of 24, I know that I am on the right track to make my goal a reality. Inspired by my own journey, I wanted to help women everywhere to have that same feeling of confidence that financial education gives — and get information from someone who isn't an old, rich white dude. As a money speaker and coach, I run Her First $100K, a financial literacy platform for millennial women on the path to get their first $100K too.
It's possible to achieve your first $100K — whether that's debt paid off, earned, saved, invested, or something else. With intentional strategies and focus, you've got this!