It’s crazy to think that 10 years ago, I started an ice cream business with my cofounder. Food was always something that I took seriously growing up, but it wasn’t something that I expected myself to go into. So, the fact that Coolhaus distributes to 7,500 stores nationwide and internationally is genuinely mind-blowing.
But running an ice cream business hasn’t always been all decadence and sunshine. Like any business, we’ve had our share of ups and downs over the past decade. When I started out, I had to put other elements of my life on hold so I could dedicate 100% of my energy into getting Coolhaus off the ground. I’m fortunate that I can make my business, family, and travel equal priorities. I’m able take the time needed to recharge to do something amazing with the brand.
Here’s what I’ve learned from my 10 years in the ice cream space.
I learned to turn critiques into opportunities
When I was an architecture student in college, I had a professor who critiqued an architectural model of mine by telling me that it looked like a layer cake. I thought, “Well, why is that bad?”
I realized it wasn’t, and I became determined to find a way that would merge food and architecture together. I wanted to find a way to make architecture accessible and fun to the masses–and that’s how Coolhaus was born. The name is a play on three concepts: Bauhaus, a design movement from the 1920s and 30s, Rem Koolhaas, a famous Dutch architect and theorist, and the fact that the ice cream sandwiches look like tiny ice cream houses. The comment from my professor taught me that with every criticism, there’s usually an opportunity waiting just around the corner.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help
My cofounder and partner, Freya Estreller, and I decided that a 2009 music festival in the desert would be the best place to debut Coolhaus. We bought an old postal truck and converted it into a food truck. However, we were so bootstrapped that even getting the truck to operate and go where we needed it to was a challenge.
We also realized we needed to have legal paperwork in advance of our first event. With little personal expertise and no money to spend, we needed a partner who could help us at an affordable price point. We turned to LegalZoom to help us figure out what kinds of permits and licenses we needed to stay legally compliant. Once we were good to go out to the desert music festival from a legal perspective, we realized we needed support and quickly. Luckily, we had a strong network of friends who were willing to help us in exchange for festival tickets–so we trained them to introduce Coolhaus to the world. We couldn’t have done it without their help, and looking back I’m glad that we weren’t too proud to do so.
It’s important to stay true to your vision
I wish had known when I started just how powerful and important your vision and the spirit of the company is. There’s often a middle stage in growing a business where you start to peel back a little bit. For example, the more your business grows, the more voices you start to add into the mix, whether they’re partners or investors. Sometimes, your instinct is to distance yourself from the startup character that got you started. But there’s so much power in that true origin. If you want to build a long-lasting company, you need to remind yourself every day why you’re doing what you’re doing. It doesn’t matter how big your company gets. Your why should be consistent.
Age is just a number
In the beginning, Freya and I experienced some initial age-based discrimination and people just didn’t take us seriously. However, often this attitude came from individuals who were less open to risk-taking, so they ended up passing on our business. But as young entrepreneurs, we weren’t burdened down by experience–we were more willing to take risks to achieve our vision.
Management and leadership styles will change over time, and that’s okay
One of the biggest challenges I struggled with was learning my management and leadership style. I didn’t have any experience in small business before starting Coolhaus, so I didn’t know how to be a CEO. All I knew was that I felt possessed by the idea of building Coolhaus and wanted to give it a shot–and so I did. I surrounded myself with a fantastic team, and I value the culture, energy, and passion they bring to the company.
The thing is, there is no right and wrong way to be a manager. And as your team grows and your company environment changes, your style might (and should) evolve. Don’t be afraid of this. Embrace your company’s evolution, and don’t ever be scared of learning something new.
Natasha Case is the CEO and cofounder of Coolhaus.