Cold, sweet ice cream smashed between two yummy cookies may just sound like a great summertime snack to you, but for Natasha Case, Founder of Coolhaus, ice cream sandwiches have become dessert gold. A young entrepreneur and student of architecture, Natasha has relied on her instincts and passions to fuel her business and take her to the next level. What started out as making ice cream with her then girlfriend and later business partner, Freya Estreller, has turned into a multi-million dollar enterprise, with retail stores in LA, Austin, Dallas and New York and distribution nationwide through grocery store chain, Wholefoods.
It always fascinates me when Made Women are able to take start something on a small scale and turn it into a dream career. As Coolhaus’ founder, Natasha went from selling her unique brand of ice cream from the back of an old ice cream truck to now having a coffee table book called Coolhaus Ice Cream book, partnerships with huge brands and more. I met Natasha recently at the Tribe Talk event right here in LA and was excited to pick her brain a bit and see how she made it all happen:
SW: You didn’t always make ice cream. Tell me a little about your architecture background.
NC: I went to Berkeley for my undergraduate, I studied architecture and design. I studied abroad with Cornell in Rome. Everything they do in Italy had a huge influence on me in terms of quality, from the tailor made suits, to the food, to the architecture, and really realizing that, the best ingredients make the best product. And then I came back, finished Berkeley, and then I went to UCLA for grad school for architecture.
SW: I know that you have used some of the things you have learned about architecture to inspire design with with Coolhaus and that’s what you studied. So why ice cream? Why food? Why not just architecture all the way?
NC: I had a really fun idea that food... kind of opens up the discussion a lot more. Food is something everyone can relate to. It’s comforting, it’s fun, it’s memorable. I got more intrigued in my own architecture work knowing that.
You have to bake architectural models and I always thought, if I was making this model of cake it would never get boring. So food is fun, and then there is this light at the end of the rainbow because when you are done you can eat it. So it’s always just been a passion/hobby for me, eating and cooking. And then I had the idea of how can you combine architecture with that? What are the ways they overlap? How can you use one to talk about the other? That’s what initially inspired the concept of what we’re doing now with Coolhaus. And a lot of our flavors are named after architects and designers so it’s about building awareness and making it accessible and fun. I call that Frachitecture…. But I still very much consider myself part of both of those worlds.
SW: Right, that’s awesome. It’s just incredible how you started something new and different and it just took off. How big was your team when you guys started out?
NC: Really we started with me and Freya and now we’re over seventy people company wide.
SW: Wow, and also you recently made the Forbes Thirty Under Thirty and Zagats Thirty Under Thirty as well. Congratulations. Were these your biggest accomplishments as an entrepreneur? If not, what was?
NC: To get an acknowledgement or award like that is great but for me the accomplishment is getting into markets in Guam or reaching people with a product that I never thought we were able to reach and running the business properly and being able to reward and bonus the corporate team and also the team on the ground in the trucks and stores. Those are the things that matter to me a lot more. I mean I’m so excited to be acknowledged and that means a lot. But it’s not like, “Oh, that’s my goal is to get Thirty Under Thirty.”
SW: I’m sure it wasn’t easy to go from selling from a refurbished ice cream truck to being in 1500 grocery stores. What has been the biggest challenge through it all?
NC: I think surrounding yourself with the right people -- anyone will tell you -- is the hardest part. Because you [are dealing with] different personalities, and skillsets... And really finetuning to make sure that you have the right team in place and that everyone’s skills are being optimized. The other thing is financially scaling. It’s hard to make the jump from three Wholefoods in 2011 to now over two thousand grocery stores nationwide. Cash flow in a company like ours that is obviously very seasonal is tough. There are times when it’s difficult and how you’re gonna get through it? What kind of precautious do you have to take. You really have to plan, be aware of your budgets. That’s definitely a challenge too.
SW: I know that Freya was your business partner and she worked on the finance and operations side. What was it like for you two as entrepreneurs, co-founders, and significant others? That had to be a lot going on.
NC: Yeah, it’s a lot. I think that while it worked, it worked great because we were able to talk about the company and evaluate it all the time. Then you start to hit a glass ceiling when you say okay, there are limitations to also being romantically involved. It’s not a purely professional relationship and it becomes time to bring in an expert, someone that you don’t have that emotional complication with. So I think it was an amazing thing to do in the startup phase for the company to mature. But I think for the next step, it made sense for Freya to move on and she had other passions she wanted to pursue. So, it all worked out in the end.
SW: That’s great. Your story is very unique, I know that you drove that old ice cream truck to Coachella to launch your product. What advice do you have for other entrepreneurs that are starting out?
NC: We like to say “action not perfection.” If you want to get something out there, don’t be afraid to test the market. The market will teach you a lot about what works and what doesn’t. Don’t feel like you’re always going to have to be perfect before you launch. Because the real test is reality.
SW: You found so many other ways to monetize beyond just ice cream scoops, so can you talk about the other ways that Coolhaus does business.
NC: Yes, so the book, e-commerce that has grown to bars and other clients now, in addition to grocery stores and foodservice accounts. So, you know, I’ve been coming up with a variety of products and a variety of market channels.
SW: You also talked about partnerships, which ones are going on right now?
NC: We’ve done a big thing with Dexter the Showtime show last year. We did a pre-packaged sandwich and various event activations around it to promote it [along with] various media. This year, we have our partnership with the LA Forum. We have a special sandwich for them. It’s red velvet vanilla because they painted the Forum red. We are working on a partnership with Wholefoods and their Whole Family foundation which is in the very early stages. We have a lot of big brand activations. We are doing something with Jeep.
SW: So, how do you come up with new flavors and new ideas for that?
NC: Sometimes we are inspired by dishes we have in savory restaurants. Sometimes clients commissions us to do something interesting like make a flavor themed by a movie or a show. We did a Spongebob flavor, a 2012 flavor for the movie 2012. Sometimes we just want to push the envelope. We were the first to bring bacon ice cream to the masses and then suddenly people started doing bacon desserts. So we thought, “Okay, what’s the next flavor we can do to push the envelope?” And we came up with chicken and waffles.
SW: What’s your favorite flavor?
NC: It really depends on the day. I love our summer flavors right now Sweet Corn and Blueberry. I love the fried chicken and waffles. Our ___ are fresh and they have a touch of brown sugar.
SW: My last question for you, I know you started a company at a young age, what advice or feedback did you receive that kept you going and allowed you to get past your inexperience?
NC: I think you can walk through a wall if you don’t know it’s there. Sometimes not knowing about something makes you take a risk that you don’t even realize you’re taking and that risk can be your secret weapon because you’re going to disrupt the market and give something really cool and unique.
Love this Made Woman’s story? Join us on August 29th for a Twitter chat with her! Tweet us your questions for Natasha using the hashtag #MWChat!
Being an ambitious entrepreneur is a gift and a curse. On the one hand you get things done. You have a vision, you started a business and you’re making a difference in this world (and some money). On the other hand, your schedule is overflowing with client work, networking events and business opportunities. There is always something more you could be doing. The questions becomes: How do you fit it all in?
Here are some tips for managing your schedule as a busy entrepreneur:
Focus on the Big Rocks. Stephen Covey famously spoke about putting your “Big Rocks” first. Look at the mission of your business. What are you trying to accomplish? What is your purpose? Each day, think about the three most important things that will help you move forward on your business – your Big Rocks – and create a schedule to get them finished first. Once you’ve completed your Big Rocks for the day, you can move on to less important activities. And on those days that you’re only able to get one or two things accomplished – it happens to the best of us – at least you know you’ve tackled the most important things on your list.
Bucket Your Tasks. Set your schedule up so that you’re working on similar tasks all day. For example, I schedule all client meetings and coaching calls for Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday. Mondays are reserved for writing and planning. Fridays are my admin day. Creating a solid schedule helps in two ways: 1) you’re not constantly bouncing from task to task and 2) you know exactly what you’ll be working on each day.
Get Rid of the Fluff. Let’s be honest. There are going to be things that just never get done. If you take an honest look at your day’s activities, you’ll see that there are some activities that you’ve picked up along the way that are no longer serving you. Maybe you had a problem saying “no” or maybe it’s something that seemed exciting when you first took it on. Either way, if it is not serving your bottom line, it needs to go. Does this activity align with your purpose and move you forward? If not, then it is time to place it on the back burner.
Figure out Your Energy Zones. Take a look at your energy levels throughout the day and schedule high energy activities when you feel the most alive. Are you a morning person? Crank through your to-do list early on. Do you find your stride after lunch? Schedule your tough mental tasks then.
Take It Easy. Part of the fun of being an entrepreneur is making your own schedule. Make sure to schedule breaks and down time so that you can refresh. That might mean hitting up the gym during lunch or simply setting a timer so that you take periodic breaks throughout the day. Don’t get too down on yourself for having an off day – we all need a break sometimes.
Keep it Professional. Full time entrepreneurs can find themselves slacking on the rigid scheduling. Early morning meetings are replaced with nooners. Business professional clothes are replaced with PJ’s... all day long. It’s fine to make your own rules if you are running the show, but try not to let all of your professionalism go out the window. Keep a clear, daily schedule even if you don’t go into the office everyday.
Once you are able to lock in a solid schedule, you’ll be able to focus on your revenue generating activities and really grow your business. Get laser focused on the activities that will move you forward and let the rest fall to the wayside. And when in doubt, take a little break!
When I entered the Stampede Management offices to sit down with Shante Broadus, I wasn't sure what to expect from our meeting. I knew she was the high-school-sweetheart-turned-wife of Snoop Dogg, one of the hugest rappers--and personalities--of our time. From watching Snoop Dogg’s “Father Hood” TV show, I knew she was the (very patient) mother of three children. I also knew she'd been steadily solidifying herself as a business woman and philanthropist over the past decade. But what would the woman herself be like, I wondered.
When I met Shante she was dressed in all white, wrapping up the day’s promo shoot for her website. She introduced herself and I was immediately stricken by her humble and markedly laid back demeanor. No diva attitude here. In fact, as we began to chat, Shante immediately expressed her deep desire to help others, a desire which stems from her upbringing in Long Beach, California, where she says, “my family always taught me to give and to help others, especially my mom and grandmother.” Her passion for lending a hand intensified when she became involved in Snoop’s Youth Football League (SYFL) and decided to organize a cheerleading squad to get young girls involved. When most busy mothers would have patted themselves on the back for something like this, she says, “I just didn't feel that it was enough. So I wanted to start something to help empower young little girls.” Shante decided on a name for the venture: I am S.H.A.N.T.E., and worked to bring the dream to life.
I am S.H.A.N.T.E. targets adolescent girls living in under-served communities, many of whom are facing struggles similar to the ones Shante grew up with up in Central Long Beach, a high-poverty and historically violent community. Through social and emotional development, mentoring, skill-building workshops and leadership and internship programs, I am S.H.A.N.T.E. develops young ladies in a holistic manner, identifying and tackling the variety of obstacles that may be stunting these young ladies’ growth and development. The dream of one mother has now become the hope of a better life to a group of young girls in Long Beach, with plans to expand in the works.
Through the various stages of the program, these girls are encouraged to find strength within themselves, to work on building lasting, healthy relationships with others, to improve their technical and social skills, and then they’re trained to be true leaders. What sparked Shante to develop such a multi-faceted development program? “I have the means and the resources and it's better to give than receive. I love being able to give back--and that's what bosses do. “ I hear that.
The example Shante sets is very unique. Turn on the TV these days and you can take your pick of the shows based around women who are married to--or sometimes simply associated with--rich, famous men. You cringe as females all but kill each other for attention, a piece of a man and a shot at faux stardom (for more on this, click here). Not so with Mrs. Broadus. While others have been flipping tables over and throwing drinks on each other, Shante has been busy raising children and supporting her husband’s career for the past 17 years (read: holding it down). And while she could sit back and bask in the sun, enjoying the life of a pampered woman, she’s chosen to step out on her own and use her influence to benefit those who are less fortunate instead.
Plus, she’s a boss. In addition to this program, Shante is trying her hand in artist management (Bosslady Entertainment) and is developing a mid- to high-end handbag line (Cocori, set for Spring, 2012). She is also on the board of Lupus LA and runs a dance and recording studio called Lady Lounge. How does she do it all? According to her sister Sharelle Fuller and her publicist Jameela Jackson, she’s been known to relieve stress by working it out on the pole at the Lady Lounge. Get em, Miss Shante!
It takes a special kind of woman to juggle a life filled with so much, and an even more exceptional woman to use her influence to benefit others. Toward the end of our time together, Shante said to me, “Everywhere I go they say, ‘you look like Snoop Dogg's wife.’ I'm like, ‘I do have a name--[It’s] Shante.’” And don’t you forget it.
If you’re interested in getting involved in I am S.H.A.N.T.E. as a mentor or to sign up as a participant, visit www.iamshante.org.
Company: EMI Interior Design
Company size: 3
Erica Islas has design in her blood. The daughter of a contractor, she grew up going with him to job sites around Los Angeles. It was at these sites that she developed her deep respect for architectural design. Fascinated by how things are built, these experiences stayed with her and prompted her to take drafting classes in high school. She later studied design at Santa Monica College. A true #MadeWoman, she had big dreams for her future - but with everyone and their mama picking up a paint brush and calling themselves interior designers, it’s not easy to become a star in the world of design. So how did Erica go from a young girl in west LA with lofty dreams of design to a rising star with one of the most extensive resumes on HGTV’s Designers’ Portfolio? This was one of the many questions I had when I got the opportunity to chat with this creative maven.
Knowing that Erica is a wife, mother of two, sister of three and owner of a growing business, when I spoke with her I expected to hear the voice of a stressed out madwoman. To my pleasant surprise—and deep respect—Erica is completely poised and gracious. Wow… a living, breathing example of a woman balancing a career and a family, all while staying calm. It can be done, people! So, how did she get to where she is? She started out working for firms for a few years, but she soon felt the need to branch out on her own. Erica felt she had good ideas that weren’t always accepted by the higher-ups. “They were always like yeah, that’s good but…no,” she laughed. The oldest of four girls, Erica is a natural leader, but still, it took a bit of encouragement from her mentor before she could actually take that momentous step to start her own firm. Having someone that believed in her ideas gave her the gumption she needed to open EMI Interior Designs, full-service residential interior design and build firm, in 2000.
Flash forward to 2011 and where is Erica now? She recently graced the stage of the Dwell on Design Conference held in LA, which she calls the “cherry on top of her career.” She is featured online at HGTV’s Designer’s Portfolio and on TV with HGTV's Designer's Challenge. Her work has also appeared in the LA Times and Real Simple. She is also a member of Culver City’s Chamber of Commerce. I’ll say it once again: #Made.
So what makes Erica's work so unique and successful? Let us count the ways: She juxtaposes manmade materials—glass, metals—with natural materials—wood, stone—in order to make unique statements. Her elaborate tile designs, that you really need to see to believe, also help to set her apart. Her architectural background and contractor’s license give her another edge, since she has an understanding of design from the inside out. She draws inspiration from nature, museums, and even other artists. Her timeless creations, unique use of color and focus on function help her to stand out in a world filled with talented competition.
Perhaps the most inspiring part of Erica’s success is that she continues to grow and give back. She went out and got her contractor’s license, which is rare for any designer to have…especially a female. She continues to invest time in networking in order to meet other people in her industry. She has also worked on various charitable projects, including Upward Bound House, a hotel converted into a home for homeless families in need of support from the community. Erica design a room in the house so that it doesn’t have a sterile, halfway house feel. She also works on the Good Shepherd Charity Design project, which opened in Downtown LA on July 1st. She was one of thirty designers to work on the project; creating a safe, welcoming atmosphere for single, homeless women to get back on their feet. She also works to make her business eco-friendly by using sustainable materials. It’s important to Erica that her impact on the word is always positive.
In the years since she set out on her own as a young business owner in need of encouragement from her mentor, Erica has gone on to become a mentor to her own employees, a leader in her community, and a star in her field. She says the goal is not to reach success and become complacent but, “to learn, to take, and get bigger and better.” She encourages designers who are just starting out, as well as women in other fields, to do internships: “You learn concepts in school, but sometimes you can’t apply them in the workplace. Don’t throw away 4-5 years.” She also says it is important to start every project thinking that it’s going to be great, and that keeping this mindset is what has helped her to create such stunning designs.
Getting to this point in her career wasn’t easy for Erica, but through her hard work, the support of her husband, mother, and sisters, along with the knowledge instilled in her by her father, she has become a trailblazer. There’s a lot that can be learned from inspiring women like her. We’re all faced with challenges on the way to accomplishing our goals and getting to where we want to be in life. It’s easy to sometimes feel overwhelmed and like taking a break from it all. Stories like this can help to motivate us – show us that it CAN be done. You CAN have it all. You can have a career, a family, and you can have it all without losing your damn mind along the way. It’s not going to be easy, but women like Erica show us that as long as you are determined and work hard, anything is possible! It was an honor to get to chat with her. She left me feeling encouraged and newly determined. I hope you can take away some of the same feeling from her story and apply it to your own life. Never give up, made woman!