Started in 2008, Coolhaus is the tasty brainchild of co-founders Natasha Case and Freya Estreller. With a background in architecture and design, these powerhouse ladies created a new nom nomenclature, dubbing their movement "farchitecture" (food + architecture).
Not only have they taken the LA market by mint chip storm, but they've expanded nationally, most recently launching a CPG brand with distribution nationally.
Being a groupie in the LA food scene for years means I've had the pleasure of developing a personal relationship with these ladies (yes I was nervous to cook for them), which is why I knew their story would resonate with our Inc. readers.
LM: Tell us about Coolhaus and the Coolhaus brand.
NC: Coolhaus is a unique and innovative, top of the line ice cream brand (super premium in industry terms). We are known for our ice cream sandwiches, pints and bars, and flavors ranging from Fried Chicken & Waffles ice cream and Fruity Pebbles cookies to Double Chocolate cookies with Dirty Mint Chip ice cream (fresh mint leaves and a hint of brown sugar), otherwise known as the 'Mintimalism.'
Many of our products are named after architects and architectural design movements, as architecture is my background - and I still do all of the packaging design, and much of the website, marketing materials... anything involving the overall visual language of the brand.
We launched with one barely driveable postal van at Coachella back in 2009, and now we have a fleet of 10 in three cities (LA, Dallas, NYC), two scoop shops, and we distribute our pre-packaged products to stores ranging from Whole Foods, Wegman's and Fresh Market to Safeway and Albertson's. We are also sold internationally in Asia and the Middle East!
LM: At what point did you know this brand was going to be a hit?
NC: I think there are different indicators at different stages. In the super early formation days of the concept/brand there was that twinkle in folks' eyes you see when you tell talk about an idea that resonates, excites them, and when you see them enjoy the product. I think that visceral reaction is worth more credit than we often give it.
Then I would say going viral after Coachella we knew we were on to something and that we had hit a chord...a literal appetite for what we were doing. It's so rare for something to go viral. You know you have to seize the moment.
Lastly I would say when we first did our trial at Whole Foods: five sandwiches in three locations. Although there was much improvement to be done on merchandising, etc (which we have evolved tremendously over the years) we could see we had an audience, and fans were recognizing the brand and buying the product. Today we're in over 5,000 grocery stores in every state with 25 SKU's.
LM: That's incredible, but also was an inflection point where a lot of brands die because they can't scale fast enough. When did you know you needed to raise money to grow and to avoid death by scale?
NC: We did an angel round back in 2011 where we really pivoted from the trucks being our sole revenue stream to building a brick and mortar to develop flavors and innovate. We also built a sense of community in the awesome neighborhood of Culver City... and on a bigger magnitude level, growing the wholesale business into the household ice cream brand of our generation.
We began to think of the trucks more for strategic marketing to support the scalability of the wholesale side. That round really helped us achieve that. This year, we close a strategic Series A, which will allow us to further elevate the wholesale side and support the brand on a national level, plus hire more amazing talent to help us get there. Lastly, we plan to use the money to continue to innovate and develop new products. It's all very exciting!
LM: You just had your first child, has motherhood changed your approach to business?
Absolutely. Firstly, it has just brought me SO MUCH joy. How can that not inspire you to want to make the most of every minute of your day? It has made me think bigger picture, and more easily identify the critical path/move on from things that aren't a priority.
It has made me think more deliberately and meaningfully, to act with intention. Last, in general, I think it gives you some thoughtful space to really be sure you are aligning your personal vision for yourself and your family with your vision and goals for your brand. The little one is counting on you to do that!
LM: What's your favorite CH product?
NC: I would say my FAVE is Milkshake & Fries, aka 'Fast Food': salted Tahitian vanilla bean ice cream, milk chocolate malt balls and shoe string french fries... like dipping a fry in a shake. So decadent and good, sweet and salty. Coming to grocery 2017-2018, too.
LM: Drool! Ok pivoting to fundraising. What are your tips for those raising money, and your best and worst fundraising experiences.
NC: Best story/worst story, I'd say you've got to have a bit of [excuse my language] 'shit or get off the pot' mentality. I think sometimes the courtship with potential investors just lasts too long. If they are not super jazzed on the idea after three meetings, then nothing is really going to change after 12 meetings.
Also, they need to be about the big picture vision; if they are too caught up on what's there now, then it is a less convincing argument for how they will positively impact and change things once they are on board.
Last, the best investors know that the secret sauce is that everyone is on the same team, incentivized in the same way - so make sure everything is structured accordingly and don't fall into an 'us vs. them' mentality...if you pick the right players, those that bring complimentary and strategic insight to your brand, then everyone will win.
LM: What's next for CH?
NC: Our goal is to continue to grow the brand with our comprehensive strategy led by our passionate and driven team to increase sell-through where we already have presence, adding great new grocery accounts, and adding new products in ice cream (and maybe even in other categories, eventually). Those are the steps we must take to become the signature millennial ice cream brand we know we can be. Oh, and if we all end up setting up a colony on the moon, I'd like to be the official ice cream brand up there too.
LM: Big dreams from a big thinker and all around badass female founder whose final thoughts were, "to woman CEO's and founders out there - think big and take a moment to visualize what achieving your business dream means for your personal milestones."
What delicious inspiration.