Who doesn’t love ice cream? We’re big fans over here which is why we were jumping for joy when Coolhaus founder Natasha Case joined our community. Not only has her ice cream reached cult status, her start-up story is one for the history books – let’s just say it involved the desert and a tow truck. This mama has followed her heart and combined her seemingly unrelated passions into a business that is both unique and thriving. Read on to find out how she got started, the importance of a strong brand identity and what she’ll be up to next.
We love that you studied architecture in school but now run an ice cream empire. How did this come about?
I started to feel like there was a big disconnect between what we were learning in studio and what those not in our field understood of what we were doing. I wanted to find a way to make architecture more fun and accessible, and I found using food as the medium to do this to really resonate with folks. I also wanted to use my architecture skills to design a brand, not just buildings and spaces, and tell stories through visuals. Coolhaus specifically came about under this food meets architecture umbrella (which I started calling ‘Farchitecture’ when the recession hit – I started baking cookies and making ice cream, and naming the combinations after architects to bring awareness to a field that was hit incredibly hard. The quality and innovation of the product combined with the timing in the marketplace and social media gave us undeniable force.
You launched Coolhaus in 2009 at Coachella in an old mail truck that needed to be towed from LA to the venue by AAA (Amazing!). Tell us about this decision and would you do it again or do it differently?
I would never take back such a defining moment in the brand’s heritage, no matter if it was totally bonkers and high risk! We took bootstrapping to the nth degree, and we did it because we had no choice. We got to Coachella spending almost no money, so you know what? If we had failed, it would have really been no skin off our backs; but it didn’t, it went viral and blew up. Because we started the brand with nothing, once we had something to work with dollars-wise and personnel wise, the power of Coolhaus was and is limitless.
What was the hardest part about starting your company that maybe took you by surprise?
Managing people is the kind of skill that just takes time to develop especially because part of it is learning yourself – your own style, how you want to specialize, the ideal team around you. The pleasant surprise is that it does get easier; especially for me, starting the biz so young (at 25), I also needed time to grow up and just get a few years under my belt. There’s so much automatic transformation that happens for you.
I do think if you’re passionate about what you do, having kids ignites your passion even more.
At what point did you decide to raise capital? What was your experience like?
We have a few different events with a big range of goals. We did a super tiny friends and family raise in year two to expand our truck business, but our first real event was an angel round in year three. We raised $1MM for substantial (but still minority) equity. The big thing was that these dollars came with two highly involved team members: a mentor/coach and a full-time day-to-day partner (President of the company) to especially focus on wholesale. That experience was, and is, extremely positive and I can honestly say it was working as a team with them that got us to where we are today. We created a vision book, I really became the CEO instead of the founder, and we grew wholesale from a couple dozen stores to around 6,000 now with 14 SKU’s (10 more launching next year). Lastly, we just closed in February a Series A/strategic + private equity round and we worked with an investment banker to do this (highly recommend this format). This also has been a super positive experience. We were able to raise money to really invest in our marketing and grow our team with leaders. Our new partners have truly made good on wanting to connect us to those who can benefit our business or help whenever we reach out, but also stay out of the day-to-day and allow us to do what we do best.
You recently shared with Inc. magazine your thoughts on design. Tell us more about why you feel it’s so important to a successful business.
Design is more key than ever, because the visual landscape out there is more cluttered than ever and folks have even less time to devote to seeing and learning. So, you have to be super striking, super clear, super transparent and super engaging. Because folks really are buying based on connecting with a brand’s story and culture, design is the best way to wrap that story into easy visuals that can be digested and positively associated. There is also so much more you can do with design and technology – so many more platforms to talk about your brand, so things have to be cohesive, but also flexible enough to bend from category to category. You’ve also got to move quickly.
The branding of your company and products is so iconic. Tell us more about how you developed it and what role you play today.
First off, thanks for saying that. We value brand and messaging so much, so it’s great to hear that it’s resonating. We developed it with a sensibility of clean and industrial, city-dweller and architectural with edge, but also dashes of bright and fun color/materials; it’s ice cream after all! What I’ll say about brand is that it is not a static thing. You should be always evolving, charetting, pushing the limits of it. I’d say these days one of our biggest focuses above and beyond those original established themes is elevating the brand to be as super premium as the product. Everything about what we do should scream quality. My role is super involved in the brand. I do a ton of the design myself (yay architecture Masters degree!), the packaging, a lot of the collateral and the product development. I’d say beyond that, I have a hand in everything, but I have experts who run their respective departments.
Your brick and mortar shop is in Culver City. We hear this is the hottest neighborhood right now in LA! What are your 3 favorite hang-outs (other than your own shop, of course!)?
The Platform down the street has so many great spots (Loqui, Hayden – great oyster/natural wine happy hour, The Edit/Freda Salvador for shoes), I love Domaine LA for tastings and wine/spirit shopping and also Bar & Garden in Culver City, and Here’s Looking at You is phenomenal for dinner and drinks. Also have to shout out Hatchet Hall for amazing food, cocktails and wine and Lodge Bread down the street for some of the best carbs in the city. Sorry, wasn’t possible to keep it to just three!
Your son Remy is 8 months old (congrats!). How has motherhood changed your relationship to your career?
It’s been transformative in an incredible and elevating way that I could not have imagined. The love I have for him has given me inspiration and motivation to want to do even more to create a fabulous ice cream empire that will be my legacy to him – something that he can be proud that we did (whether he ever gets involved directly or not). It makes you feel accountability and that you want to do good and lead by example. Also, you prioritize your time much better – when you have a really young child, they sleep a lot. You might get one hour in the morning and one in the evening of a work day if you’re lucky. So, you really have to optimize your schedule and be super productive to make sure you get that time in and see the precious face of your little one as long as possible! I do think if you’re passionate about what you do, having kids ignites your passion even more.
You are a fitness junkie. What is your typical day like and how do you manage to fit in working out on top of running a business and having a new baby?
I think if you make time for working out, there is always time. Not to mention, it makes you so much more productive and energized, so you essentially have more time during the day if you do work out. I also think planning ahead (I set up my whole week on Sunday with what classes I’m doing and ideally do them when Remy is sleeping/napping) and doing work-out programs, instead of deciding day-to-day is a big help. Freya and I both love the Lacey Stone Fitness bootcamps, which she runs at different lengths throughout the calendar year. It’s a great approach because it combines intense intervals and cardio with eating right (KleanLA is the food plan – LOVE it), and no drinking… so it creates new habits and routines that empower you to stay on track after the camp is done. As far as day to day, I usually work out in the morning (Flywheel, Rise Nation, Crubox, Box Union) or some of my favorites, and on weekends golf or tennis is our go-to.
Do you have any time-saving hacks that you’ve incorporated into your daily life?
A lot of it involves implementing technology programs – Boomerang for gmail (schedule messages, boot non-urgent messages out of your inbox until a later time, set messages to return upon no response), Trello for project management is incredible. I also find if I know what I’m going to wear the night before and bulk make or order food for the week (ie. Klean LA), they end up being huge time savers.
You love to entertain. Who would be at your dream dinner and why?
I think Alice Waters and Grace Jones. I mean, can you imagine? They would trade insane stories and we’d make great, simple food with harvest from Alice’s garden and ours, and maybe Grace does an interpretive dance for us. Plus, Alice and I could talk Berkeley life (I went there for undergrad).
What is your go-to holiday dessert?
I really love to go liquid dessert for the holidays. I make my own brandied cherries, and they are great/very festive for anything from old-fashioneds and manhattans and, of course… poured over ice cream!
You once stated you want to be the “Ben & Jerry’s of the Millennial generation.” What’s next for Coolhaus?
We really see that Coolhaus can become the household brand of our generation. Believe it or not, we are the only Millennial owned national ice cream brand and—this is even bigger—the only truly woman-owned ice cream brand(!). It’s time for a brand’s customer base to be reflected in its creators! As far as development, we are launching seven new super unique pints (including Milkshake & Fries, Street Cart Churro Dough, Buttered French Toast) and three new sandwiches this year (Cookie Dough, Birthday Cake and Double S’mores), which will help really secure an anchor in the stores we are in like everything from Safeway’s (Von’s Pavillions) to Wegman’s to Fresh Direct to Gelson’s around the country. Every year from now we’ll be launching seven new pints, with also our first ever seasonal pints coming to shelf at the end of 2018.
Don’t forget to think of yourself. As women, in all things, we often put ourselves last, making sure everyone is set before we look internally. Of course, motherhood can bring this mentality to an extreme, so it’s extra important to make time for yourself and take pleasure in the things you love, and not feel guilty about it for a minute.
My personal philosophy is that of course your lifestyle bends when you have a baby, but if it bends too much, then it’s too much pressure on the baby. So, it’s good to try and maintain aspects of your social habits and schedule where you can. I do think a baby wants that compromise on a fundamental level.
Work as a team.