I parked an old postal truck at Coachella and sold ice cream sandwiches out the window. Ten years later, my brand is a huge success — and these are the 5 tricks that made it all work.
- Natasha Case is CEO and cofounder of Coolhaus, an ice cream brand available in 7,500 stores.
- She started her business in 2009 by converting an old mail truck into a food truck and driving it to Coachella, where she and her partner, Freya Estreller, sold handcrafted ice cream sandwiches to festival-goers.
- Now, 10 years later, the brand is a success, and Case is reflecting on some hard-fought lessons she learned along the way.
- For instance, it takes years to understand who you are, especially as a leader — and having the right people by your side is incredibly important.
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If you had told me 10 years ago that I’d be running an ice cream brand that now sells to over 7,500 stores nationwide, I never would have believed you. At the time, I was an architecture student with a budding interest in making ice cream sandwiches.
On a whim, in 2009 my partner and cofounder, Freya Estreller, and I decided to convert an old postal truck into a food truck and drive out to a desert music festival outside of Los Angeles. Our handcrafted ice cream sandwiches were an instant hit among festival-goers, and we knew we had to continue selling them after the event ended. It’s been a whirlwind since that weekend — even when we were both working multiple jobs and things got chaotic, we felt consumed by our passion, and driven to continue growing our business.
Now, over a decade later, I wanted to share the five biggest learnings I’ve taken away from the whole experience — not only in business, but in life.
1. Get scrappy
When we were first getting started, our beaten down food trucks often struggled to get from point A to point B. After we decided that we’d make our debut at the music festival, we had to convince our friends to come work with us in exchange for festival tickets. Whether you’re running your own business or not, success in any capacity requires a bit of scrappiness. Being willing to roll up your sleeves, problem solve on your own, and ask for help are all necessary attributes to get anywhere in life.
2. Find the right partners to have by your side
Running a successful business is all about surrounding yourself with the right people. It’s important to build a team that motivates and inspires you on a daily basis, and to work with partners that support your journey from day one.
As small business owners with little entrepreneurial background, we sought out resources that made the process simpler. We worked withLegalZoom, which was affordable and easy-to-use, to officially set up our business as an LLC. When it came time to find investors, we partnered with those who were willing to let us push boundaries — milkshake and fries ice cream, anyone? In life, too, I’ve learned how important it is to have a supportive network and think about who’s in your corner.
3. Know that life is meant to be unbalanced
In the early years of Coolhaus, the business fully ran my days — I devoted 100% of my time and energy to my business to make it as wonderful as I knew it could be. Luckily, I was romantically involved with my cofounder (my now wife!), so it made it possible to be together and keep the business going. Eventually, Freya decided to move on from the day-to-day of Coolhaus — and although that was challenging, it was the biggest and best step for our relationship and the company.
I always say (if you decide to work with your romantic partner, friend or family member) the business has to be bigger than a relationship and the relationship has to be bigger than the business. Now, I feel like I’ve gotten to a place of really great creative and business focus and balance with my personal life. I have an excellent team around me, so I’ve been able to start our family (we have a 2-year-old son and are working on kid number two!) and just enjoy the things I love outside of my love for leading Coolhaus. Although you may come across a few chaotic moments, you have to learn to accept that life is not about a “perfect” equilibrium, but rather how you define your own happiness — and you just have to enjoy the ride.
4. It takes years to understand who you are, especially as a leader
As an entrepreneur, being the face of a brand can feel intimidating, especially when you’re growing over the years. As a leader, discovering your management style takes years, too. In the beginning, it really was a case of faking it until I made it. Confidence is everything — even if you don’t always know what you’re doing, being bold and self-assured will help you become the type of leader you aspire to be. That’s not to say that you’ll always get it right. Leaning in to obstacles and uncomfortable moments are excellent opportunities to learn and evolve. And having the humility to admit and learn from your mistakes will get you a long way.
5. Bumps in the road are inevitable
The main thing I’ve taken away from this journey is to expect roadblocks, no matter how well you plan. The nature of running a startup is that you’re going to have obstacles, whether it’s a broken-down truck or getting turned down by investors. By embracing challenges and taking setbacks in stride, you’ll realize just how capable you are — whether in the workplace or outside of it.
At the end of the day, if your side hustle or passion keeps you up at night, if you have a compelling story, and if others believe in what you’re doing, it’s worth pursuing. Whatever you’re doing in life, trust your gut — there will always be discouraging people you come across, but with a little grit, self-confidence and the right team, you can succeed.