How To Turn Your Passion Into A Business Model (Coolhaus)

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Unable to afford a brick and mortar storefront, the young entrepreneurial duo bought a second-hand truck and split their time baking cookies and making ice cream in Freya’s mom’s kitchen during the Fall of 2008. They launched their first food truck one year later, and they’ve been using Google Apps ever since to scale their business to Austin, New York, and Miami. Most recently, CoolHaus announced its first ice cream truck in Dallas, with additional launches slated for this summer. By Natasha Case (Co-Founder & CEO, Coolhaus)

While finishing up grad school for architecture, I was looking forward to building my professional career with real projects and clients. I wanted my first job to be the kind of position where I could not only apply my training, but also make connections with the public. Within 6 months of starting my first job, the recession hit.

I realized I might have to get more creative with my career path to survive the changing economy.

Luckily, I had been developing since my undergraduate years a concept that I called ‘Farchitecture’ (Food + Architecture). The mission of Farchitecture was to explore the intersection between gastronomy and design. I knew that the recession was a blessing in disguise, and it was time to take a big leap by breaking away from a traditional career pathway to start my own business.

In the fall of 2008, I started Coolhaus as the first project under the Farchitecture umbrella. By making homemade ice cream and cookies and naming the combinations after architects, we believed that we could educate the public about design and bring value back to the discipline.

Since we couldn’t afford traditional brick-and-mortar retail, buying a truck was our only option. The truck proved to be a versatile marketing and strategic retail tool, as we pioneered the contemporary mobile food truck movement that has evolved into a national frenzy.

Here are a few things I’ve learned from starting my own business -

Don’t over-think and be willing to take risks.

When you pour your life savings into starting a business, you can’t help but want to create the perfect iteration of your idea. It’s no different with food. Each detail, from the taste and the design, to the packaging and the branding, requires the utmost thought and precision.

But, you need to be realistic. When you’re just starting out, you probably won’t be able to afford the product that you have in mind. When we were just getting off the ground, our packaging was a lot less glamorous, our flavors were less diverse, and our truck was a very simple operation.

And although our product was only 70% complete, we went for it. Don’t wait until you have everything in place. You have to be ready and willing to experiment and to take risks, or your idea will never manifest into a scalable product.

Consider the cloud to streamline day-to-day business.

Any business, even ice cream, can incorporate technology to foster growth. For us, a big part of that is social media, connecting the front-end to the back-end (i.e. connecting point of sale to inventory), and using web-based tools, like Google Apps for Business.

Whether planning our truck schedules, preparing for catering orders, or working up a new batch of ice cream flavors, it’s a relief to be working with technology that is not a significant expense for our business. Working in the cloud allows my partner and I to better manage our 50+ employees across different time zones, not to mention track our sales figures and inventory in real-time.

It’s also helped us reduce overhead costs like computer software - a common pain point for startups - which has allowed us to expand our business into other markets. Also, Google Apps are sophisticated: you can have different levels of access, garner customer feedback with surveys, and even link spreadsheets as back-ends for e-commerce.

When you master all of the aforementioned, then you’re ready for big-time growth, as the systems are in place to seamlessly expand your business.

Choose a co-founder with different skills, but shared values.

Architecture is what I know best, and my expertise in this area has not only fueled the inspiration for Coolhaus, but also the evolution of our product design and packaging - even the names of our ice cream flavors pay homage to history’s greatest architects.

But I’ve also found that the success of any business venture is extremely benefited by a co-founder who can bring a different skill set to the mix. And because your idea is close to your heart, you’ll want to join forces with someone who shares your passion. Both my partner and I are self-ascribed foodies, so we naturally share a mutual interest in constantly improving our product.

Whereas my training fosters the creativity and long-term vision for our company, her background lends itself well to number crunching, logistics and operations, and project management. There are so many moving pieces to consider when getting a company off the ground, and it’s hard to take on that level of responsibility by yourself without burning out. After all, what would peanut butter be without the jelly?

Starting a business can be an incredibly daunting journey, but at the same time, one of the most rewarding. A trusted business partner who shares the same vision is crucial, as is having a reliable technology system that makes the operational aspect run smoothly and efficiently. But it doesn’t end there: it’s not just about technology and systems built for growth, but also about creative visualization.

You have to imagine where you product can go and how it should look when it gets there. Once you have established your brand, your brand can go anywhere.

Editor’s note: Got a question for our guest blogger? Leave a message in the comments below. About the guest blogger: Natasha Case is Co-Founder and CEO of Coolhaus, an ice cream sandwich line that marries food and architecture to bring a rotating menu of avant-garde ice cream sandwiches. A graduate of UC Berkeley’s School of Architecture, Natasha also holds a Master of Architecture from UCLA. She currently lives in Los Angeles, CA, where she oversees both national distribution and the growing fleet of Coolhaus trucks. Follow her on Twitter at @CoolhausLA.