Coolhaus' CEO on Building a Multimillion Dollar Brand with Her Life Partner
Before an artisanal ice cream shop was a prerequisite on every cool street, there was Coolhaus. In a nutshell, the ice cream brand's success story goes like this: Girl meets girl, girls start a side hustle together selling gourmet ice cream sandwiches inspired by modern architecture, girls buy an old postal truck to serve their sweet treats at Coachella, and together they ride Coolhaus' buzz to build a multimillion dollar company that's now stocked on the shelves of retailers like Target and Whole Foods.
Natasha Case and Freya Estreller are the women behind the brand, but Coolhaus isn't their only baby: The two fell in love at the same time that they started the brand, got married, and now have a 10-month-old son, Remy. As one might imagine, building a company from scratch with your partner in love and life certainly has its pros and cons (we'll get to that in a sec).
In addition to expanding to more grocery markets, the company is launching 10 new flavors (Milkshake & Fries, Buttered French Toast, Street Cart Churro Dough, and Farmer's Market Strawberry Cheesecake, to name a few) and three new sandwiches (That Dough Though, Gimme S'mores, and Birthday Cake) in stores like Whole Foods this summer. In late 2018 or early 2019, the brand also plans on offering holiday-inspired flavors and non-dairy options for the first time ever (vegans, rejoice). Other big things are coming up for Coolhaus, too: Although the details are still under wraps, they'll soon unveil a campaign with a major tech company and a partnership with one of Facebook's most popular games.
We chatted with Case to learn about what it was like to build Coolhaus with her wife and how their relationship changed, what entrepreneurs should know about building their brand using social media today, how motherhood has changed her approach to owning a business, and more. Read our interview with Coolhaus' CEO and co-founder below, then order a pint or two online or find out where the goods are stocked near you here.
In the early days, what was it like building Coolhaus with your future wife and how have things changed since then?
Freya [Estreller] and I founded the business together in 2009 and ran it together the first four years. She’s not involved in the day-to-day operations anymore [but] she’s still a major equity holder; I call her the "First Lady of Coolhaus" because she knows everything that happens. Growing it together was crazy, it was an incredibly romantic thing; making it work with an ice cream truck...and driving through the hills of Ojai or the desert. We were always taking about business and it was always on the table of conversation. Freya got to the point where it wasn’t necessarily her passion..it no longer became productive, sometimes we’d spend too much time arguing about things, and sometimes it became confusing to the team to answer to two leaders. Or sometimes she wasn’t in the mood to give me [information].
We already had a third partner by 2011 [so] there was this other person who could [take over]. I think it showed that with any great business, the brand should be bigger than the relationship that started the brand, and the relationship [also] needs to be [stronger]. After [Freya stepped back] it really showed; things really improved, I became a better CEO, [and the business] became more balanced.
Coolhaus was at the forefront of promoting itself in social media's early days. What's your advice to entrepreneurs looking to build their brand the same way?
I think that it was a very different time when we started; things have changed so much. I would say know that starting an e-commerce business, especially use [social media to help] drive people to click. Ice cream is not so much e-commerce, so it’s more of a brand-building exercise. It’s still kind of different in nature. But people want to know who’s behind the brand, so it is a great way to use social media. You [also] really want to invest in one kind of platform or another. For example, for a women-focused brand, maybe you invest in Pinterest so you can be a bigger fish in a smaller pond. It depends on what the business is.
And then I would say just really being on top of the changes. Networks and platforms are constantly changing and evolving. Twitter was in a lull, but now it’s [more] customer service-oriented and [a space to be more] humorous.
What's a day in your life typically look like?
Most days aren’t the same which I actually love. The general structure is I try to work out in the morning, however early it’s worth it to do something for yourself. We have breakfast as a family but we don’t always sit at the table; sometimes Remy eats breakfast in bed with us. It's not "his time and our time," we really have to blend [it all] together.
I usually don’t get more than a couple of hours with him in the morning, maybe one to two full hours. My work day is a combination of meetings with my team [about] marketing, packaging, product development...[and] a full day of quality control [at the factory on] really versatile days. I'll get pictures and video [of our son] from the nanny, and occasionally I’ll FaceTime with him. Then I’m usually home by 6.
If our friends can come over after Remy's asleep, we party like there’s no baby there. That’s the best way! We’re still very very social. When we do go out, which is maybe two or three times a week, you really want to make the most of it. You hire the babysitter...
What are your top tips for raising a kid in Los Angeles?
I would say that really appreciating the fact that you’re not having to deal with the weather, what’s really great is you can get [the kids] out of the house any time of year. Take advantage of that for all it’s worth, beach days, simple picnics; LA is so beautiful and has so much to offer, people from the east coast always comment on that.
What's also been really good for us is the co-nannying. We share a nanny, it’s so great because [our son is] socializing with her all day, and obviously it cuts the cost; I definitely recommend the nanny share. And taking the kids on little day trips: There's the desert to the east...then you’ve got beautiful wine country, Mexico is not too far away, [so] taking advantage of all the resources [is key]. It’s so easy to travel with them [outside of LA] when they’re so young.
Where are a few of your favorite kid-friendly travel spots?
We’ve had a lot of fun in New York and Park Slope, where we have friends who have a kid a few months older than Remy, and the Hamptons on the weekends. It’s easier for him to just come with us than to be home without us. I would love to do a wine country [trip] now that he really wants to move around.
How do you balance motherhood and being a business owner? What have been some of the challenges?
Especially during the week, a day can go by where you can hardly see your kid. They’re changing so fast, you want to get as much face time as you can. I think that’s always on your mind. And making choices between investing in your work schedule, you’re very much doing it for them. I’m really trying to build a Coolhaus that I can be proud of for him. It’s a lot more indirect [that way and] making that decision: Is it worth it to take this trip, or am I spending too much time away and will it be hard on him down the line? In general, I feel so much more inspired, it makes me see so much big picture, it helps me prioritize my time over all, it’s more of an add-on than an obstacle.
If you were a Coolhaus ice cream sandwich, what would your ingredients be?
I have so many favorites...What I love as far as a pint, I’m really into three part ice cream. I'd pick the Street Cart Churro Dough, which has brown butter baked into the ice cream, the chocolate chip is the same kind you’d get in a stracciatella; it's everything you’d want in one. I’d take that and maybe smoosh that onto our classic chocolate chip cookie; I do love our black and white cookies at a shop, or I'd put it on a snicker doodle...I love Italian food, so you got that classic really brown butter ice cream, it's the best of both worlds.