How Natasha Case of Coolhaus is disrupting the dessert space with cutting-edge ice cream creations
Describe Coolhaus in a few words?
We are an innovative dessert company, specializing (for the time being) in ice cream/ice cream novelties. We are known for thinking outside the box, super unique partnerships, a truly cutting-edge brand identity and an inventive way of entering the marketplace with our trucks, brick and mortars, and now national wholesale distribution.
What made you take the leap to start your own business?
After graduating I worked at Walt Disney Imagineering. It was there that my interest in food and architecture really took off; I was hosting dinner parties, making ice cream and baking cookies. That was also the time that I met Freya, who helped me refine what I was doing and create a real business model.
What was your background prior to starting your own business?
So I’m a third generation Angeleno, and I grew up in Sherman Oaks. My father was an architect and my mother was an animator at Disney. I attended UC Berkeley and majored in Architecture, and then I went on to study at UCLA and received my Masters in Architecture.
Did you always know you wanted to be an entrepreneur?
No, and in fact when I was younger I didn’t necessarily understand it was a path I could take. I sort of came to it by a process of elimination. Looking back, I can see a lot of the characteristics that make a great entrepreneur in myself, like thinking big and outside of the box, enjoying a good challenge… I thought I would be doing something creative, but nothing like this!
Take us back to when you first launched your business, what was your marketing strategy to get the word out and did it go as planned?
Coachella was the ultimate test. In short, we bought a beat-up postal van on Craigslist with no engine. We had it towed out to the concert grounds and called our new ice cream sandwich line Coolhaus because we were inspired by Rem Koolhaas, the Bauhaus, and because our sandwiches looked like tiny cold houses! That weekend we built up a following, almost overnight, and when we got back to Los Angeles the brand had gone viral. To this day I still can’t believe how incredible the viral impact was: you can never plan or depend on the viral moment, and we felt so lucky that we had the opportunity to build a customer base as quickly as we did.
We always learn the most from our mistakes, share a time with us that you made a mistake or had a challenging time in business and what you learned from it?
There are always going to be obstacles, but it’s all about how you approach them and come to learn from them. I would say one of the biggest challenges has been managing people. When we started the company, we were very young – and it was difficult to get theoretically more experienced service folks to respect you as a newcomer, even though you were their boss. I learned to create systems of checks and balances, and a routine for feedback that allowed us to guide from a bigger picture standpoint. Also, no two employees are alike – so you have to really learn to read people – understand what motivates them and what environments they prosper in best. You have to have patience with yourself as you are growing and evolving too. Maturity as a manager is not going to happen overnight.
What is the accomplishment you are the most proud of to date?
I would say overall, I’m most proud of our company culture (which is very connected to our founding roots). We have a super diverse, creative team who are also extremely passionate, disciplined and hard-working. The people who work here and the fans who love us are what make us who we are… and I know a great product can last a decade, but a great culture—that’s a century, a legacy kind of vision.
When hiring for your team, what is your go-to interview question? Please share any hiring tips you can share from your experience?
“What are you looking for out of the company you want to join?” And my tip is hire slow, fire fast.
How has your business or industry been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic?
Like everyone else, we’re unable to do events and create community experiences with our trucks. People are also wanting to eat healthier more affordably at home, so our new novelties like the dairy-free mini cups are meeting those needs, and are also great for at-home celebrations. Additionally our shop has also become a delivery business, so we’ve really gotten the chance to fine-tune that!
What’s next for your business? What can we expect to see over the next few years?
We want to be the household brand of our generation. Specifically, there’s an incredible opportunity to do that as a culture of women leaders, so to lead and change by example, that alone is a revolution. That’s going to be very meaningful for our generation, to be a powerhouse of women who are behind that brand, who created and are running the vision and brand.
What is the biggest lesson you have learned in 2020?
Nothing makes you better at what you do than what you choose to do in the toughest times. It’s one thing to be passionate and motivated when everything is in order, but it takes strength to stay the course when everything’s not.
What do you know now that you wish you knew when you were first starting your business?
You’re gonna make mistakes, and that’s gonna be part of it. It’s all about how quickly you learn from those mistakes. So obviously, if I could go back in retrospect and say, “Okay, that wasn’t a good hire, or should have done that or this,” it’d be great, but really it’s just about failing fast and cutting the cord quickly.
How have you managed to stay grounded this year?
I feel very lucky — We have a new baby and just moved into a great house in a neighborhood we love. We’re able to spend more time together as a family and visit the beach regularly which is sometimes rare for Angelenos!
Do you believe in work/life balance? What are some of your best tips?
Absolutely! Take advantage of the flexibility you can have in your schedule as an entrepreneur. Don’t work nonstop, don’t over do it – allow yourself to take breaks and enjoy some of the freedoms associated with being the boss.
What’s something our audience would be surprised to learn about you?
I’m an avid golfer! We’re also on a basketball team; we’re very into sports. That energy and teamwork is part of our work.
What are your top 3 tips to stay productive each day?
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.
What does being an Entreprenista mean to you?
Have a big vision, put it on paper, and hold yourself accountable to that page.