Hitting The Mark

Hitting The Mark

Conversations with founders and investors about the intersection of brand clarity and startup success with your host, brand strategist and author Fabian Geyrhalter.

Fabian

EP066 – Coolhaus: Natasha Case, CEO & Co-Founder

Strategic Clarity + Visual Clarity

Natasha Case founded Coolhaus with her then-girlfriend – now-wife – in 2009. Inspired by her architectural background and a drive to create the best ice cream sandwich available, the couple bought “a piece of shit postal van masquerading as an ice cream truck’ on Craigslist for $2,500 dollars and towed it to the Coachella Music Festival using AAA.” The rest is history. Today Coolhaus is the top women-led ice cream company in the U.S. and can be found in over 6,000 grocery stores.

 

Despite its growth, Coolhaus remains true to the authentic origins of the brand: represent positive change, push the envelope for the future, and create high-quality ice cream and plant-based novelties for all to enjoy.

 

Coolhaus, with its quirky visual and verbal brand language, inspires the next generation of diverse founders, entrepreneurs, and creators to live out their dreams; and on today’s show, you will see just how they do it.

Notes

Fabian Geyrhalter: Welcome to the show Natasha. 

Natasha Case: Thanks so much for having me. 

Fabian Geyrhalter: Oh, I’m thrilled to have you. Living in Los Angeles I have of course been to your shop a long time ago. I really don’t know how long it’s been, but it must have been maybe 10 years or so. So it must have been at the very beginning. And little did I know how much you would grow this fun small ice cream sandwich place in Culver City into the brand that it is today. You were studying to become an architect when your architectural model was criticized in class by a professor who felt it was looking more like a layered cake. So let’s start there. How was that moment integral to the formation of Coolhaus?

Natasha Case: Well I think in a lot of interesting ways. One is I think generally that entrepreneurial shift that happens when something can be presented as a negative or an obstacle like his comment on the layer cake was not supposed to be a good thing. But we sort of twist that onto it’s heels and say, “Wait a second, layer cakes are delicious. Maybe there’s something I can do with this. Maybe I can have fun with this idea. Maybe this is a portal into a different way of thinking about architecture and design or how I might want to go about creating.” So I think that was one important moment. 

And I just think in general that it was about food, which for me was always a passion. Cooking, entertaining, all that food can mean and what it makes us feel on an emotional sense, I think is so interesting and fascinating. So I had this realization that I could merge two of my passions, which was architecture, but also food and creating with food together. And I think when you can bring multiple passions into what you do on a daily basis, not only is it going to be more fun for you and very rewarding, but I think it just makes it even that much more unique, because that’s a very unique trajectory to you. 

So I think that was the big realization and then one side said, “Okay, I’m going to play a prank on this guy and bake this next version of the model as a cake.” And my theory was that, that just that was my only all-nighter in all or architecture school, because I just couldn’t stop, I was having so much fun. And my philosophy is, there’s kind of an irony to it, but when you’re having the most fun is when you work the hardest. And then when I presented this to my colleagues the next day, I could also see the way that it lit them up also, and when there’s food, in any kind of discussion, it just tends to bring people together, it tends to comfort and be memorable. So I thought, “This is it. I want to pursue this intersection,” which later became Coolhaus. I mean that took some years to happen, but that I think was the seed was planted in the earliest sense. 

Fabian Geyrhalter: And then in between that, you started actually as an architect at Walt Disney, right? So you actually went into your career path the way that you thought you would. And then at some point, you just kept playing with food. Is that what happened? You start playing with ice cream?

Natasha Case: Yeah, something like that. I mean, I just kept incorporating food into all my architecture projects. After Berkeley, which is where the layer cake incident happened, I went to UCLA for grad school, and I always try to bring into my projects. I don’t know that my professors were going for it, but it just shows you also that academia’s not always where these ideas are celebrated. Sometimes it’s the things that more didn’t sit in an academic sense that get out into quote unquote the real world or the economy and can really do something interesting. But I also just as kind of a side passion, on my own time doing these high-concept dinner parties, creating projects that merged, or products that merged food and design. For example, one of the parties was this pizza party and then I canned the tomato sauces left over from that party and then in the packaging of the tomato sauce can was the details and the information for the next dinner party. So this idea that you almost are preserving a spirit of one party to the next, or whatever. I was just really thinking pretty out there about it. 

Then one of the manifestations of the food and design interest was making ice cream sandwiches from scratch in unique flavors, naming the combinations after architects and that kind of version of food and architecture, which I was calling farchitecture at the time. I started doing when the recession hit, and when I was working at Disney Imagineering, which was my first job after grad school. So part of the idea with these ice cream sandwiches was to really lighten the mood at the office by giving folks that were stressed out or had heard bad news that day, this comfort with the ice cream and also the puny names were meant to sort of bring some levity to the whole moment that the world was really going through. So that was then, that iteration of all that thinking obviously ended up being a much bigger potential than I think I ever could have imagined at the time. 

Fabian Geyrhalter: Well and I’m sure the former colleagues who received your Frank-Berry or Mies Vanilla der Rhoe or Mintimalism sandwiches and flavors, I’m sure-

Natasha Case: All well said. 

Fabian Geyrhalter: Thank you. Thank you. I’m sure they must look at Coolhaus now when they go to a Wholefoods and they must just crack up of like, “Oh my God, this happened in the conference room basically and here it is now.”

Natasha Case: Totally. You’re not wrong. 

Fabian Geyrhalter: That’s amazing. That’s really, really cool. But then at some point you decided, “Okay, let’s do a little ice cream truck,” and I love, love, love that story. So you and your girlfriend, who’s now your wife, bought what you describe on your website, and I’m going to quote the website copy here, “A piece of shit postal van masquerading as an ice cream truck.” You bought it on Craigslist for two and a half grand and you towed it … Well, actually you had AAA tow the truck from L.A. to Coachella to the music festival. And that was also, or at least that’s what I hear out there, that was also your second date with your girlfriend, going out to Coachella with that truck. And that date obviously included 100,000 or so other people and it was basically your Coolhaus beta test, right? So a lot was going on that day. 

Natasha Case: Totally. There’s a lot, yes. And I know we’re chatting offline, but I guess that’s sort of the theme with me, there’s always a lot going on. 

Fabian Geyrhalter: No, totally. That’s hilarious. So that beta test obviously worked. People loved the sandwiches, they loved the idea. It wasn’t really branded yet, though, it was more of sandwiches in a crazy fun ice cream truck that were really cool. 

Natasha Case: Yeah. I mean, we had the most bare bones, I would say as far as the branding because what was good is leading up to Coachella, such a big event as you mentioned 100,000 people in the desert, forces you to have to get your act together at least to some degree. So we incorporated on LegalZoom. We did the $99, get the operating agreement, form the LLC. We had to go get a seller’s permit. We had to get a basic health permit. And then we had a website, which was I feel like a couple of PDF pages that I put online that just basically said the name of the company, the sandwich menu and why we were doing this. And then we had reserved I think our Twitter page, twitter.com/coolhaus, like, “Okay, we have it.” We marked our territory in case this blows up, at least we have again, the most essential fundamentals. The ground work done. 

So I think that was a really obviously fortunate thing, because then when we do this festival and it went well enough I would say considering we spent so little getting there, towing the truck, which didn’t make the drive, but the AAA membership, like you mentioned and getting our act together with ice cream and cookies, which by the way, also an important note on that is we realized that we could not make in our own kitchen enough ice cream and cookies to feed the festival goers the way we wanted to, so we found a co-packing, which is taking your idea or recipe and having a manufacturing partner who is more of an expert and who can do more scale at making your product. And that was a really good thing to at least explore before the festival, because it meant that again, if this blows up, which it did, there’s a plan in place to be able to meet the demand with also manufacturing. 

So there’s all those elements that we had arranged not knowing if this was going to be a one and done or if it was going to get bigger. But anyway, the festival went good enough and I think we were in the black after only because we spent so little doing it. But then, a friend of mine at the time, he wrote for Curbed, the real estate blog and he had said, “If you feel like there’s something here, just send me your logo,” … So again, had the logo, thank goodness. … “send me the basic details and I want to do a little write-up on it. So I did and it’s funny because his write-up was super unflattering, it was like, “If you’re really bored and want some weird ice cream, maybe check out Coolhaus. They have this shitty truck.” It was like, “Thanks for that Dan. Really appreciate the press coverage.” 

But it didn’t matter, there was such an appetite for what the vision was and what we had created and what we were building that it totally went viral from there. And by the time we got back to L.A., we had 10,000 Twitter followers. I had a ton of media inquiries and we had clients who were wanting to book the truck. So it’s sort of a case for yourself as really a branding expert, it was sort of that minimum viable product. Like having something is better than it being this quote unquote perfect brand, which we all know is never going to happen anyway. But we needed something out there that at least people could recognize and then to basically be justified that we should continue building that by just having the courage to just launch and get it out there, rather than stewing for years and years trying to make this perfect logo, when you don’t really have anything to show for it anyway. 

Fabian Geyrhalter: Well, and a couple of thoughts on this. I mean, first I also think it’s important that you actually went with a very, very specific audience, right?

Natasha Case: Yes. 

Fabian Geyrhalter: I mean, for you it was about the architecture, right?

Natasha Case: Yes. Yes. 

Fabian Geyrhalter: And that’s weird architecture and ice cream, never heard of that. Put that together and then you get a story, even though not a flattering one, in Curbed, which is all about the architecture. So in Curbed no one talks about food. So it’s like if you have that focus on a certain audience, that definitely helps too. And your logo type, did it change much? Because I mean, it’s still whimsical. It’s still a bit weird. I don’t think it changed that much over the years, right?

Natasha Case: Yeah. It’s funny, I definitely think the core spirit is still there and I think being where I’m at now in the business, almost 13 years in, I find myself looking to the earliest period of Coolhaus the most as that sort of ethos and essence of the brand. And kind of how to really preserve that in a bottle and really celebrate it and lean into that as much as possible. Of course now with the expertise and perspective and vision and strategy that we have now, that we didn’t have in the beginning per se. So it’s like I think the assumption would be like, “Oh, the early days, you don’t know what you’re doing. You move away from that and then you become this expert and you figure it out or it’s all more professional.” And I find it’s almost kind of the opposite. The more that I can keep alive and even I think showcase even more than we knew how to in the beginning, today, the better off we’ll be because that’s such an authentic piece of the identity and who we are building this company.

Fabian Geyrhalter: I think that’s so interesting and we talked about this offline as well. I think it’s so difficult when agencies come in and they suddenly make something perfect. Because perfect sometimes isn’t perfect for a brand, because a brand needs to be whimsical. It needs to be different. It needs to be weird. It needs to have a character that no one else has. I’ve got this example where I’m on an advisory board with a company in New York right now, and of course after three months of advising them they’re like, “We’ve got to hire you. We’ve got to hire your team to actually make the brand perfect now.” And I’m like, “No. No don’t.” It’s so weird right now because they are artistic. So they have these weird things and everything is just a couple degrees off and if you perfect that, then it’s not interesting any more. 

There’s something about this being off and that’s when I mentioned your logo where I’m not in any way talking down on the logo, but it’s very whimsical, it’s very different, it’s weird. An agency wouldn’t perfect it like that. It feels like there’s something there. That was always Coolhaus to me. Even the store when you walk in, everything felt a little bit handmade and because of that it felt personable and once something is personable, obviously like you start a relationship with it. You can actually you feel closer to it. So I think that’s really … And in the end they actually did hire us and what we did is we basically just we cleaned everything up so that it’s presentable and so that it stays weird. So I think it is important. I mean, to any brand it’s important to have some sort of guide rails, guide guards to make sure that this is where the brand should stay within. But what’s within there could be really weird and it could be different and it could be like naked.

Natasha Case: Totally. I love weird. My new word even is strange. I’m taking the weird thing even farther. Let’s be strange and let’s celebrate that. 

Fabian Geyrhalter: It’s so true. And with them I said it’s tension. Everything that they should do visually there should be tension. And it’s good tension because they’re very much into their in the fashion type of industry, a little deeper, but that’s … So anyways, not to get sidetracked, but talking about you’re logo now that we’re deep in the superficial part of the branding, the logo and all of that, but your packaging though on the flip side has evolved. 

Natasha Case: Yes. 

Fabian Geyrhalter: And given your architectural background, in the beginning this must have been so important, yet so intuitive for you to envision the packaging. And a few years back I heard you mention when I was doing my research that you change your packaging pretty much every year now. I mean, it’s just a constant evolving which is very often the case with a CPG company, but it seems like you’re taking this pretty seriously. Can you share a bit about that always evolving task of keeping the packaging up to date?

Natasha Case: Yeah, I think so it’s funny you mentioned because I was going to say it coming out of what we were just discussing. We actually have just gone through a major brand upgrade where I think it was like taking everything about what’s cool and weird and strange and the tension like you said, or what’s like a little off in a good way and celebrating that as much as possible, but also fixing some of the things that could be stronger on the legibility in the freezer aisle. Because I mean as difficult as it is to stand out in the grocery store, thinking of also being in the freezer aisle-

Fabian Geyrhalter: Oh my God, yeah. 

Natasha Case: … a freezer door full of condensation, it’s like you really have to have something meaningful. So of course you want to think about that very practical side as well. But yeah, going back I always did all the packaging and branding and really created that myself and I always loved that element because that felt like an authentic extension of my architecture background, but using that to tell a story with the brand or for those marketing materials to communicate a message. Doing the truck branding, sometimes literally working on the architecture plans of the truck to submit to the health department which is probably some of the closer work to that traditional architecture background. Working on the shop. I mean, all of it came from me and I think that always felt like a great sort of alternative application of a really versatile skillset. 

And I have to say too, coming out of my first job a Disney Imagineering, I mean, I think that’s very much the philosophy. A lot of the folks there in Imagineering are architects, but they’re more creating characters, telling stories, building a brand, creating experiences. So I think that definitely influenced and inspired me in how I thought about Coolhaus. I mean, they’re the masters of story tellers and they create stories that people worship and retell for their whole lives, so how could you not be. But anyway so that went on for a long time and now we’re where the brand has become more mature and I think it was time to really have a conversation and let some other folks in to bring their perspective and expertise and I’m really happy with what we created. 

We worked with this company Dex Brands who really helped ask all the tough questions and the challenging questions about what really makes this so special. And then Mike Perry, is the amazing artist, illustrator and he really created all these characters and flavor cues and illustrations of food and graphics that really tell the story of each flavor not only from what’s in it and what makes it delicious, but the backstory of why we created it and when it was created and there’s just so many Easter eggs all over the packaging if you’re like a hardcore Coolhaus cult follower. So it was an incredibly fun project and I do feel that we stayed true to the brand. It feels even weirder than it was. But I think it is easier to read. It is clearer in terms of the brand block. So it’s a great evolution of all those years of what we were building. 

Fabian Geyrhalter: I love what you just said, I mean that whole idea of hiring the right people to actually perfect it as far as legibility goes and performance goes of a CPG brand in the freezer. And on the other hand, create this deeper story and these Easter eggs and things to engage your audience with that is much much deeper than it was before, but it all goes back to your founding story and the foundational elements of the brand, and that is not easy to pull off. So kudos, because it’s not easy and you know it because you’ve just been through this right, where it’s this constant-

Natasha Case: Yes. 

Fabian Geyrhalter: This constant struggle between staying true to who we were, looking to who we want to become in the future and then making sure that we’re checking off all those 400 marks in the freezer section and everything else legibility wise. So, very cool. And another thing that happened over time I feel is that you moved a little bit away from the architectural part, I mean, the flavors I don’t believe are named after architects anymore and your … correct me if I’m wrong though, but I don’t think they are, right? That’s a little-

Natasha Case: Yeah. We definitely don’t lead with that. I think we built it into the story or the branding around the flavor, kind of the back story, but it’s definitely not the flavor name like it was in the early days. 

Fabian Geyrhalter: But you are moving more into the authenticity of this being women owned. You talk about the LGBTQ. You make that more a part of your messaging. How did you decide to make it more personal? I mean, the architecture part was personal, it was your own journey. But when did you decide to say, “Look, this is actually important for us a company to start talking about that this is women owned”?

Natasha Case: I think what it was is what I tell people too is I think obviously the brand story is so important. It’s more important than ever. People are looking to brands to be so much more than a product they buy. They want to know who created it and what they do and what’s their personal philosophy and why, how did this get here? Transparency with sourcing, I mean, they really everyone I think is really excited about what’s behind the brand? What do they stand for? Is their brand a platform for something positive or progressive and what is the brand doing to really take action around that? So there’s a lot that goes into it and I think people are really voting with their dollar more than ever today, especially coming out of 2020. 

But at the same time, what I think is you don’t necessarily have one brand story for your whole existence of the brand. And what I mean by that is I think about the early days of Coolhaus and I think what was really important to share with our audience was that reinvention and that redirecting of your career path and your life in taking that unexpected, again potentially dark moment or an obstacle and really then using that as an opportunity to do something that you always maybe dreamed of, but if things hadn’t been shaken up maybe you wouldn’t have pursued. And that’s coming from architecture and getting into ice cream and then for Freya as well, from real estate development to ice cream and that was such an important story to share because that’s what people are really feeling and that’s what resonated with them at the time. And I think you want to share the story that’s going to be the most impactful. 

And then I think thinking about five, six years into the company there’s started to be some distance from that moment where I think the dust had settled a little coming out of the great recession and a pattern that I was seeing on social media for example is people really excited about us being women founders and mentioning that and sharing that with their friends and their audience. So I thought, why are we not celebrating this more? If this is something people are hungry for and curious about, let’s make it easier for folks to know that that’s who we are and that that’s a really important point of differentiation for our business as it continues to be. We’re the biggest women founded and led and also queer founded and led ice cream brand in the country. And while that’s very exciting, part of that is because there are so many less women led brands out there and it’s still so vastly unequal in terms of who’s leading the ice cream brands and many other food categories as well, that we all love and that we purchase all the time. 

So I think it was sort of listening and hearing what folks wanted to know more about and then let’s really dig into that. And that’s continued to be a theme in the back half of those five, six years as a brand. And I think what we’ve done is just take it farther. One, talking more about again being part of the gay community, which is not something we spoke about as much early on. And that’s really about visibility and showing that you can have that identity and nothing can stop you doing what you want to do. But also again, using the brand as a platform to invest in those diverse founders and so doing very specific things. For example, we partnered with Black Girl Ventures. They’re an amazing incubator for black and brown female founders. They do these live pitch competitions. They have mentorship, they have webinars. They have an amazing alumni network. We created a flavor with them called Currency Cake, which is a carrot cake flavor and the proceeds of profits go to funding one of their grants. 

And it’s like literally taking something joyful and delicious like ice cream and the flavor is fantastic, and it’s doing so much good. It’s literally putting money in the pockets of these founders that are completely just not resourced and served in the same ways as other founders from other backgrounds. So we’ve just taken that whole thing even farther and done more with it and I’m really, really proud of that work and there’s still so much more to do. 

Fabian Geyrhalter: It’s such a cool collaboration and it’s funny, it’s actually my next question I would have asked you about Currency Cake, because I actually the funny thing is I saw Currency Cake when LegalZoom was reposting it and I had Ed of LegalZoom on. So it was kind of like, “Oh my God, all worlds come together.” 

Natasha Case: Oh. Oh my gosh. Okay.

Fabian Geyrhalter: And talking about worlds coming together-

Natasha Case: That is the best. 

Fabian Geyrhalter: … Yeah. Absolutely. And talking about worlds coming together, I also had Jeni of Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams on the show on Episode 28. Another woman founder, right, of ice cream?

Natasha Case: Yes. Awesome.

Fabian Geyrhalter: So it’s kind of like I don’t know how I hand picked these people, but you’re in good company. And when I had her on the show, I mean, we talked a lot about politics and ice cream and how that somehow seems to be a match. And I mean, it is the same with you. I mean Coolhaus is very much speaking up about BLM and pride and AAPI Hate and it’s a brand that today takes a stance and I wonder what did for you over the last couple of years as a team that became more and more important to your brand as you started putting a focus on your founding story and all of that, what did speaking out as a brand teach you that other brand owners can learn from who may still be on the fence to make that move?

Natasha Case: Yeah. I think that first of all it depends on your brand a lot. Does your brand have a history of standing for something or representing something different and unique? So does this seem like a natural extension and does this seem authentic to the core of the brand, to take a stance or do something or get involved? So I think that’s the first question you have to ask yourself, because I don’t think every single brand can or should do something around every single issue. It just doesn’t make sense. 

Fabian Geyrhalter: Correct. 

Natasha Case: And then I think does it feel authentic? Does this particular moment and issue feel authentic and why are you really doing it? Is this something you truly care about that you believe is going to ignite your passion for what you’re doing because ultimately you can take that platform and do something really good and do something meaningful, or are is there a moment that’s happening and you feel like if you don’t do something in the moment then you’ll be judged, if you do something in the moment you’ll be judged. That’s not really the right reasons. You have to ask yourself, is this reasons I’ll be proud of? And then I think any good work around taking a “stance” is a long-term proposition. If you’re just going to get in and post something or sometimes you can donate, which I still think that’s good too, but I think sometimes that’s a moment it can feel especially in today’s world where things come and go so quickly that also your message around that can come and go quickly. 

I just believe that it’s like a long and slow game. I mean, I wish it were all faster, but the reality of these things is that change doesn’t happen over night and you have to be really willing to stick it out for a long time. And here we are a year past what really the horribly tragic events that led to the BLM movement over the summer and the protests with George Floyd and that just horribly tragic event and I think everything around that and we’re still, we’ve launched this flavor with Black Girl Ventures and it’s amazing and it’s bringing good, but there’s actually so much more to do with it and we have a retailer who’s really interested in carrying it more nationally. But my point is it’s this crescendo that’s been building for the whole year and it’s not something where it’s like, “Oh okay, this is the month to act and do something big and be part of this and then on to the next thing.” It’s like, “This is something that’s going to be part of our brand forever.” 

This was a fundamental change in thinking and a moment that definitely changed me, so I want to build something like this partnership with Black Girl Ventures and Currency Cake that can be part of our portfolio ongoing and more kind of partnerships where we can invest in the next generation of founders and just help create a more equal playing field. It’s a long game and that’s the kind of thing I think people know when it’s real and it’s authentic. I’m not saying you’re not going to have trolls or naysayers. That’s always going to exist. But I think the majority of your audience are going to see when you’re coming at it with the right intent and that it’s authentic and that you’re willing to stick by the plan for change and really put action behind it in the long term and I think ultimately that will be rewarded and celebrated and something that’s a win-win proposition, that it’s great for businesses to think this way and it can help create change in the world. 

Fabian Geyrhalter: Absolutely. I love how you’re doing this. Not just that you’re doing it, but how you’re doing it that it’s this honest commitment and that you’re actually creating flavors and you’re creating these pints so that people can actually put their money where their mouth is, no pun intended. But especially with if you keep going with those special collaborations. It’s really, really neat and I love the way that you project it onto other brands that it’s not just a quick post, because now is the time to do that post, right?

Natasha Case: Right, exactly. 

Fabian Geyrhalter: But it’s a vision. It’s not just one action. Talking about activation and visions, there’s something that Coolhaus does that I think is really interesting. You are actually offering to fully customize ice cream experiences for brands and events that will be in as you say on your website, “unforgettable.” So you create custom flavors for them and you have branded edible wrappers, like around the actual ice cream. So you really become a part. Your brand becomes a part of other brand’s campaigns. How did that come about? And the next question will be what was your favorite activation, because I saw some of yours floating around online and they’re pretty interesting and cool. 

Natasha Case: Yeah, that’s one of the things where I feel like the market spoke to us. It’s not something that we were planning to build into our brand and our vision. It was something where we had the catering side of the company and we were doing a lot of ice cream socials and going to corporation events to be part of the desert experience, and then we sort of have brands say, “Can we” … and there was always an element of customization. Sometimes we’d make custom flavors and always the edible wrappers that the sandwiches come in. We’d print on edible ink so that we’d have a nice little message for the employees of that company on there or at weddings we’d have the monogram of the folks getting married. 

That was always in there, but then we had brands I think reach out and really want to go deeper into the customization of what was possible and tell their story with the canvas of our ice cream and our trucks and our uniqueness. And we started doing a couple of those a year in and I just was so intrigued by the capabilities there and how we could really, I think dominate this niche and really make this kind of a bread and butter of what we do. So once we sort of had the lay of the land, the format on what we can offer and what’s possible to brand and how we can partner with these brands who want to do this, but also seeing the win-win in it, because a lot of the brands that come to us to do something unique are massive. 

For example, we did something with French’s Mustard, which is owned by McCormick’s. We made a mustard ice cream and we gave it out all around New York in our French’s branded truck. And yes, mustard ice cream sounds disgusting, but I can guarantee you, you will be like, I was floored when I tasted that. It actually tastes good. Your brain does not know what to do with it, but you want to go back for second and third bites. It’s one of the most strange and awesome experiences I’ve had in my whole career as an ice cream lady. But they’re massive. So they are coming to us with, one, a big budget. Two, agencies, some of the biggest PR and marketing agencies in the world that can help pitch this unique collaboration to celebrities, to media outlets and the desire to seem relevant cool again and what we bring to the totally unique format to give it that authentic brand recognition where people are like “Oh Coolhaus is doing something cool, well I do want to try their spin on mustard ice cream.” That makes sense because we’re weird and we’re strange. 

And then speed. We can make this custom ice cream really fast, get it in a branded package and be ready to go much much more quickly than a company like theirs and just literally having the trucks and the shops the delivery apps to do this with and our online store. We just, we have a fun way to reach the customers, so the value proposition is there and then since those early days, now this is something we still get a lot of inquiries, but we also pitch it too brands when we see a brand that we think could really benefit from that win-win, or that we really want to partner with. We go out and we seek those kind of collaborative campaigns and they just continue to be a really successful element of the company for us. 

Fabian Geyrhalter: So this is interesting, because you mentioned well and now there are delivery apps. So obviously with events being key to your brand, how did you keep your audience engaged during the pandemic? What shifted? And those branded engagements, are they literally now being shifted to customers as surprises or opt-ins, or how did that lens change?

Natasha Case: We still managed to pull off some great brand activations in 2020. For example, we worked with Ritz Crackers to make a crackers and cream ice cream, and it was delicious and we did have that on our online store. Our deliver apps. So we found a different channel that we weren’t really activating through to get that out into the world, so that I think was really exciting. And it was like, “Oh, even when the world comes back, we still now have something more that we can offer that we’ve vetted because we were surviving.” And then the other thing we did a lot of is use our trucks more as almost logistically delivering vehicles. So we would for example, we had a company that wanted to treat all of their employees in L.A. to little ice cream care packages and there was 300 separate addresses.

So the trucks basically went around … Well, we have four trucks here in L.A. … So the trucks went around all day and just dropped off these care packages. And we’ve never done an event or an activation like that where the trucks are doing all these individual stops. What would normally happen is they would have all 300 people come to the truck and order their ice cream and it would be this whole big crowd and obviously that’s not happening in COVID. So another thing is these little deliver drop offs that I think were really interesting. So it’s finding the different ways to utilize what you have for something very powerful. And I think that’s something we’re now actively pitching. We found, we do a lot of limited time only flavors with the studios when they have a new show come out or there’s Emmy campaigns or Oscar campaigns around the shows. And those are perfect for delivery apps. We’ll offer a unique flavor for let’s say an Amazon show and people can order on the delivery app until it sells out. And these sell out and two or three minutes. And then just a really fun turn key thing to offer. And yeah, that’s definitely a format that’s here to stay. 

Fabian Geyrhalter: That is so awesome, and I see that with so many brands that survived the pandemic and sadly not all of them have. And especially like smaller brands, which you used to be at some point. Not anymore. But the ones that actually make it out, there were so many learnings throughout the pandemic. Just to survive and to innovate and to go digital and to do things you’ve never done before. And all of these things are here to stay on top of everything going back to quote unquote normal. So all of these brands are so much stronger now after the pandemic than they were before, which I mean, it came as a huge toll, but it’s really positive to hear those stories as well. I think it’s nice to hear that. So as we’re slowly coming closer towards the end here, the big question of questions on my podcast, what does branding mean to you?

Natasha Case: It’s such a great question. I see the branding as really telling the story and communicating the vision behind what makes a brand special. I think there’s no one definition. I’m sure you’ve heard a lot interesting ones… And it can mean different things for different brands, but that is the core thing that I see behind why you invest in really creating that branding and what the reward is in doing that and how you can really connect with your audiences is the brand communicates something behind it. And maybe there may be some literal elements and may be some more abstract elements, but it gives people a special message and a special feeling about what you’re doing. 

Fabian Geyrhalter: And since you had such a succinct answer to that, let’s try the same thing on your own brand. So if you think about branding in a nutshell, if you are running a brand that has a very clear purpose, it’s pretty important to actually be able to say this in a very simple way. So for instance, Everlane. Everlane is all about transparency, radical transparency. Zappos is all about customer service. They call it wow. We’re about wow. What is one word, if you could just put your entire Coolhaus brand through a filter, what is that one word, or two words, that could describe the brand overall? I know, no one said this would be easy. 

Natasha Case: Well, I always have a hard time with the one. I think of three. 

Fabian Geyrhalter: Okay. Okay. We’ll let it pass. 

Natasha Case: Yeah. I think visionary. I was going to say uniqueness, but one of those the visionary which is thinking so much bigger outside of what even ice cream is. I think that’s ultimately major. And then the way we do it is so unique. So the uniqueness is so huge. I think if I’m going to play by the rules and pick only one, I would say visionary. 

Fabian Geyrhalter: Yeah. Yeah. Which includes the unique aspect-

Natasha Case: Right. 

Fabian Geyrhalter: … Yeah. Totally. Totally. That’s great. I love it. I know you talked a lot about branding over the last 40 minutes or so, is there anything piece of brand advice that you might not have mentioned and that came up while we talked that you feel you would want to share with the founders in the audience as a take away of when it comes to them thinking about their brand and establishing their brand?

Natasha Case: I would say, as much of an outside perspective as you can bring to the brand you’re creating I think it really does serve you. Because for me, coming from architecture, not from food in no traditional sense, and so not being limited by what’s supposed to be done, what should be done, how it looks, really allows me to create something that it’s just super different and it’s people have a hard time being if and owning that. So however you can master that and get outside what the standard is, the better you will be, because no one is looking to create something. And one’s going to get that excited by just making a different version of something that already exists. We don’t need anymore of that. 

So owning your uniqueness in that way, spending them time really evaluate what that is, what your super power is and how you can do that and making every step you can take to celebrate it, I think is so so important. And then I would also say, I think really big with the brand thing, I think about if you are working on your brand in what it could be in 10 years and what that might look like and go through that whole visioning exercise and then work backwards to start with something that has the ability to then be that for you, if you can get to that point in your journey. 

Fabian Geyrhalter: So much good advice. Absolutely. I mean, I actually do a memorial speech with my clients where we say, “Okay, 10, 15 years from now, or 20, 30 years from now your brand goes caput. How do people talk about it when you’re done?” What is suddenly, what is left if you can’t get a Coolhaus, like in your adult foods? What do they feel? What are they missing? And I think that exercise is so good. It’s very esoteric, but in the end it’s really about what’s your vision? How big can the brand be? What kind of lasting impact can you potentially leave us with? So totally, totally agreed. What’s next for the Coolhaus brand? What are you excited about in the next six months that is not to proprietary, that you can share with us?

Natasha Case: Well, we just launched our cones actually at all Wholefoods. They’re so delicious. They’re dairy cones. Street Cart Churro, Cookies and Cream and Strawberry. They’re fantastic. They’re already flying off the shelf and folks are already loving them. There’s no premium ice cream cone. There’s like Drumstick is not premium at all. These are super premium and amazing and unique flavors. And then we’re launching dairy free later in the summer as well. And also strawberries cookies and cream and a really classic cookie dough, and they’re phenomenal. I’m super excited about that. And then I’m also working on some dairy and gluten free options as we speak. So a lot of exciting development there. And then stay tuned for some really cool brand activation throughout the summer. 

Fabian Geyrhalter: That is awesome. So I get the hint that people should start following you. Where can they follow Coolhaus?

Natasha Case: So our website is cool.haus, no dot com, just dot haus. That C-O-O-L.H-A-U-S. Obviously lots of information on us there. Get ready to get really hungry if you go on our website. And then our Twitter handle, or any of our social media handles, Twitter, Facebook is @Coolhaus, C-O-O-L-H-A-U-S.

Fabian Geyrhalter: Fantastic. Natasha, it was such a great pleasure to have you on the show. Thank you so much for your time and for the insights. 

Natasha Case: Thank you for the great conversation and questions. And I had a fun time being here. 


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