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Small Business Interviews

Haus of Cool

Updated: Feb 5, 2020

Haus of Cool

Natasha CaseFounder

Natasha Case received her Masters in Architecture from UCLA in 2008 and launched Coolhaus at the Coachella Valley Music Festival in 2009.

Employees

75

Founded

2008

LOCATION

Los Angeles, CA

Industry

Los Angeles, CA

Social

As the old adage goes, when you get knocked down, you gotta get back up and do it again. Natasha Case, founder of Coolhaus, takes the adage a bit further, and recognizes that not only do you have a chance to learn from your mistakes, but getting knocked down in the first place might result in a victory. This relates to the the thinking that great ideas come when you combine two seemingly unrelated concepts—which Case has used to develop not only a business philosophy, but a model as well.

Case studied architecture and realized that the field was highly insular and inaccessible. She figured that food was a way into people’s lives, and then forged the unlikely match between the two. Coolhaus was started with barely anything but a beat up postal van and a AAA membership that got her towed to Coachella—since then, it has grown into a multi-tiered gourmet dessert company with a distribution model built on food trucks, brick and mortar, and wholesale.

The uniqueness of Coolhaus however is the inspiration it takes from the world of architecture. Rather than bland metaphors, the company is motivated by the theories and practices of the paradigm-shifting Bauhaus school, founded in Germany in 1919, as well as the transgressive work of the contemporary architect Rem Koolhass. This deeper appreciation of architecture has resulted not only in a flexible distribution model and visually engaging brand—it’s also resulted in outsider thinking that developed some very unique products, such as  pickled ginger radish and chocolate wasabi ice cream, maple flapjack cookies, and a medley of artisan cookies.

Funding Circle

You debuted your ice cream from a beat-up postal van at Coachella in 2009. When did you first start experimenting with making ice cream sandwiches?

Natasha Case

Not long before that. I was working at Disney Imagineering and in the fall of 2008 I started making cookies with ice cream and naming the combinations after architects. It was around the time that the recession was settling in, so it was a sort of response to that–some comic relief in the dark hour of architecture layoffs.

Funding Circle

Can you tell me more about the idea behind Farchitecture (food + architecture)?

Natasha Case

The idea was to make architecture more fun and accessible. I studied architecture for 7 years straight and I started to feel like we were doing cool things but that it was intimidating for outsiders to understand. It was ultimately a bubble. Since architecture is meant to be such a public profession, it became my mission to break down that barrier between architecture and people. Food is a great way to make something easy where everyone’s included. It’s memorable and a great medium to talk about the ideas of architecture.

Funding Circle

What graduate program did you do, and how did studying architecture prepare you for being an entrepreneur?

Natasha Case

I went to Berkeley as an undergrad and then UCLA for grad school. Having an architecture’s skill sets is a great background for business. Any entrepreneur will kind of take something that doesn’t belong in one category and apply it to another. So much about building a brand and business is creating a visual identity that tells a story, and that’s what architecture is all about: how you use visual language to tell people what you prioritize and what you value. Architects also tend to be masters of all trades, which is something you have to be when running a business—you have to understand all the facets, even if you don’t excel in all of them. You have to know how to delegate things and bring a team together.

Funding Circle

How did you raise the startup capital for Coolhaus?

Natasha Case

Hah, what startup capital? It started with so little—it was very humble beginnings. It started with my own set of cars, and then we literally borrowed $700 from our friend Andy to help pay the fee to get to Coachella, which is crazy to imagine. It was so bootstrappy in the beginning. We joined AAA Platinum to get 1 free 200-mile tow, which is what got us to the desert in our undriveable truck.

Funding Circle

That’s how you got to Coachella?

Natasha Case

Yea, the truck didn’t actually break down—it never drove in the first place.

Funding Circle

Amazing. When did the first investors start coming in?

Natasha Case

In order to build our second truck, we did a friends and family round and raised about $30,000 to build a proper truck, because the postal van wasn’t really, shall we say, legally licensed. In 2011 we did a round of about a million dollars to finish our flagship brick and mortar in Culver City and to get our wholesale distribution going.

Funding Circle

Ice cream requires manufacturing at a large scale in order to be profitable, right?

Natasha Case

Yes, but you also have be smart about it. If you grow too quickly then you’ll be hemorrhaging money.

Funding Circle

You have a fleet of ice cream trucks that you use to vend your product, alongside the retail distribution. How did you get to this distribution model of foodtruck and retail?

Natasha Case

The food truck model made sense because it was a low barrier to entry, and it’s such a great and flexible retail tool. With it you can understand how different neighborhoods respond to you, how different kinds of clientele respond to you. You can use them for both selling and catering, catering being for the higher-end clientele. It’s also used for brand partnerships—the people who wrap the truck, and we give out free products on their behalf. Our brand partners also advertise on our dessert wrappers. We grew the business model based on the trucks, but then it came time for our business to mature, so we expanded to brick and mortar.

Funding Circle

How’s it been with the brick and mortar?

Natasha Case

It’s been great, but it’s not really scalable as far as we’re concerned. The wholesale side of the business—once we had our bearings—really took off after we had our 3-store test in Whole Foods in 2011. It’s really exploded since then. So we expanded from ice cream sandwiches, to pints, and now bars as well.

Funding Circle

Thinking back on the early days, is there anything that you would do differently?

Natasha Case

Not really. 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.

Funding Circle

What’s one example of you doing this?

Natasha Case

We put our truck from New York in Miami to try and counter the cold season, but ultimately it was really hard to run a Miami operation with remote ownership. It’s kind of lawless out there. And in warmer climates, people are more body conscious, so they actually eat less desserts. But now we have great distribution in Florida, thanks to this initial failure, even though the truck itself didn’t work out. There’s always a silver lining if you pivot and leverage what you’ve worked on.

Funding Circle

Who are your customers?

Natasha Case

The core is definitely millennials and it definitely skews female, then it sort of works its way up from there. The next biggest following is the 21-35, and so on. What’s great about the brand is that we have the trucks for selling and catering, we have the shops, and we have the wholesale—and depending on what channel you’re activating, you get a different market. The trucks selling is going to have a younger market, since the customers usually track them down on Twitter. When the trucks are catering it’s a more high-end customer. Grocery stores, for sandwiches, are usually a younger crowd, but the pints and bars (since they’re multipacks) are usually bought by families.

Funding Circle

What’s your most effective marketing channel?

Natasha Case

The trucks for partnerships and activations has been so amazing, because we get paid to do these awesome campaigns that are unique and customized. It’s win-win. We’re doing something with American Express this summer, a tour around the country, so they have the budget to do all these cool things and go to so many different cities. It’s gonna be huge exposure—for something that we get paid to do. Those are the best kinds of campaigns. There’s no better way to market than when people get to eat free ice cream. There’s also social media of course. Back door access is a great marketing tool too, such as cooking class—anything that gives customers the feeling that they’re closer to the brand.

Funding Circle

What, in your opinion, is the most intense dessert to date?

Natasha Case

We have the bulletproof coffee right now, and that one’s kinda crazy. It’s just brown butter and coffee. It’s rich and fatty and so good, and the texture is just out of this world.

Funding Circle

Ever experiment with flavors that were just too out-there?

Natasha Case

The famous one in-house was the Waldorf salad. It had a blue cheese base and candied apple and walnuts. It was just so pungent that you kind wanted to throw up. We also tried to do a Thai pickled ice cream with a spicy peanut butter base and pickles. My interns opened up that tub of ice cream to sample it and they literally screamed because they thought there were slugs in the ice cream. If they respond to it like that because of how it looks, then it’s probably not the right ice cream.

Funding Circle

Coolhaus implies Bauhaus, the German architectural school, and Rem Koolhaas. What about these two inspire you? What other architects do you draw inspiration from?

Natasha Case

Rem Koolhaas is so interdisciplinary—he’s a great writer, does museum shows, and he’s a filmmaker, besides being an architect. That’s what I love about architecture as a background for entrepreneurship: it’s about taking one set of skills and bringing it to another discourse and opening up so many new doors that way. And with the Bauhaus, it was the same thing. It was more of a lifestyle philosophy rather than architecture, it was how you lived your life: how you ate, how you envisioned space and art and language. For me it’s more about the cultural expression you’re able to make, rather than just being an architecture firm who just makes a cool building. Obviously that’s great, but what else is there to say about it is fascinating too.

Funding Circle

What’s your 5-year vision for Coolhaus?

Natasha Case

Definitely want to keep adding to the product line. We’re working on these “wookies,” they’re cookies and whoopie pies. They’re sort of like the ice cream sandwiches but without the melting. They have a buttercream saucing and amazing flavors like Nutella, Cap’n Crunch peanut butter and Thai tea. We think we can keep expanding outside of frozen foods and into snacks, cookie butter, beverages, and maybe even some non-edible things like lifestyle tools. We plan to definitely grow more retailers, more restaurants, and more international business as well. We just started shipping to Asia and the Middle East and I plan on going beyond that too.

Funding Circle

What’s the biggest challenge you currently face as a business?

Natasha Case

I think wanting to turn on the acceleration but doing it smartly. I think Coolhaus really wants to have that stake but we also wanna do it in a way that’s sustainable. We have such a great culture, and I really want to keep expanding on that. Certainly, we’re gonna have to make some changes. We’re a small startup, and we need to figure out how we can become the 100 or 200 million dollar brand that I know we can be—it’s a challenge to figure out the changes that have to be made. A huge thing we’re looking for is strategic partners to be able to do that.

Quickfire:

Funding Circle

What’s one book every entrepreneur should read?

Natasha Case

I’m not one for business books per se. I love to read for pleasure, and I learn so much from when I do reading that’s not directly about business, but rather things that inspire business ideas. I think the New Yorker is the best writing that’s out there, and their financial pages and writing about business is just fantastic, and it’s great for entrepreneurs. A lot of them are long lead pieces, but they’re not full books. Getting to Yes by Bruce Patton is pretty cool too.

Funding Circle

What’s one brand that you admire?

Natasha Case

Sir Kensington, they’re a condiment company and no one’s been able to take a crack at that since Heinz.

Funding Circle

What are your five favorite independent businesses in Los Angeles?

Natasha Case

I really like Sarah Blakely, she owns 100% of Spanx. It’s cool that you can be a billionaire and have 100% control. Also, Instacart, Ludlows Cocktail Co., Upstate, and Poprageous.

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