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Coolhaus cofounder Freya Estreller shares some of her mistakes—and why you shouldn’t fret them.
F&W's #FOODWINEWOMEN series spotlights top women in food and drink in collaboration with Toklas Society. Follow the hashtag on Twitter (@foodandwine). Coolhaus cofounder Freya Estreller shares some of her mistakes—and why you shouldn’t fret them.
Who: Freya Estreller
Where: Coolhaus and Ludlows Cocktail Co.; @COOLHAUS
As a young entrepreneur and boss, I've made plenty of mistakes—enough to fill a few Coolhaus ice cream trucks. I've spent too much money. I've hired the wrong people. I've made Waldorf salad ice cream. These mistakes become badges of honor, like a baking scar or comically bad Yelp review. I know I'm not perfect. In fact, I like to take it a step further and be proven wrong as quickly as possible. Fail fast, right? But shame on my team and me if we make the same mistake twice. Here are some personal stories of snafus and miscalculations that made me a better business owner and helped me launch a second venture.
1. Running out of money.
We've all been there: We pro forma out a budget with aggressive sales numbers and conservative expenses. Be real. It's more likely the other way around, especially when it's your first brick-and-mortar location. Our first scoop shop was delayed eight months and cost 20 percent more. We even had to pause construction for a couple months because we ran out of money and had to raise more. I've come to embrace financial constraints, as they foster innovation. But don't shoot yourself in the foot.
2. Not choosing the right investment partner.
While all that construction drama was going on, we were parting ways with our first angel investor and negotiating with a new one. Our new angel investor team is the perfect example of whom you do want on your team. We all shared a common, big-picture vision and strategy. And he also had institutional knowledge that was priceless. He had seen it all as CEO of a billion-dollar fashion brand. He pivoted us away from launching trucks in every major city and focused us on wholesale growth. He let us make mistakes but held us accountable at our monthly board meetings. We also gained a FT president of wholesale in his son-in-law, who grew our wholesale business 10 ten Whole Foods in Southern California to 4,000 stores nationwide in three years. Overall, they bet big and had skin in the game but weren't afraid to lose it all if we failed.
3. Not trusting my gut.
You know that weird feeling you get about someone that you're just not sure about? Please don't ignore that. I've made terrible hiring decisions because I was distracted by glossy résumés and slick recruiters. I knew something was off, but I chose "ignorance is bliss" instead of facing my gut reaction. Our emotional intelligence is equally as important as all the data and metrics in the world. This is also important to remember when you’re coming up with your product. Your product will be more compelling if you create products that you know you want (Old-Fashioned Jelly Shots, anyone?) rather than following the flock.
4. Not adhering to the four P's.
Product. Promotion. Placement. Pricing. You need to nail all four for your brand to stand out in this noisy and increasingly competitive time. Our first attempt at prepackaged ice cream sandwiches at grocery stores fell flat. The packaging was a pink box that cleverly looked like our cute little truck, but no one could tell what was in it. There was no flavor differentiation, and the text was too small to catch someone’s eye. We quickly redesigned with bright, shiny foil packaging, bold colors and an actual picture of an ice cream sandwich on the front. Then, our product quadrupled in sales.
5. Not focusing on sales(wo)manship.
Unfortunately, sales has a bad connotation. No one likes cold-calling people. Cool kids shouldn’t try so hard to sell their products. Guess what? Sales—or rather, business development—is the main thing you should be focused on if you own your own business. And no one can sell your brand better than you. For Ludlows Cocktail Co., the new spirits company I launched last October, I did the door-to-door sales thing. Our line of all-natural, craft cocktail Jelly Shots are now sold in almost 100 accounts, including two big chains—Total Wine and Fresh & Easy—and growing. I'm not batting 1,000 percent, but I want to get to the nos so I can get to the yesses. At the end of your long workday, you have to ask yourself: You're not too cool to pay yourself, right?