What You Can Learn from Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream; Taking Risks
How I Built This
Heejin’s and my favorite podcast is NPR’s “How I Built This” because we love hearing the horror stories that founders endured before they hit it big. The lessons are excellent because they remind everyone that there are no overnight successes, that growing a business is always difficult, and that there is always way more to every success than meets the eye.
Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream
A recent interview with Ben & Jerry (of the Ice Cream fame) was particularly interesting and inspiring.
Ben was a failed and unemployed potter, and Jerry was a failed wannabe Dr. who could not get into medical school.
They decided to start an ice cream shop because they “couldn’t afford bagel equipment” and because they could do little else. They opened their first store in 1978 in Burlington, Vermont because there was no competition, not realizing there was no competition because it was bitterly cold for most of the year.
They finally hit it big when they started distributing their unique flavors with “big chunks” of stuff, and when Time Magazine had a 1981 cover story that featured Ben & Jerry’s. The two men are modest and funny, making the podcast that much better, and we highly recommend it.
Takeaways from Ben & Jerry’s Story
1. Fearless despite failures. They failed repeatedly with their pre-ice cream ventures, and in their early ice cream career. They, however, never let it get them down and just kept on swinging.
2. Innovated constantly. When business was dead during the winter, they didn’t sit idle, but instead constantly innovated with clever price promotions (the colder the weather, the cheaper the cones), and new and very unique flavors.
3. Worked in the trenches. They worked extremely hard in the trenches for years, both serving and making ice cream. This is a recurring theme for all success stories.
4. Maintained culture after scaling. They attribute much of their success to their “hippie” company culture that they zealously maintained even after they scaled.
5. Trust. Ben and Jerry have been best friends since childhood. They had 100% trust in each other, making their partnership rock solid. 100% trust is a necessity for every partnership, and it is often not there.
6. They fearlessly and cleverly fought the big guys. Pillsbury threatened to withhold their Häagen-Dazs brand from retailers if they sold Ben & Jerry’s. Ben and Jerry went after Pillsbury with their famous “What Is The Doughboy Afraid Of” campaign, and it worked. You can read more about this great story here.
7. Plunging ahead even when the numbers didn’t look good. This is my favorite. When they filled out their SBA loan application, their required sales and expense projections indicated that they were going to lose money (they had no clue). So, they simply changed the sales numbers and price points until they showed a profit. There are two points from this: (1) Projections are often meaningless; and (2) Sometimes you have to plunge ahead no matter what.
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