Andrew: Coming up, do you ever feel that the only way to really make it as an entrepreneur right now is to build a hot mobile app? Wait until you hear this founder’s story and how she did it. Also, how would you launch an ice cream truck business if you didn’t even have an ice cream truck? The way today’s guest did it will inspire you to think more creatively. Do you ever get so depressed that you slept for days? I’m going to see if I can get today’s guest to talk about that experience and how she got out of it and how you can too. All that and so much more coming up, so stay tuned.
Before we get started, I want to congratulate Mixergy fan, Carlos Solorio, who co-founded Arden Reed while listening to my interviews the way you’re about to listen to this program. Can you imagine the pride he feels every time someone goes to ardenreed.com and buys a custom made suit or shirt? Five minutes ago, bought a suit and shirt there. Mixergy is made for doers of the world like Carlos and you.
This whole shebang here is sponsored by Grasshopper. Do you need a single phone number that comes with multiple extensions, so anyone in your company can be reached no matter where they are? Go to Grasshopper.com already. It’s the complete virtual phone system that entrepreneurs love. It’s sponsored by Walker Corporate Law. Do you need a lawyer who actually understands the startup world? How about that? Instead of one that just figures that anything online is beyond him. Scott Edward Walker is a part of the startup community, which is why I recommend when you need a lawyer, you go to walkercorporatelaw.com. Now let’s get started with the program.
Hey there, freedom fighters. My name is Andrew Warner. I’m the founder of Mixergy.com, home of the ambitious upstart. How does an entrepreneur snag clients? I always admire professional interviewers and how they get every word pronounced perfectly. I don’t on the first shot, so I’ll say it again. How does an entrepreneur snag clients like Universal Music, Adidas, Whole Foods, J Crew, the U.S. Census Bureau, the W Hotel, Playboy and Tom Cruise? Felecia, Felecia. I’m not a professional interviewer, but I’m a professional entrepreneur, and I know the kind of questions that we entrepreneurs need the answers to. I’ll continue here with my bad introduction and my great questions. Felecia Hatcher is the founder of Feverish Ice Cream, a gourmet popsicle and ice cream catering company. I invited her here to tell us about how she launched and grew the business and how she attracted such an impressive list of customers. Felecia, welcome.
Felecia: Thank you, Andrew. I’m excited.
Andrew: Me, too. You had a client. Forget about Tom Cruise and the Census Bureau and all those big name clients. You had a client who called you from the hospital and he said what?
Felecia: He called from the hospital and, at first, I thought it was a joke. He’s like, “I’m getting ready to be discharged from Jackson Hospital,” which is one of the hospitals in Miami [??].
Andrew: Right out of where? I’m sorry.
Felecia: “I’d been in the hospital [??] a lung transplant and a heart transplant and I’m coming to get ice cream from you. What time do you close?” It was a late Saturday afternoon. I’m like, “I’m going to be here for about 30 minutes, but if I know you’re coming, I’ll wait a little bit longer.” He’s like, “No. I’m coming. I just got discharged from the hospital.” I’m thinking someone is hitting for me just because of the story he was telling me.
Twenty minutes later, this guy shows up with his wife and his sister with the hospital bracelet and everything and he’s like, “I saw you on TV. It was one of the reruns from the Cooking Channel and I was so touched by your story. The first thing that I wanted to do, as I just got a heart transplant and the lung transplant, I’ve been in the hospital for three weeks, is come meet you in person and try some of your ice cream.” I [??] so blown away from everything we’ve been able to accomplish for the company, but I don’t think anything trumps that experience of someone was literally on their death bed and the first thing that they wanted to do, instead of meeting family, is to come meet me and come get some of our ice cream.
Andrew: This is not because he ate your ice cream before and had a craving for it in the hospital, but because he knew you by reputation. I got to find out how you built up that reputation too. If that’s what’s getting customers in the door, I want to hear about that too. Going back, before we go back, what size revenue are you guys doing today? With all this excitement and all this big reputation that you built?
Felecia: We’re a private company, so I’d rather not disclose that right now, but as far as ice cream companies and the type of company we’re doing, we’re doing pretty well.
Andrew: Can you give us a ball park? Are you over a million a year yet?
Felecia: We’re not quite over a million, but we’re good.
Andrew: How about this? If you won’t give me the numbers, and I knew going into the interview that you were going to check and you might not come in with revenue numbers, if you can’t give us revenue numbers, how about the number of popsicles that you sold to Google for one of their conventions. How many did Google buy?
Felecia: That’s coming up. They’re going to do about 10,000 popsicles for the Republican National Convention.
Andrew: They just want to give your popsicles out to the Republicans at their convention?
Felecia: Correct. We’re branding it. We’re doing some custom stuff for them. Custom message on the stick. Custom message on the wrapper. Wrapping one of our trucks with their, whatever they’re going to decide to put on the truck, and then for four days of non-stop popsicle slinging at the Republican National Convention.
Andrew: What I heard from Jeremy Weisz, our producer, is that you used to work for the WNBA and there was one time when you went to work from 8:00 to 4:00 p.m., you were just at meetings at work. Can you tell us about that experience? About working at a job. I know you’re very entrepreneurial. What was it like for you to work at a job with that entrepreneurial spirit?
Felecia: It wasn’t just one day. That was almost every day.
Andrew: Every day, 8:00 to 4:00, lots of meetings. Nothing getting done.
Felecia: It was really hard because I started my first business when I was in college at 19 years old. I always had that in me and you major in something, so you feel like you have to work in that field, too. That’s why I put everything off for about five years and worked in corporate America. I played basketball all throughout my life, so I just imagined that working for the WNBA, even being on the front office executive, was like a dream come true. Within the first month, I started to find that it was more of a nightmare come true. I’m a different kind of person. I love being outside. I love the excitement of being able to meet people and interact with people, and I didn’t get that from my job there. I was sharing a cubicle with two other people and being in meetings all day long and then also dealing with the unique corporate environment there. It was something that ate at me every single day. Honestly, I would tell my husband every night, “I feel like this job is literally making me sick. I need to get out of here. It’s not just because of the weather.”
Andrew: The first business that you launched, was that the one where you were coaching high schoolers on how to get into college?
Felecia: Yes. Absolutely. It was called Urban Excellence. I started it with a friend of mine, James Taylor, and we both had very unique backgrounds growing up. We both won full scholarships in very unique ways. I end up winning about $120,000 in scholarships and grants as a C student in high school. I had horrible grades in high school, but it was like my first lesson in marketing myself. That’s what I wanted to share with high school students and their parents. A lot of them they feel like they’re a walking GPA, or because something has happened in their life, they can’t go on to college. They can’t start a business. They can’t achieve something great. The [??] created to show them how to do that, then also work with colleges and universities and organizations to help them build better college prep programs.
Andrew: Who was the number one, most effective tip that you shared with your customers?
Felecia: Number one is joining as many clubs as you can to increase your chances. It’s really all about increasing your opportunities and even creating opportunities for yourselves. Another thing is knowing when to quit some of those opportunities, too. You have a lot of high school kids who stay on the basketball team for all four years, but have no chance of ever making it to play college basketball, or for the NBA, or the NFL. Knowing when to quit and put your eggs in another basket, like joining SBLA because they give away tons of scholarships, and their network is huge. Or joining Stekmy [SP], which is a stem organization here in South Florida, they give away 25 full scholarships and it’s [??] as beat up as you would playing football or basket-.
Andrew: How’d you get clients? You were 19 years old. You were still in school. How did you get customers to come and sign up?
Felecia: Well, in the very beginning, even before starting the company, sometimes our mom’s our biggest cheerleader. My mom was the one who was telling all her friends my story. “Felecia just won all this money,” that’s actually when clients started to come. Before I even realized that that was a client, they were coming to me and wanting advice. My mom was the first push. “You can turn this into a business. You need to charge people. You’re spending a lot of time”‘ That’s really where my first [??] came from.
Andrew: Most mothers would feel that they have to tell their kids to share the knowledge. To teach, to not charge. Why did your mother feel that it was important for you to start charging for this?
Felecia: My mom has always pushed me. She was one of those moms that, I remember being a kid and cutting up my clothes and trying to sew them back together because I couldn’t afford the Nike stuff. Instead of fussing at me, the next day she bought me a little pink sewing machine and said, “If you’re going to cut up clothes, you might as well get some help [??].” Instead of, a lot of parents push their kids away into what they imagine success should be for them. She saw that I was spending a lot of time doing this and she saw that I really was passionate about it. She’s like, “This could be a business for you. Instead of going to work for McDonald’s, or Target. See if this will work as a business for you and you can make money off of it.”
Andrew: Was she very entrepreneurial? Did she keep suggesting entrepreneurial ideas to you?
Felecia: Yes and no. My mom’s an educator. She’s a college professor, so she wanted my brother and I to both be teachers, but have a side business.
Andrew: And have a side business. Why a side business?
Felecia: She has her hand in a lot of different things. Aside from being a teacher, she does a lot. I think she understood the importance of us wanting to follow our passion, and she wanted us to have something to fall back on, like a lot of parents do, but then also understood that this is a way that we’re going to be able to build wealth for our family and it’s not going to necessarily be working for someone else. You’re going to have to have something else.
Andrew: When it was time for you to reach outside of the people who just came to you, or came to you through your mom, how’d you find new clients?
Felecia: A lot of it was cold calling.
Andrew: You would cold call?
Felecia: Yeah. I don’t do it as much because I think I’ve gotten a little bit more of a fear about it, which is awkward that I went backwards like that, but I didn’t know anything about starting a business. I didn’t do the lemonade stand, or anything, when I was a kid. I sold Girl Scout cookies and a lot of that was knocking on doors. [??] that and, “I’m going through this book. I want to work with this organization, that organization. I don’t know any of these people. Let me just pick up the phone.” In the very beginning, I would pick up the phone and offer my services for free. To get my foot in the door. Then from there I would do more cold calling. It was almost a part of my daily schedule to cold call and just ask [??], “Can I send you over some information? Can I drop by and let’s talk.”
Andrew: How did you even know that the organizations would be the places where you can find your clients? Most young entrepreneurs would think, “I have to go after clients one at a time.” They might think advertising as a way of reaching broadly, but [??] wouldn’t even consider organizations as a place to turn to. How did you know that was a way to go?
Felecia: I participated in a lot of youth organizations when I was a kid, so I knew how they worked from a participant standpoint. Then I knew that I didn’t want to, part of my business was sitting down one on one with parents and their kids, and that took up a lot of time and it didn’t make the most money. So I’m [??], “Let me go to a place where I could, for an hour, for a week, talk to anywhere from ten kids to a few hundred kids and still be able to make the same impact.” I knew some organizations like the YMCA, or I knew churches that had the audience already there and they were already a captive audience. Let me just figure out ways to partner with them.
Andrew: Here’s the part where I do better than a regular interviewer on TV. They may have the polish and can get people’s names right and get their intros right on the first shot, but what they never have done is make a cold call. I remember trying to make a cold call and just being nervous about it and second guessing myself as an entrepreneur. Second guessing myself as a winner, if I was too hesitant to make a phone call. I had to battle with myself, and what eventually helped me win and make that phone call is this feeling of inferiority. This feeling of, ‘Nothing’s going to go right unless you can overcome this one thing and make this phone call. If you can’t do that, how are you going to ask for loans? How are you going to [??].’ What did you do to overcome that? That wasn’t an easy thing to just do. Pick up the phone and cold call.
Felecia: Back then I didn’t know any better. That’s the honest truth. I didn’t know any other way to get a customer. Facebook wasn’t around then, or LinkedIn.
Andrew: Why didn’t you just say, “When I’m older, I’ll have these contacts and I’ll be able to do it.” Or, “When I’m more polished, or when the business is more advanced then I can make a phone call and really get people to listen to me”‘ Why did you push yourself to make that call, or did you have to?
Felecia: I didn’t know any better, and I didn’t know I had any other choice. I didn’t know there was any other way to get a client. I didn’t really understand networking events, or reaching out to my dad who was a business owner, to see if he knew someone to recommend me. I didn’t know that. All I knew was that I was going through the Yellow Pages and I saw the name of these organizations, or I would pick up a magazine and I saw an organization that did something remotely like I wanted to do, and I would pick up the phone and call. Over the years, I got more uneasy about making cold calls.
Felecia: I don’t know. I think a lot of my friends they say, ‘If I knew now what I knew back then, I probably wouldn’t have done it.’ I think it was the same way with cold calling. Now that I know the process and you go through lots of rounds of rejection, you change course a little bit. Over the years, what I’ve tried to do, what I’ve started to do to get myself into it, is I would wait until super early in the morning, 7:00 in the morning, or wait until 6:00 at night, if it was a phone call that I was afraid to make. I would be able to do it on their voicemail and practice over and over again, hit the star [??] and then redo it.
I always felt that I put them in the position to call me back. I don’t know. It was a weird thought [??]. Or I would send them an email through Mad Mimi, or something like that where I could track to see if they’ve opened it. If they open the email, I’m like, ‘They are familiar with me.’ Then I can pick up the phone and call and I don’t have to give my whole spiel and risk them hanging up on me. I’ll do those little things that help psyche us up a little bit.
Andrew: We’re going to do a course for Mixergy Premium about these kinds of entrepreneurial sales tools, like what you used, Mad Mimi?
Felecia: That’s like Constant Contact. There’s a ton of them, but I love MadMimi. It’s quirky.
Andrew: You just wanted to know, did they even read my email before I call them up? If they didn’t read my email, then I’m going to have a tougher time making the sale and they won’t be as warm to me. I want to know all those different tools. We’ll get to that at some other point at MixergyPremium.com. For now, moving on with your story, you started at 19, that previous business. At 25, you came up with this creative idea that became your current business. What was the original idea? Where did it come from?
Felecia: The original idea, I was leaving a party and we were talking [??] ice cream. It was super hot and [??] always hot in Florida. I walk outside of this party and an ice cream truck starts rolling by. You [??] turn into a kid anytime you hear that music, and that’s exactly what I did. I started chasing after this ice cream truck, forgetting that I’m in heels and I fall down flat on my face chasing after this ice cream truck. As embarrassing as it was, that’s when the light bulbs went off for me [??]. [??] 22, or 23, at the time, and then, “Why hasn’t anyone come up with a cooler way for adults to enjoy ice cream so they don’t have to chase after an ice cream [??].” [??] with the idea for awhile. I was doing a lot of research. Found some really cool companies that were doing the same thing. Just kept [??] ideas around for about two or three years. It was this ratted up notebook that I would constantly put things in and the idea that I came up with was, I wanted to do this really cool ice cream truck. Pimp it out from the inside and out and make it like a mobile listening lounge, but it was an ice cream truck.
People can actually come inside the ice cream truck and sit down and eat ice cream and listen to music and then get record labels to pay me to get people to listen to their music. It was a really weird idea. Didn’t know if it was going to go anywhere, but I wasn’t going to let it go until I eventually tried it. As fate had it, my program was canceled, working for Nintendo, so it was that push to, “Why not try this crazy idea?”
Andrew: This was when you worked for Nintendo as a mobile marketing tour manager from 2008 to 2009. What other ideas did you write down in that notebook of yours?
Felecia: Well, with what we were doing, it was all about creating new experience. So a lot of corporations, they were moving money or moving money away from traditional advertising, you know, newspapers, print, TV commercials, more to experience marketing, that’s what we were really doing. So . . .
Andrew: That’s what you were doing at Nintendo.
Felecia: Correct. Correct.
Andrew: I see. So that’s why you weren’t thinking, let’s just sell ice cream. You were thinking, I want to sell an experience because companies were already looking to experiences as marketing mechanisms.
Felecia: Right. Exactly. And I was just trying to figure out how can I do what the big boys are doing without the big boy budget, of course. Being able to scale it down and create an experience with ice cream. And . . .
Andrew: Were your ideas always to sell to corporations like Nintendo? Or did you think, I’m just going to drive this down the street and make sales one on one?
Felecia: It was never the drive down the street because I was just, like, I don’t want to be a neighborhood ice cream truck and then I don’t want to compete with them, either. And I don’t people from high school and college to be, like, oh my God, that’s what Felecia did with her life, she’s driving an ice cream truck. I wanted to, I really I wanted to go after music companies. Like, that was my ideal client. As far as the big clients, that was really, I wanted to go after every single one of them. I wanted all of them to constantly send me their music and pay me to hand out their musical ice cream. Like, that was the original idea. So, like, the client roster that we have now, I didn’t really envision any of them being a part of the equation. It was always just music companies.
Andrew: I see. You know, that’s one of the things that admire about you. And reading the research that I have on you and also listening to your story here, you never think, how can I get a customer one at a time?
Andrew: You’re always thinking bigger than that. How do I partner up with music companies who have lots of clients or lots of attendees at their events? Or going back in time, how do I partner with local organizations that have the students who will eventually end up buying from me? I love that way of thinking.
Felecia: Look. I mean, that’s what the big companies do. You know, they, yes, sales happen one client at a time. But how can they constantly get the biggest bang for their buck, you know, while they’re doing their marketing efforts? So when working for Nintendo and doing these activations, we were always going to big fairs and festivals. Or if we, you know, when we did the product launch for the Nintendo Wii Fit, it was in Times Square. You know, not going down to the local mall. It was the biggest impact you can get in, pretty much in New York. So they’re always looking at those, that kind of impact. And so we wanted to be able to have that kind of impact. We’d still be able to have, you know, incremental impact within that event and within that experience as well.
Andrew: You know what? I’m glad that you’re talking about this because I want to have a complete picture of what it’s like to work for another company. It’s very easy for me to say, my audience is entrepreneurs, we got to rag on the big companies that you work for and promote the excitement of being an entrepreneur. In fact, let’s get rid of all the depression talk and only talk about the upside of entrepreneurship. But we have to acknowledge that yes, it’s frustrating to be in meetings from 8:00 to 4:00 p.m. and have nothing happen, that is part of working for a big corporation.
But another part is your eyes are open to these bigger opportunities. They don’t look at one customer at a time the way a young entrepreneur might. They think of, how do we get into Times Square? How do we partner with people who have massive audiences with events that have big exposure? And that seems to me, tell me if I’m wrong, that’s one of the lessons that you got from working for these big corporations that helped you with your businesses.
Felecia: Yeah. That was a huge lesson. As much as I hated some of the jobs that I worked at, I [??] a sponge. And everything that I could learn, I did and I took it with me. You know, from building better presentations to pitch to clients, working with advertising agencies and bringing advertising agencies on and how that whole process of an RFP works. So then the whole marketing aspect of it and definitely with strategic partnerships. You know, big companies maintain and grow to be bigger companies because of the strategic partnership that they’re able to build. Hey, you have something that I want. Hey, you have something I want. Let’s bring it to together and have a big impact together. That’s what they’re all about. That’s always has been my biggest takeaway.
Andrew: The great thing about Mixergy is we don’t have to spend years working from 8:00 to 4:00 p.m. in meetings that go nowhere and have those boring parts of our lives that we feel like will make us actually sick.
Andrew: We just watch you for about an hour and learn all the best parts and leave the rest behind.
Felecia: Well, as an entrepreneur, it’s no longer like 9 to 4. It’s like 12 midnight to 12 the next morning. So it’s an interesting exchange, right? But at least you’re doing the things that you want to do and you can say no to the things that you want to say no to.
Andrew: What did you say no to, by the way, as an entrepreneur, that you were proud to be able to turn away?
Felecia: Meetings about meetings. I don’t do a lot of meetings, believe it or not. Definitely do a lot of phone calls, but face to face meetings don’t need to happen because with technology, we’ve talked on Skype and through the telephone and we’re able to get everything that we need done. I just hate to waste that time when it can be allocated towards other things.
Andrew: I said in our intro that you didn’t have a truck when you got your first client. How do you get a client for an ice cream truck business when you don’t have a truck? What did you do to get that client?
Felecia: Like I was telling you, I was in the concept phase. Molding that, and we’re always like, “One day I’m going to start this.” I was in that “one day I’m going to start this,” not really, at the time, where I wanted to want it, or thought it was a viable idea. Especially since I didn’t have a truck, or a cart. That was when MySpace was the thing, at the time, so I had my personal MySpace page, but then I started to build this MySpace page for my company.
Andrew: The one that didn’t really exist yet. There were no incorporation papers. Nothing.
Felecia: Nothing, at all. I had a friend of mine who was a graphic designer, do this mock-up of this truck that I wanted to buy. He did the graphics of what I had in mind on the truck and that’s the picture that I put up on MySpace. I did MySpace and then I got some email from some website called mypartyplanner.com. I [??] the same thing up on there. Within a few weeks, I got a call from a company called Tyco, which is a pretty big company. They found us online and they wanted us to do catering for their employee appreciation party. I’m like, “Sure. We can make it happen.” I got off the phone, and I’m telling my husband and he goes ballistic. He’s like, “How do you agree to something? How are we going to make that happen? We don’t have anything. We’re not incorporated yet. We don’t even have ice cream. How are we going to make that happen?” I’m like, ‘I have to figure something out.’
What we did was we bought two carts off of Craigslist. The luxury shopping site, Craigslist. Really scrappy because, at that time, I was just living off of my savings. Trying to figure out what I was going to do. Living off the savings. Bought these two carts off of Craigslist and then I’m like, “They look like crap. I got to do something with them because it doesn’t look nearly as what it’s supposed to look like. I still don’t have a truck, so how am I going to make this happen?” I started decorating these carts.
The event wasn’t until December, so we had a little bit of time. I’m decorating these carts with my hand. Went to Home Depot, got these vinyl stickers that are really supposed to go on your wall, but I put them on an ice cream truck. Got spray paint and spray painted these carts and they looked OK, to me, but when we took them out to our first few vending events, people absolutely loved them. Did the same thing with a Chevy T30 truck that we bought as well. We put the paint on the outside, decals all over the place, skateboards and pink squats [SP], and stuff like that. Painted the inside. Came across the back to school clearance at Target and [??] colorful [??] we were able to throw inside the truck. A friend of mine was getting rid of a freezer, so we got a freezer for free. It was like fate constantly happened along the way to make this happen in time for their event.
Andrew: Was it the Tyco event where your ice cream truck couldn’t actually make it to the event?
Felecia: A few days before their event, the truck started acting up. We were driving it around to the skate parks. Still constantly testing it out. Trying to figure out if it was something that was going to work. About four or five days before their event, the truck would not go the distance at all. I’d get to the stop sign and it would cut off, and we’d already gotten a deposit from them, so we had to make the event happen. We actually towed the truck to their event. We’re like, “We know this truck can drive short distances, but it can’t long distances.” We had the tow truck drop us off a block away from their office, so we could drive it in. We’re driving. Everything is fine until a delivery truck would block us from the right turn that we needed to make. We were literally a few feet from where we needed to go. We had to go past the stop sign, and as we go past the stop sign, the truck stops. Not turn back on. Nothing.
Of course, that’s when the client comes out and they’re wondering what’s going on and we’re trying to work as hard as we can to fix it. We finally had to tell the client, “The truck isn’t starting. It will not start back up.” We were so embarrassed. We thought they were going to fire us right away. The owner of the company helped pushed the truck to where it needed to be. We served the clients right there. We were like, “We’re never going to get called ever again.” They’ve [??] ever since, and they’ve recommended us tenfold over and over again.
Andrew: This is Tyco. Very professional operation. I think they were part of a conglomerate at the time?
Felecia: They were.
Andrew: Security company. They still feel, even after pushing your truck, “We’re going to have this woman back. We’re going to hire this truck again.” You’ve done holiday parties for them. Employee appreciation days. That kind of stuff.
Felecia: It’s been funny. A lot of their employees, every time we go there [??] of it, they’ll laugh. It’s something you can laugh about, but we [??].
Andrew: Did you doubt yourself at that moment? Did you say to yourself, “Maybe this just isn’t for me. I’m not cut out for this.” Any of those things?
Andrew: Can you talk about that? What’s some of the self-talk that you had going on at the time?
Felecia: [??] was a horrible [??]. I [??], I survived the next ten minutes. It was definitely really embarrassing. It’s definitely one of those things where we boot strapped like crazy, in the beginning. When you get everything that you feel is starting to roll into place, like, “The truck is painted. It’s rolling.” We did an event and people like the ice cream, they like the concept. We did everything [??] to perfect, as much as we could, for their event because that was a big milestone for us. For the truck to stop right then and there, that’s when I [??] stop, at the same time because I’m like, “This is embarrassing. This is never going to work. Are we ever going to recover from this? I’m sure that they’ll never hire us again and I’m sure they’ll tell everyone, ‘This girl brought this junky [??] and it didn’t even work and it broke down right in front of our office.'” They did none of that. Probably because they’re owners of companies, so at one point they were probably in those same shoes as well.
Andrew: I had some negative thought in the beginning of this interview, where it wasn’t so much about the way that I intro’d and stepped over my own lines, it was one point where your connection was flaking out on us and you probably didn’t notice it, but I did because, obviously, I catch it after it’s across the Internet. I thought, what am I even doing? It’s been years I’ve been doing these interviews and I still can’t even get the technology to cooperate with me. The only reason I kept going is, “It’d be awkward when we schedule an hour long interview for me to stop.” There’ve been times in the past where that same thing has kept me going and if not that, then at the end of an interview I feel bad, but I have another interview coming up in a half hour, or another one the next day. I have to keep going. What gets you to keep going when you don’t have to do another client afterwards? You don’t have to anything.
Felecia: I definitely had a lot of those experiences over the years. I probably have a lot of mini ones and sometimes big ones every single day. My husband, who is my business partner, is the person that keeps me going every single day. I can vent to him, like I can’t vent to anyone else. Then also having a business where there’s a lot of tangible assets, I can go outside of our office and I see one of the ice cream carts. I’m like, ‘I can’t stop this business today because what the hell am I going to do with all this equipment.’ It’s funny. It’s quirky, but I remember trying to start a PR firm at one point, right after I left the WNBA. It was a service business. I was working from home so, at any time, I could have quit. I ended up quitting because there was nothing for me to hold on to. If that makes sense.
Feverish is completely different. That helped as well. Then every time I go on my computer, everything reminds me about my business. If I wanted to quit, it would never be a simple process and I think just thinking about the process of, ‘I have to liquidate this. I’ll have to [??] the kids program that we’re not going to be able to buy popsicles for them anymore. That’s [??] time to think about what you’ll have to do in order to quit [??], put me back into focus of keeping going.
Andrew: You have the truck. It’s more difficult to sell the truck than it is to keep going today, so I’ll keep going today. You have the organization where you help kids go to school. You teach them about business. If you quit, then they’re not going to continue. I never thought of that. Helping others as a way of continuing to work when you don’t feel like it. You were at a Miami Beach fashion show, your company was. How’d you guys get to be a part of that?
Felecia: That event, we rode up to it. Honestly. In the beginning, when we were trying to build our company and build our brand, we knew a lot of the things that we didn’t want to do and that’s a lot of things that the traditional ice cream truck companies were doing. We knew that we wanted to be, when people thought of our company, thought of desserts at an event, they would remember us because they saw us at [??] similar event. We didn’t know how to get into those events at the beginning because it was in such an early stage. The only thing that we knew, just like when I was 19 and cold calling, “Let’s just show up. Let’s be at these events and have people start seeing us at these events and seeing us in this light and start aligning us with these lifestyle and fashion brands.” That’s what we did.
We would just roll up, mostly at night to night clubs and fashion events and parties and be posted up outside. This was pre-gourmet food truck. It was something that was new to people and something that people thought was really cool. I’ve never seen an ice cream truck, or an ice cream cart, parked outside of a fashion show, or a nightclub before. It’s not the sketchy guy. Sketchy ice cream truck, people think you’re selling drugs. Like, “They’re selling [??] ice cream.” Started to work in our favor because people that were at that event that were planning other events were like, “I want to have that ice cream truck at our fashion show event, too.” This time they were paying us to be there. Instead of us posting up and selling ice cream.
Andrew: You did give away some free popsicles when you got there and then you sold others?
Felecia: We give away ice cream because we’re like, we don’t want to get kicked out of this parking space, especially [??] good. We don’t want to get kicked out of this event because we definitely don’t have permits to be on the beach. We would give out a few and then we would start selling. That was the way we promoted it. I remember showing up to a vintage craft fair and it was tons of hipsters. This was our crowd and, like, “I’m just going to show up and I’m going to give away 50 bars.” It worked for us. We gave away the ice cream. We didn’t really sell a lot after that, but every single year from that they’ve invited us back. Those are top grossing vending events.
Andrew: South Beach, you mentioned you didn’t have a permit. You could get fined $4000 if you don’t have a permit, and you’re still vending. Did you just do it anyway? You figured, “If we give out ice cream.” You’re nodding yes.
Felecia: Because we were like, “We’re young enough, as far as the company, that we’re just going to take the chance.” You have to. It’s one of those things where you ask for permission, or you ask for forgiveness. We’re just like, “We’ll see what happens.” I know a lot of food trucks in New York, they just chalk up the fees as monthly rents. That’s how we looked at it. “We want to be in here. It’s a small barrier, but it’s also at night, so they may not be as strict [??] they’re off work.” It really ended up working for us.
Andrew: I mentioned that list of clients that you had. How did you get them? How do you get the W Hotel? How do you get Playboy? How do you get J Crew? How do you even know who to call at those companies, let alone, convince them to buy from you?
Felecia: A very small combination of it is actual cold calling, but the bigger is actually [??]. [??] a domino effect at the fashion show and that they [??].
Andrew: Sorry. The connection did that funny thing again. You’re saying a lot of them were cold calls. Some of them actually were cold calls, but a lot is?
Felecia: A lot of it, they’re actually contacting us.
Andrew: Because you’re at those events. The fashion show. You go where they are. You put on an impression. You show that you belong there. You’re a brand that needs to be there, and they want to be a part of what you’re building.
Felecia: [??] the impact of it and they see that it will fit really well into their [??], or their design of their event, or [??] their event. That has really helped us a lot. We blog a lot and we send out a lot of pictures. I’m a picture fanatic. I recommend any entrepreneur that’s selling a product, to definitely be. Especially from the experience standpoint. When we’re at events, I’m shooting a few hundred pictures a day and I’m tweeting about them in real time for our clients. If they’re not there, they still get to see things are going well. Then they’re also re- tweeting for us from their accounts that have thousands or [??]. I can send a proposal to a client all day long and tell them how great we are, but a picture, or a video of people experiencing it and having a great time with the product, it sells itself. It’s easier for them to visualize it when they can actually see the experience happening in front of their face.
Andrew: When you cold call, how do you know who to cold call and what to say?
Felecia: Working in marketing, I’ve learned how that whole game works. I usually start with the marketing manager. A lot of companies outsource their work to advertising agencies, or marketing firms, or experiential marketing firms, so that’s something that I do my research on Ad Age, or brand make, or any of the other websites to figure out, “Who has this contract?” That’s usually where we start before we start with the actual company. We do a combination of both. It’s so funny. I was talking to my husband. We’re getting ready to do an event for Wes El [SP], who’s owned by Williams-Sonoma. I cold called them about a year ago when they first came out with these little mini popsicle makers that you can make your own popsicles at home. We wanted to do something with the popsicle maker, and we’re getting ready to do a big ice cream giveaway for them next month.
Andrew: A year and a month, is how long it takes?
Felecia: Right. We never heard back from her through that whole time until about a month and a half ago. She called, and I was, like, I’m looking. “Derek, this is the lady that I cold called a month ago.” I don’t know if she’s, like, “I’m going to call them later,” or what happened from that, but it’s still cool to see that it does happen.
Andrew: What I’m learning from that is, first of all, if you don’t get the response right away, it doesn’t mean you failed. It’s not nearly an indication that you’re not even on the right track. Sometimes it takes some time. The other thing is you want to sell to a company, you often don’t go directly to the company, you want to go to the company that they hired to work with organizations like yours. Once you do get to them, how do you convince them to go with your popsicles as opposed to what feels like bajillion other options for what they could have at the event? How do you say, ‘We are the ones that you want?’
Felecia: A lot of it is we’re painting the picture for them. A lot of times when they’re looking for an ice cream company, sometimes they’re just literally [??] looking for ice cream, or the thought that there might [??]. So much more. The biggest [??] we do, is we can customize to fit your brand, fit whatever they’re trying to do. Whether it’s [??] on a stick. Whether it’s some social media that you would want us to do for you, in addition. We’re constantly adding value above what any other ice cream company here in South Florida and a lot across the country are able to add.
Andrew: How’d you know that that’s what they cared about? I wouldn’t have guessed that they would care about putting someone’s face on the wrapping. That they would care about putting someone’s name on the stick. How did you know that would be so important that they’d sign up?
Felecia: If you pay attention when you go to events, you’ll see that it is something that they care about. If you go to an event and you get a free drink, you’re usually getting a branded napkin, or maybe the cup is branded, or they definitely have some sort of signage around at the event. All of those elements, somewhere along the way, some company has charged them to brand those elements. That’s what we do too. “Hey, let’s take it a step further. [??] pens are over and done with. Branded napkins, they’re cool. We’ll take those. Let’s bring the experience further.” Just like when I give anyone advice, I’m like, “When you’re starting a food truck, if you’re starting any kind of business, and you’re working with a company, look at your event space, or look at your product and figure out where can I brand? Where can I put their name on it to create a further experience for them.” Or, “Where can I sell? What areas of it can I sell?”
You see those people that will sell the tattoo space on their forehead. It’s funny, but companies, not necessarily saying they look to tattoo someone’s forehead, but they’re always looking for ways that they can activate their brand further than just an ad on a website, or a sticker on the side of your truck. They want to be able to further engage their clients and their [??].
Andrew: Universal Records was a client of yours. They asked you to do something. Can you tell people a little bit about that experience to give them an understanding of just how much branding you do?
Felecia: For them, we did the whole kickoff for the launch of David Guetta’s album. We’ve done some other stuff for them since then.
Andrew: The deejay?
Felecia: Deejay. The Electronica deejay. I think his CD was called “Nothing but the Beat,” or something like that. We wrapped four of our carts up, gourmet carts were literally like moving album covers for David Guetta, so they were all wrapped in red. Had his face all over it. We branded out popsicles. We had all red strawberry mojito popsicles for them. We did about 3000 or 4000 popsicles for them. They were all red. We had David Guetta’s face on all of the popsicles as well. All of our staff were dressed in red. All of them had the [??] verbiage. They sent us little ear plugs to [??] send over because, of course, it’s all about the beat, so don’t listen to the lyrics. It was fun. We went up and down South Beach with the carts and handed out the popsicles. Instead of them hiring some street team and have the street team go out and hand out the [??], it was more [??] experience [??]. If they [??] hearing what your marketing pitch is after that.
Andrew: You walk down the street, someone hands you a popsicle. There’s this fun experience. You say, “This is great. They’re not necessarily trying to sell me anything, but what is that album? Came out with a new album.” They might be more likely to listen to it than if someone hands me a CD and says, “Go put it in your,” I don’t even know where I would put a CD. Not all great though. You had a bride who wasn’t so happy. What did the bride say when she hired you guys?
Felecia: She just wasn’t happy all around. We walked into a really weird situation when we were catering during a wedding. It was awful. We definitely experienced the [??] at that point and [??] catering ice cream for weddings, but she was awful. She was really awful to my staff and just complained about everything. She didn’t like the way the ice cream looked. She didn’t like the flavors, although she picked the flavors. She was upset with the W Hotel itself. It was a really awkward situation to walk into, plus it was also three hours later than when we were supposed to serve. A lot of things went wrong, and we just happened to walk in on a very awkward and [??]. Felt really bad for my staff because I was in the back so they got the blunt force trauma from dealing with her.
Andrew: Let’s get to a couple of things that I mentioned earlier. The first is the reputation. How do you stand out and build this reputation? We know a little bit about the things that you do, you go to fashion shows, even when you’re not invited, and you build your brand name there and at special events. What else? How do you raise your profile so high that you get on television and reach a guy who’s in a hospital who says, ‘The first thing I do is go and get that popsicle when I’m out of here’?
Felecia: A lot of it is about creating the experience and also creating something that’s different. We didn’t [??] popsicles. We definitely didn’t invent ice cream. We’re not the first ice cream company, we definitely won’t be the last, but we pride ourselves on being different. Whether it’s from the ingredients that we use in our product, to the different custom things that we do with our products.
Andrew: Is the flavors of ice cream and the uniqueness of the product, in fact, I’m actually here on my iPad looking at your reviews on Yelp and people are saying things like, “Pineapple, basil and coconut pops were so great.” Those aren’t the kinds of flavors that you see at your local store. What else is it? How do you take that unique product and get people to notice it?
Felecia: We don’t spend any money on advertising. That’s just coming from the industry that we were in, that just became a rule of thumb for us. Having a unique product, it makes something that people want to talk about and take it viral for us, in a way. That really helps. Then we do spend a lot of money on trying to get PR. That has helped our business tremendously. From being featured on the Today Show and on the Cooking Channel.
Andrew: How do you do PR? How do you get that kind of publicity?
Felecia: I use HARO, quite a bit.
Andrew: Help A Reporter Out?
Felecia: That has been great for us. Also reaching out to a lot of blogs. Blogs and websites and getting them to talk about our story, but then also lending our expertise to them as well. We’re just starting to get into Pinterest and being able to use that to help us target more weddings.
Andrew: Do you have an example of how being on a blog, or doing some smaller media helps you get to the bigger media?
Felecia: A lot of times people ask me, “It must have been crazy after being featured on the Today Show.” It was great, but the biggest benefit that we actually got was being featured on Daily Candy. Thrillist and Urban Daddy. That made our phones ring off the hook. Those are smaller, when compared to the Today Show, but the impact, as far as being able to mobilize for sales, is much, much greater.
Andrew: Then once you get in there, is it easier to get to the Today Show?
Felecia: I think so because they look at those things when, of course, doing the research about your company, but then those websites always rank really high in SEO, so when they’re Googling, ‘We’re looking for a food truck,’ that’s how the Cooking Channel came up. They were filming about fruit in Florida and when they Googled, we were one of the first ones to come up. That’s how we came on their radar. A lot of that is attributed to those kind of websites featuring us because they rank so high.
Andrew: You get into places like Daily Candy where you’re a natural fit and they add credibility to you, but you also add credibility to them because you’re the kind of product that they’re looking for. How do you take that and parlay it into an appearance on the Today Show, or mainstream media, beyond the search engine optimization where they suddenly do a search and happen to fall on your site? What do you do to proactively get on there?
Felecia: I would have to say once you get that first phone call from them, or even before that, you still have to have all the pieces of the pie put together. That’s just building and running a really good company and having something that is [??] worthy because at the end of the day they want something that is going to appeal to their audience base, but then also bring the value to their [??] space as well.
Andrew: Do you have a PR firm that does that?
Felecia: We [??]. We actually do everything in-house.
Andrew: Do you call them up and say, ‘We’ve been chatting for awhile. I want you to know we were in Daily Candy today, if you’re looking for somebody.’ Do you do anything like that?
Felecia: I haven’t. Honestly. Sometimes people don’t believe me when I say that. I’ve never cold called any of the big companies. I have sent press releases, or I’ve sent a little message, or we’ve also built some really good relationships with a lot of journalists too. Sometimes when they’re working on a story, they’ll actually reach out to us, whether we’re a fit for it, or we could forward them on to someone that’s a fit for it too. That’s a lot of what I do now is when they reach out to me, I’m like, ‘I have a friend that owns a gourmet popsicle company in Philly. I think he would be a great fit for your story.’ By being a resource, a lot of it ends up coming back to you in a way, as well.
Andrew: We talked about a lot of the high points and the challenges that got you there, but let’s talk about that time that I was shocked to hear where you were in bed for a week. Why?
Felecia: I was really depressed. At that time I’d run the business down quite a bit. Almost close to $50,000 in debt. It was very ugly. I just didn’t know how to recover from that. That, coupled with, in the very beginning of the business, when we were buying all this equipment and not really understanding that, although we’re in Florida, an ice cream company still is a seasonal business in Florida. To buy all this equipment and accrue all this debt and then also be hit with three months of very slow sales. The phone wasn’t ringing. People weren’t emailing. Calling to try and get booked for events was damn near impossible. Excuse my language, but it’s Florida cold, so anytime it reaches below 70, 65, no one wants to touch anything cold. I didn’t know how to deal with that because it was very new to me. I got to a point where I didn’t want to do the business anymore. I didn’t know how to do the business anymore. I didn’t know how to survive.
I couldn’t see the other side of that. I couldn’t see the end of January, February the season would turn back around and then the phone would start ringing off the hook. I couldn’t envision that. I spent about a week, probably a little over a week, I didn’t get out the bed. I couldn’t leave the house. I didn’t want to go on the internet. I didn’t want to answer the phone. I was that depressed because I felt that I’d failed, and I felt that I was going to have to close the doors. It’s hard because if I turned on the TV, you saw Richard Branson, or Oprah and they’re living this amazing life and that’s who you have to look to a lot. That’s who you kind of have to look to as the pinnacle of success because I didn’t know a lot of entrepreneurs my age, and I didn’t know that what I was going through was really not that big of a deal. At the time it just seemed like such a huge deal to me, and I didn’t have anyone else to reference that that you’re going to go through that a lot.
Andrew: So, how do you get out of that?
Felecia: You know, definitely it was a conversation I had with my dad that really made me get up. My dad’s an entrepreneur. He’s had his construction and development company for about 12 or 13 years, and he told me, he’s like, “Felecia, one time I ran my business into $300,000 in debt, and I was able to get over that by getting up and getting out of bed and going to work the next day and keep working.” He was like, “Once you run your business into $300,000 in debt, then talk to me about quitting.” He was like, “Until then, get your butt up and go sell some ice cream.”
That was kind of the kick in the butt that I needed because it was someone that was close to me, but it was also someone that made going through a tough time really to me because it no longer made me feel like I was the only one that had ever been in this situation before. Because a lot of times entrepreneurs, when you see the Inc Magazines and entrepreneur magazines, they usually don’t tell that story, and I think it’s a very big disservice to entrepreneurs that are just starting up to not see the dark days or see an entrepreneur’s account that was negative or whatever. Or that they thought about, you know, leaving it all because they couldn’t afford to go out to lunch with their friends because they had absolutely no money.
Andrew: You know what? I have a hard time getting entrepreneurs here to talk about that. We spend some time with them before the interviews. I often will do it in the interview, and people can watch me struggle, and sometimes I fail to get them to open up about those deep moments. And sometimes, they open up like you did, but you’re very comfortable talking about it. Why? Is it because you’ve done it for so long? Why?
Felecia: Definitely because I’ve done it for so long. It doesn’t really…
Andrew: You’ve talked about this in the past.
Felecia: Uh-huh. Yeah.
Andrew: As an entrepreneur, to talk about it so much that you feel comfortable, isn’t it hard when you have employees to say, “Hey, I spent a week in bed depressed.” Don’t you worry that maybe, they might see you as someone who could potentially be in bed again for a week or someone who is not like these people who you talked about? Sorry. Go ahead.
Felecia: No. It happens a lot. Even if you’re an entrepreneur, even if you’re an employee, and say something just happens in your life. Say, your boyfriend breaks up with you. We kind of have this weird timeline where, say, you only get 12 days a year to be depressed in your life. God forbid if anything else happened.
Felecia: The same thing with entrepreneurs. I don’t think it’s fair that a lot of people don’t tell that story because…
Andrew: We’re losing the connection here. What you’re saying is as any human being, we entrepreneurs go through those low moments, and there are a certain number of days in our lives where we feel that. For you, it just happened to have gone…
Felecia: I think they find value in it, honestly. I understand that it could show weakness, but everyone has it. Hey, if you’re an employee and you have a tough breakup, the way the schedules work and with corporate America, you literally have what, ten days of the year to have a bad day. Sometimes, you need more.
Andrew: So, Felecia’s Internet went down again. It actually went down a few times as you might have noticed in this interview. Hopefully, we’ll piece it back together so that it won’t be too distracting for you and take away from her story. If you want to follow up with her, check out her website which I’ve got up on my screen right here. It’s FeleciaHatcher.com where you can read her blog posts, watch some of her presentations and find out about her book, which is called “How to Start a Business on a Ramen Noodle Budget”.
Thanks for being a part of Mixergy. Bye.