Minus the Moo | Let your passion drive you
Meet Katy, an ice cream lover who is lactose intolerant and Gwen, also an ice cream lover and her best friend. All Katy wanted was real, dairy ice cream, just lactose free. After being so dissatisfied with her options, Katy decided to experiment in the kitchen and starting making lactose free ice cream out of real dairy. She met Gwen at a reunion and joked about starting a lactose free ice cream company. Gwen, always being interested in entrepreneurship, realized how few options there were for lactose intolerant individuals and told Katy she wanted to be her partner. A year later, Minus the Moo was born and Katy and Gwen are still best friends.
What was the first thing you did when you decided you wanted to start this business?
Katy: Formulated an LLC. If we’re going to have a company, we’re going to make it a company. We trademarked the name and bought out every domain under Minus the Moo. Instagram, Twitter, anything possible.
Gwen: Katy had been talking to Commonwealth Kitchen, which is the incubator we’re in, since that previous spring, before we launched. They have a lot of boxes you have to check/things you have to do, prior to even being eligible to be a part of Commonwealth Kitchen. Becoming partners was really just the catalyst to get started.
Katy: We also had a very open and honest conversation with each other of what this would look like. We read this book "Cooking up a business"" by Rachel Hoffstetter, which was like our background research. And in there it showcases different companies and goes through their successes and pitfalls and one of the tips in there was if you have a business partner, you need to talk about what you both want out of the business.
What are your ice creams made out of?
Katy: Real dairy. Cream, milk, egg yolk, sugar, salt and whatever flavorings we add with the lactase enzyme. So you won’t find anything in our lactose free ice cream that isn’t it regular ice cream other than lactase. We use dairy that uses no hormones, no antibiotics, and we try to source as responsibly as we can.
How did you price your product?
Gwen: We looked at a lot of competitive research - we would go to Whole Foods, take pictures, and really study the products we were up against. I would even go to stores in New York to get a comparison across different cities. We looked at what the most premium ice creams were priced at and with both our premium ingredients and the fact that we are serving a niche market, through our research we found that people that are lactose intolerant are willing to pay more for something they can have and enjoy. So at the Farmer’s Markets, we were selling pints for $10. But when we go into wholesale, it’s the retailers discretion to price the product; we give a suggested retail price which would be $8.99-$10.
Katy: We also did focus groups and surveys. As we look at competitive landscaping and where there is a gap in the market, a lot of what we are seeing is that within the more premium grocery channels like Whole Foods, there aren’t any brands doing this currently so we are also pricing it to the distribution channel that we are going after.
What is your most popular flavor?
Katy: Our most popular flavor is Sea Salt Chocolate Chip - and that was an accident. When we were scaling the recipe, someone said that I should try a little bit more salt - and I doubled it - which resulted in me having 15 gallons of salty mix and I had no clue what to do with it. But after some thinking, I decided to throw some chocolate chips in it and thought it will be a one off flavor because sea salt is a trend right now and people loved it! It sold out in the first day!
How did you figure out what to do, without having a business or food background?
Gwen: There’s so much you can get from being a part of that community in the beginning.
Katy: Even the first time we had to apply for our permits, I went with everything I had documented short of my birth certificate. I thought I knew what they would want from me, but I just wasn’t sure and there is no manual of how to walk through this. But we spoke to so many people around us and that’s what got us through.
Gwen: We would call the city hall and other random places, and just figured it out. We made a list of all the things we were clueless on and starting asking. Being a part of Commonwealth Kitchen was so helpful though just with all the resources available there. I think its just being honest with yourself about all the things you don’t know and then asking yourself how can I figure this out, because there are a million people who are willing to help. How can I leverage whatever network I have or don’t have yet to figure out the questions.
What’s your favorite part about starting a business?
Gwen: I love the challenge of learning something entirely new. Neither of us are in food - I work in skincare and she’s a nurse - and there’s so much that we’ve had to do research on to learn how this industry works for instance learn how a wholesale relationship works with a distributor, learn about manufacturing, etc - the point is its a huge range. Challenging yourself to learn something entirely new is really fun, especially being out of college you forget how much fun it is to learn something new. And getting to do this with your friend is really fun.
Katy: I never knew I could know anything about this topic and about entrepreneurship. I have no business background. So learning about business and how to run a business is invigorating. The curiosity that it evokes ignites a fire in me - which I had been searching for. I am also really excited that it’s possible that I could be solving a problem for someone like myself. For so long, I felt that I had to be left out or sacrifice and if it’s something as simple as ice cream, you know its not going to cure disease, but its exciting. Ice cream is something that is supposed to be enjoyable. So to have something that someone could just get off of a shelf and really enjoy it - to me that’s really exciting.
Gwen: One thing about entrepreneurship is there are low points for sure. But the high points outweigh these so much. That’s the other thing about doing it with a friend - you have someone to encourage you when you are concerned about things or worried you made the wrong decision, you always have somebody to get you through those points.
Katy: And when you are both down, it makes you feel less crazy. We’re in it together.
What has been the #1 challenge that you guys have faced so far?
Figuring out how to fund a venture. What is the smartest thing to do for our business? At the end of the day, money is coming from someone - so how can we do right by whomever it is coming from. All of sudden its not about you, its about somebody else.
What kept you going?
Gwen: Something we say to each other all the time is, if we stopped now, do we really think we won’t regret that in the future? Do we have enough information or gone far enough into it to say that we shouldn’t move forward? We haven’t taken this to where we want to yet, we still think it’s a totally viable option, and we really want to see it through. So we can’t stop at this point.
Katy: The indecision to what we were going to do was also what made me question whether or not I could do it. No matter what hardship we were facing, even if it took me a day or two, I always came back to the fact that I did not want to lose this business. And I didn’t want to lose Gwen.
Any secrets or lessons you have for people who are bootstrapping their business?
Gwen: Make a plan as your roadmap. Even if you deviate from the plan, at least you have a foundation. There are a thousand costs or things that you will have to pay for unfortunately that you are not going to have a clue about. You can take the plan you have and expect there to be twice as many unexpected costs but at least if you have that plan then you can use it as a guide to be very conscientious about what you decide to spend your money on.
There are going to be a lot of different opportunities that will present themselves and it will feel like you should change your plan but its important to be laser focused on what the end goal is. Look at it in the big picture and long term, and given the amount of resources you have in the beginning or lack thereof, sometimes you have to make the decision based on the end goal.
Katy: Also know your market. Do your due diligence before you start.
Is there any advice you would give to other women entrepreneurs who want to start their own thing?
Gwen: Don’t be scared to do it and go into it very open and willing to talk to and get advice from different people, because that’s what is going to carry you through. So if you have concerns about starting, just know that there are so many people out there to help drive you along.
Katy: I agree. To add though, I would say let your passion drive you, but look to those around you to stay on target, stay focused, and stay smart about it. Without having people to turn to, I think it would have been hard to do this without having people influencing me. I could have never done this alone.
Katy: Be humble. Anyone that is helping you, they are helping you out of their own kindness. They don’t have to help you. They are helping you accomplish your dream - so I would say be humble to all of the gifts that people are giving you.
Gwen: Women entrepreneurs shouldn’t be afraid to be the leader and to really go for it. Take that “be humble” but also take it as “they believe in you, so you should believe that you can do it too."
You can find Minus the Moo at SoWa markets during the summer as well as Bee’s Knees Supply Company in the Seaport, Golden Goose in the North End and The South End Buttery in the South End.