- Natasha Chiam, maker of ice cream cookie sandwiches and founder of The Ice Cream & Cookie Co. shares her journey to entrepreneurship and her motivations.
- She used $20,000 of their personal savings to start up, working from a small kitchen before going into manufacturing and achieving ISO 22000 accreditation, and now works in a space 10 times larger than the first one.
“If you do what you love, you’ll never have to work a day in your life,” said singer Marc Anthony.
When asked how she juggles her time, she replied, “…easy! My life and business are so intertwined it doesn’t really feel like a ‘juggling act’.”
But before she became a full-time ice cream cookie sandwich confectioner, Natasha had a brief stint in the legal profession in Australia and then in editorial in Singapore.
Realising that her love for making desserts could turn into a profession, she took the plunge.
A Childhood ‘Sweet’heart
The 33-year-old grew up in Melbourne, Australia, where her family has lived in for more than three decades.
“I’ve been baking ever since I can remember. I have fond memories growing up and learning how to bake cakes from my mum and savoury dishes from my dad,” Natasha recalled.
“Ice cream was something that my brother and I used to make together in the summer as kids growing up in Melbourne.”
She revealed that they had a commercial ice cream machine at home and that her father had contemplated starting an ice cream business but then decided not to.
Her family would make lemonade sorbet, caramelised white chocolate ice cream, and their childhood favourite, Nutella with chunks of Ferrero Rocher chocolates.
“Ice cream has always been part of my life and now, [it] is a part of my every day!” she told me happily.
From Side Gig To Sweet Job
Natasha graduated with an LLB (Hons) (Bachelor of Law with Honours) and worked in the field in Australia for a while before becoming a journalist at Female, a fashion and beauty magazine in Singapore.
“Although I studied law, I never really felt connected to the profession. I’d always enjoyed writing and had done some freelance work for some publications when I was a student,” she shared.
“At the time I also had my own beauty blog and YouTube channel for fun, so it was quite a natural choice. I loved working in the media industry and learnt a lot there.”
The entrepreneurial streak in her showed as early as when she was in primary school, setting up a lemonade stand outside her home, and then later when she was a teenager, she made jewellery with a friend and sold them at craft markets in Melbourne.
According to Natasha, the cookie-ice cream sandwich was a popular sweet treat in the US when her husband was in university, and the inspiration to make their own came from a craving they had.
She started selling them at farmers’ markets, parties, and events while holding down her full-time editorial job.
“It got to the point where I could not fulfil all that was required in my business without sacrificing the quality of work I produced at my day job,” she recounted.
“I decided to go full-time into the business after about six months, when orders really started to pick up and I became quite frantically busy.”
She thought it wasn’t fair to her employer “to just coast along” so she decided to leave in 2012 and focus on The Ice Cream & Cookie Co.
With an initial investment of about $20,000 from their personal savings, they started in a “tiny kitchen” serving takeaway orders and home delivery before going into manufacturing.
Sweet Dreams Are Made Of Perseverance
In the beginning, setting up shop at farmers’ markets and pop-up events was a low-barrier entry way for her to test out her saccharine delights.
“It was through one of those events that a restaurant approached us to make desserts for them. That’s what initially led us in the direction of wholesale and manufacturing rather than retail,” she told me.
Since they chose to take the path of a manufacturer, they worked towards becoming a world-class one, continuously training their staff and upgrading their factory to meet international standards.
While turning a hobby into a career seems like an ideal life situation, running a business is no child’s play.
Natasha admits there have been times when she felt like hanging up her apron.
“There are times when it seems like everyone just wants more and more from you and you can never fulfil all their needs or requests. That can be very trying, because in those moments your best is just not good enough,” she explained.
“Running a business is like running a marathon – you just have to keep going and know that you are in it for the long haul. It’s very much a mental game.”
As a self-professed perfectionist, Natasha thinks it’s a “pretty bad characteristic for an entrepreneur” because it’s impossible to finish a to-do list.
“[This] used to drive me crazy. I used to literally have mini breakdowns from the sheer amount of unpredictable work that needed to be done,” she shared.
“I now try very hard to aim for excellence rather than perfection. It’s a shift in mindset that has made it easier for me to manage my workload and goals.”
The majority of The Ice Cream & Cookie Co.’s growth is attributed to word-of-mouth, and Natasha thinks that they are fortunate to have gotten positive and organic reviews by the media.
“While there is a place for advertising or paid endorsements, we do prefer to stay away from that at the moment. I think people appreciate things that are real and genuine,” she said.
On their past collaboration with Penny University, Natasha explained that they were one of their first café partners who stocked their ice cream cookie sandwiches.
“They’re also one of the first indie cafés in Singapore and while many have come and gone, they’re still going strong,” she added.
Own Sweet Time
The Ice Cream & Cookie Co. has come so far as a small boutique ice cream stall at markets and events to becoming Singapore’s leading ice cream and gelato supplier and Natasha described the journey so far as slow and steady.
They now have a space that’s more than 10 times the size of their original kitchen and they’ve achieved the ISO 22000 accreditation, an international food safety management certificate.
In terms of revenue, Natasha revealed that they have doubled almost every year since starting up in 2012 and expresses pride at her capable team.
Last year, her husband went to Hong Kong to lead the company’s expansion into the Chinese and Asian markets, and they’ve also started distributing at supermarkets like Cold Storage and NTUC.
As they’re mainly a wholesale business, they don’t have many opportunities to interact with consumers, so Natasha plans on their direct-to-consumer relationship.
They are also expanding their consumer range of ice cream cakes and tubs, and revamping their website for a better shopping experience.
“In three years, we hope to be a leading next-generation ice cream company in Southeast Asia,” she said confidently, and promises to work hard to grow the business.
Head to their website to order yourself some homemade ice cream or treat yourself to an ice cream cookie sandwich here.
Featured Image Credit: Asian Entrepreneur, The Ice Cream & Cookie Co.