Building a small business, one scoop at a time with Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams
May 16th, 2014 | by Jane Smith | published in Google Enterprise
Editor’s note: Did you know 60% of young business owners saw an increase in customer engagement after getting a professional email address? Or that 81% of young business owners said that online file sharing is critical to their businesses? That’s just a snapshot of what we learned from the Young Business Success report and infographic we released to kick off National Small Business Week. To recognize and celebrate the young businesses taking the entrepreneurial leap, we’re revisiting a few customers to hear how they got their businesses off the ground and what they’ve learned along the way. Today, we hear from Jeni Britton Bauer, Founder, President and Creative Director or Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams, who first shared their Gone Google story in 2012.
What was the inspiration for starting Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream?
I was 22 when I knew I wanted to make ice cream. I had spent some time blending perfumes with essential oils, and one day, decided to mix some cayenne essential oil with a cup of chocolate ice cream. It was cold. It tasted like chocolate. After a few seconds it burst into flames in the back of my throat. I couldn’t stop thinking about it and knew I’d found my canvas. So I left Ohio State University, started Scream, and sold the delicious dessert concoctions out of the North Market in Columbus, Ohio.
Scream lasted two years, and while it failed to become a profitable business, it made the foundation for what became Jeni’s just a few years later. I learned a lot in those two years, especially the importance of having a balance between being new and being consistent — I loved making new, unique flavors like goat cheese with fresh cherries each day, while customers sometimes just wanted their go-to salted caramel day after day. So I created a dipping cabinet for our signature blends, and kept another for the experimental concoctions. It worked. And here we are today, with nearly 400 employees and our ice creams being sold in over 1,200 grocery stores.
How has using Google Apps helped you in building and growing your business?
Google Apps makes it possible for businesses like ours to exist at all. When I started Jeni’s, I didn’t have to hire an IT guy to tell me how many servers I would need, which meant we could put that money towards our ice cream flavors instead.
Equally important is how Google Apps helps our business feel like a family. Yes, being profitable is essential (I learned that with Scream), but it’s the people that make us successful, and Hangouts keep us connected as we grow and hire throughout the country. We hold company all-hands meetings, new flavor brainstorm sessions and weekly status check-ins over Hangouts, so our employees in California feel like they know their colleagues in New York, despite the distance and lack of in-person contact.
Also, here’s a fun fact: I wrote two books on Google Docs. We organize recipes and track our changes and tweaks along the way in Docs, so everyone can access a single document and add their updates and comments, and it just made sense for me to do the same for my books.
Any advice for other aspiring or budding entrepreneurs?
Starting with nothing is a hidden blessing, so don’t let a need for scrappiness get in the way of launching your business. Having your boots on the ground from the get-go means learning about every aspect of the business — not just the fun stuff (the ice cream mixing) but the hands-on stuff (serving the goods) and the stuff you thought you’d never imagined yourself doing (financial statements). You learn the ins and outs and the nitty gritty details of running a company, which is an essential skill for any small business owner. And never distance yourself too much from the customer; they’re the ones your livelihood relies on, so make sure you keep an ear on the ground.
Make sure you do something you love. I’ve gone through plenty of tough times, but I didn’t question what I was doing because I knew it was my passion. I took the plunge for something I knew I was meant to do.