MilkMade Ice Cream’s success in their first year of business reads like a laundry list of accomplishments that many small businesses only dream of when first starting out:
• Hundreds of customers on a waiting list
• A need to expand to a bigger kitchen to continue to grow the business
• Partnerships with local farms and bakeries
• Positive press and interest
• 710 Twitter followers, 550 Facebook fans, and an active blog
MilkMade Ice Cream is a membership based ice cream company owned and operated by Diana Hardeman, and is currently located in the East Village. Diana and a business partner (who has since returned to school) started MilkMade last summer, shortly after Diana completed her MBA from NYU Stern. When Diana first graduated, she was working as a consultant for a solar company and debating joining the company full time, but MilkMade changed her plans:
“We started it about a year ago and it really was just started out of love for ice cream. I bought an ice cream maker last summer, started making ice cream: making unique flavors and serving it to friends. People really liked it. Shortly after, we got a lot of [positive] word mouth and the word spread and we decided, ‘oh let’s open this up not just to our friends but people in our area in the East Village.”
As MilkMade’s name began to spread around to fellow ice cream enthusiasts, Diana quickly realized that her time and energy was best spent on developing, promoting, and running MilkMade.
Q: Can you describe your business model? How many members do you have?
D.H.: Initially we had no idea what would be possible. I didn’t know how long delivery would take, I didn’t know how much ice cream we’d be able to make in a month. We said ‘okay we can take on 50 members in just the East Village’. Last December we opened up to a certain number in the East Village and then got our bearings down. They were kind of the guinea pigs I guess. Shortly after we expanded the delivery zone to the West Village for another 50 and then up to the top of Central Park for another 50.
Diana has capped her subscriptions at 150 - for now. MilkMade makes two flavors every month and members sign up for 3 months (50 members per neighborhood) at a time. At the start of the month, MilkMade sends out an announcement with the seasonal flavors. Customers are either on a 1 or 2 pint a month subscription.
Ice cream flavors are based on seasonal ingredients and traditions: one of October’s ice creams is ‘Scar-amel Apple’. Diana’s personal philosophy with food is to buy local and sustainably-produced food, and she wanted her business to align with her personal philosophy. Diana says she has always eaten a lot of ice cream, and when she took a closer look at the ingredients, she was inspired to create an ice cream that contained ‘real’ ingredients.
Diana has consciously chosen to only use local dairy from Ronnybrook and local eggs from Knoll Crest Farms.
Q: Besides milk and eggs, where do you source your ingredients from?
D.H.: All of our produce we source from a local producer. I’ll go to the farmers market and pick up grapes and try a recipe out. [If I] decide ‘okay, we’re going to use grapes’, I contact the farmer and make sure I can get a bulk order from them. Everything is locally sourced. Any of the mix-ins we include are from other local producers that we think have a similar idea of sustainability and keeping everything local. We often include mix-ins from the bakery down the street or someone that makes sustainable chocolate. [Partnerships include Doughnut Plant and Sugar Sweet Sunshine Bakery]
As a new business that relies almost entirely on viral discussion, Diana immediately set up a website and a big mailing list.
“We really just started directly contacting the people on our wait list. We had hundreds of people sign up, it was very exciting. We used Mailchimp to send out weekly updates about how things were going and what our progress was.
We were cognizant that we needed a social media presence, so we set up Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr. Immediately we started posting pictures—before we had even launched the business—to keep people aware of what’s going on.”
Diana and her Milkmade staff spend a few hours using social media a week and a few hours on the email blasts. She doesn’t find managing her social media accounts overwhelming as she very methodically updates each platform.
Q: What effects have you seen from your social media use?
D.H.: I really like it. The blog is less conversational; that’s where we post our pictures. We’ve received a lot of comments about how people really love our pictures of our ice cream. Twitter is great because we can have conversations with people and tweet back at them. I like Twitter for making small announcements and having short conversations.
Q: Do you have any advice for the small business community, specifically, for businesses that are just getting started with social media?
D.H.: I would tell them to start with Twitter and reach out to all of their friends and have them retweet things. One thing we did initially was have a little contest we called ‘Name your Dream Scream’, your dream ice cream flavor. [Our fans were asked to] tweet or Facebook a flavor and we would choose the craziest idea and make that ice cream. We did that right away and got people to tweet us.
[I would suggest] to plan a little campaign like that—something that can try to be viral. Do something once a day and make it something that’s somewhat compelling, initially, until you can have a fan base.
MilkMade is poised for a year of possibilities. Diana shared that they still have a huge waiting list, especially in Brooklyn. She’d love to get their ice cream to as many people as possible and hopes to branch out from the subscription only model and sell MilkMade ice cream in a few small local shops in Brooklyn. She is also getting ready to launch a new online campaign that involves customers and fans guessing the flavors of MilkMade’s next ice cream.
Stay tuned for more profiles of small businesses who are using social media in exciting ways. And if you have a business you’d like to see featured, send us a note!