Jess Eddy and Crista Freeman, Phin & Phebes, Women Entrepreneurs

Crista_JessI was introduced to Jess and Crista (Phin and Phebes Ice Cream) from someone in the tech industry who I am very impressed with. She told me about what Jess and Crista had built (and building) and we made a date to meet.  I really do like to get together with food entrepreneurs who are getting traction particularly with a product I adore; ice cream.  It is such a hard business and there are very few early stage investors in this arena.  We met, I heard their story and I ate ice cream.  Their ice creams are insanely delicious, incredibly creative, well thought out and consistent in their consitency (which is huge) with great packaging and pop (important in the freezer section) and have to say remind me of my college days when I ate ice cream all the time stopping by Dave's Ice Cream in Alston at any chance I got.  

Jess grew up in a small town in Maine with her Mom.  Her parents never got married although her Dad was in Maine working for the state in the horticultural division.  A tree and science geek.  Her Mom had several careers.  She sold windsurfers, became a real estate agent, cooked at a sorority, was a flight attendant, worked as a bartender and even at one point opened up her own restaurant.  

After graduating high school Jess did not go to far perhaps a stones throw from where she grew up to University of Maine where she majored in journalism with a minor that she created in design.  As she put it, I came from a working class town and tuition was inexpensive.  She stayed home almost every summer mostly working in food related businesses from being the sole hire at a Greek restaurant where she chopped feta and waited tables to the commissary at U of M so she could get tuition for less.  She did set her sights on leaving Maine.  As a kid they traveled frequently as her Mom was the travel bug.  They'd fly through Boston to get direct flights going to Mexico, Belgium, Amsterdam and other places around the world.  Not surprising that once Jess graduated she packed her bags and moved to Boston.

In Boston she landed a job in a music studio working on design where she had interned the past summer.  Then 9/11 happened and the economy changed.  She found herself in Boston without a job.  She needed to support herself and got a job in a restaurant thinking this will be temporary.  Four and a half years and three restaurants later was probably the best work experiences she could have had.  She became obsessed with food and taught her self to become an amazing chef.   She decided if she was going to stay in this business she should at least be the chef.  In the end she did not go that route but those four plus years were an education in food and wine.

After 5 years in Boston she picked up and moved to NYC.  It was 2004.  She still wanted to get into graphic design.  Timing wasn't great and she ended up working at Whole Foods for a period of time before finally landing a job at an agency.  Her career then picked up and she focused in on technology and software.  Once she had that under her belt she was able to become a freelance person doing consulting which she did for the next three years before ice cream came into her life.

Crista grew up in Jacksonville, Florida.  She was a prep school kid.  Her father was a lawyer and her Mom was super stay at home parent.  She played tennis and her Mom shlepped her from one event to the other.  Crista was even a debutante.  All she really wanted to do was get out of the south.  

After graduating high school Crista went to Colorado University Boulder majoring in architecture and physics.  She was always good at math and science.  It was a beautiful place to go to school but for a girl who came from the water and surfed she felt landlocked  She really just wanted to go to art school.  She convinced her parents that if she got into art school that they would let her go and she would take it on herself.  She got into California College of the Arts and spent the next two years of her education there.  During that time she worked in San Francisco in start-ups companies doing SEO work to pay for her school.  

Her next stop was Parsons to get a masters.  Crista realized that she could not afford to go to school and took a job as a manager of ecommerce in a company to pay off her debts.  All along she knew she wanted to be an artist and do something creative.  Little did she know it would be in ice cream.

Crista and Jess met on a blind date.  Sharing a steak for two they bonded over food.  They both have insane energy and smarts so sitting around on an afternoon is in neither of their DNA.  When they moved in together in a rental they decided to completely renovate their apartment by themselves.  

One weekend they got into making ice cream.  They bought an ice cream maker and made their first batch of ice cream called Fluff Nut.  They took Ritz crackers and covered them with marshmallow and peanut butter.  They then froze them before covering them in caramel and chocolate and put them in a sweet cream ice cream.  It was a huge hit and that inspired them to make more flavors.  Over two months they prototyped 10 flavors.  The enthusiasm from friends was big so they took their flavors on the road.  They went to an ice cream fair giving away 2 ounce cups if people would fill out their questionairres about their product.  It became chaos.  People were lined up through the aisles.  The making of the ice cream and the prototypes and eventually the fair took place over two years.

They both always wanted to start their own venture.  Marlow and Sons called to carry their ice cream and then Whole Foods reached out to them.  It was time to take this seriously.  Their accountant said they were crazy to quit their jobs.  They did it anyway although Jess can still do some freelance work here and there to pay the bills.  To begin they both decided to go to ice cream University at Penn State.  The program lasts one week.  They came back and wrote a business plan.  Retooled each of their recipes for mass scale, got a SBA loan and began to sell.  They landed their first 60 accounts from buyers who tasted the product and said I am in.  

Now they are working with Whole Foods and moving through their regions.  A few other huge chains have reached out too.  They have grown faster than they anticipated.  I am not surprised.  Both of these women are saavy business people.  They understand margins, shipping, co-packing, the importance of validating the product 20 ways before shipping and they are scrappy.  Since they both have been in design or art the packaging is fantastic.

Currently they are in over 260 stores and more are coming.  They plan on moving their facility so they can ship consumers over night for the right cost.  Lots of conversation about that but they did their research and certain states are less expensive for overnight freezer shipments.  Who knew.

They are currently raising money on CircleUp.  We gobbled up almost half of the pints they brought yesterday.  I'd say that it is a very good sign.