Updated: Aug 25
Today we’d like to introduce you to Libby Lefanowicz.
Hi Libby, please kick things off for us with an introduction to yourself and your story. After completing my MBA at UC San Diego – Rady School of Management focused in entrepreneurship and innovation, I jumped directly into the corporate world, working directly for public sector IT consulting. I was never passionate about the projects I worked on, and I didn’t like working in the male-dominated tech world. I also always felt that although I had a lot of professional experience, I looked like a younger woman and wasn’t always taken seriously. I knew I wanted to do something that I was truly passionate about. And on the side, I was always searching for what that might be.
I grew up in a household where eating homemade meals with my family every night was a staple. I have fond childhood memories of learning to cook with both my mom and my dad. As an adult, I struggled with a number of food intolerances making some of my favorite dishes and after dinner treats difficult for me to eat. After visiting my first all vegan and gluten-free ice cream shop in Austin, TX (Sweet Ritual), I realized that an all-vegan ice cream shop was lacking in the San Diego area. I knew that I was not the only one struggling with dairy and gluten intolerances. I started making vegan ice cream as a side project as I continued to work in the consulting field. I wanted to test the market in SD and figure out what kinds of flavors and locations were best. In March of 2020, I was working on applying for the permits I needed to sell my ice cream at farmers’ markets just as global shutdowns due to COVID 19 were happening. My public sector consulting paused, and I spent this extra time at home working on my ice cream recipes and test batches.
I finally received my food permits and with the farmers’ markets closed, I started running ads on Instagram to deliver ice cream around San Diego county. As my brand grew and farmers’ markets opened again, more people would buy my ice cream, and eventually I was able to get my products into specialty grocery stores.
We are now San Diego’s only all vegan and gluten-free ice cream company and will be opening our storefront in our Sorrento Valley location in August. I love working in an industry I really care about and that is important to me. I love making dessert that I can enjoy without feeling guilty when eating and then sick the next day. I love that I can provide that same feeling to my customers. One of my favorite things about having this business is being able to provide job opportunities to other women who are looking for inspiring work environments where they can learn, grow, love what they do and the people they work with. We are looking forward to growing Kula and providing California with dairy-free ice cream that tastes like real ice cream.
We all face challenges, but looking back would you describe it as a relatively smooth road? I completed my food permits in March 2020 with the expectation of jumping into farmer’s markets to do customer testing. However, during that time, all of the farmer’s markets were shut down due to the pandemic and I had to find a new way to see how my ice cream would do in the San Diego market. I decided to pivot to selling ice cream online. I started experimenting with Instagram ads, targeting the San Diego area. And right away, it was very successful. I started selling over $1000 of ice cream a week. The problem was, it was just me, making and delivering the ice cream, and I couldn’t afford to pay for anyone to help me. I was renting a vegan kitchen space in the evenings and I was self-funding everything at the time so I was only able to afford a small gelato maker, which could only make 4 pints of ice cream at a time. I would make ice cream until 2 or 3 in the morning, then hop in my car the next day to do deliveries. Luckily after months of showing growth, I was able to raise my first round of seed funding through angel investors. The first things I did were buy a commercial ice cream machine and hire a staff member to help me make ice cream.
After this, new challenges arose at farmers’ markets. After a few months, the markets started opening; but unfortunately, they could only be open with many restrictions. We could not sell any open food and we couldn’t sample our ice cream. This made it difficult to convince customers to buy vegan ice cream. (I’ve tried a lot of crappy vegan ice cream out there, and it was hard for customers to commit to buying a full pint of our ice cream!) Also, because we couldn’t sell open food, we could only sell pints and no scoops or cones. It was difficult to convince people to buy full pints of ice cream.
Can you tell our readers more about what you do and what you think sets you apart from others? I’ve always loved working in startup environments. In my undergrad at SDSU, I was able to do an internship with a San Diego tech startup where I got my first taste of the fast-paced collaborative environment. Since then, I’ve interned and worked for all different types of startups from tech to restaurant. My favorite thing about working for startups is that everyone has to always be willing to do anything, even if it is not your greatest strength. Sometimes even the CEO has to jump in and wash dishes, hop on a sales call, finish an investor PowerPoint, or organize the backroom all in the same day. I enjoy this type of environment, switching between big picture business thinking and getting into operations of the business. I am constantly having to come up with creative and innovative solutions to all of the many problems that come up while also making sure the numbers work.
I love that I’m never bored. I am most proud of how I’ve taken Kula from test batches in my PB apartment kitchen to a developed brand with a full production facility. I got to see other entrepreneurs do this throughout my career. And I’m proud of the fact that I was also able to create a business that makes a difference in my community.
What sets me apart from others is my ability to approach business problems with solutions that include my diverse background. I’m able to think through problems with insights into how a large tech company, or a community hospital, or a restaurant would solve the same type of problem to find the best solution.
If we knew you growing up, how would we have described you? I was a very social and active kid! I was always doing something, making something, or cooking something.
I did a lot of work in video and production. For example, when I was 12 years old, a friend and I started a company making a video yearbook for my school’s swim team.
Also, my sisters and I made several cooking videos growing up and I always thought I wanted to be on the food network.
I was also interested in both science and tech! I wasn’t sure if I wanted to be a chef or a video editor when I grew up.
When I started Kula Ice Cream, it was so fun to mess around with different proportions of protein, fat, and sugar to make my vegan ice cream taste like real ice cream. I loved that it was both a science and an art.
Single Scoop: $6
Double Scoop: $8
Handmade Kula Cone: $2
Read the original article on SD Voyager here.