During her keynote presentation at Women in Retail Leadership Circle: On the Road, San Francisco, Robyn Sue Fisher, CEO and founder of Smitten Ice Cream, explained how studying the coffee industry helped her take the plunge in launching a fresh, unprocessed, made-to-order ice cream company.

In 2006, Fisher was in business school at Stanford University and had the idea to use liquid nitrogen to make ice cream at an extremely cold temperature, allowing the ice cream to be fresh and much healthier, instead of filled with preservatives.

“I started by renting a tank of liquid nitrogen and buying parts off Craigslist, duct taping them together,” Fisher said. “I was kind of a mad scientist at that point, trying to figure out how to make fresh ice cream. And the whole idea of it was kind of anti-mad scientist, anti-food science. Just all about fresh.”

Fisher explained that she looked at the coffee industry as an example of how her business could evolve. “If you think about it, coffee has moved from Folgers and Maxwell House to Starbucks and Peets to Blue Bottle and third wave to fourth wave,” she said. “And I was like, ‘OK, coffee is a drug that you’re going to drink whether it tastes good or not because it keeps you awake, right?’ But people will wait five-plus minutes for it to be a little bit better and pay twice as much for it. And that’s a food category/drink category that you’re usually in a hurry and thinking about work.”

Fisher realized that ice cream is the opposite of coffee in the sense that when you’re enjoying ice cream, you’re typically pausing and soaking in the moment. “If people are willing to wait five minutes for coffee, then I think, hopefully, they’d be willing to wait that long for ice cream if it tastes way better,” she explained.

After going to Starbucks for a day and timing how long, on average, it took a customer to receive a latte, taking into consideration that customers aren’t used to waiting at all when ordering ice cream, Fisher ended up moving her goal to three minutes. Today, Smitten Ice Cream can churn fresh ice cream in front of customers in just 90 seconds.

To hear more from Robyn Sue Fisher, WIRLC members can click here to watch the full keynote from the 2019 On the Road: San Francisco event.

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