How to get rich selling vegan ice cream
YOU'D think that kids would be the people most excited to see an ice cream truck pull up, but office workers on their lunch break will beat them every time.
Serving an eager knot of customers in Prince Alfred Park in central Sydney, 27-year-old Over The Moo founder and CEO Alex Houseman is an unlikely ice cream vendor.
Describing himself as "very lactose intolerant," Houseman started the business in 2015 when he couldn't find dairy-free ice cream that tasted like the real thing.
"I always wanted to own my own business," Houseman says. "All the jobs I've ever had have been in food, and my mum runs a food business herself, so this was always the direction I was thinking."
His first start-up idea came at age 12, making Art Deco birdhouses out of linoleum and trying to sell them to obligated relatives. He sold two.
Thankfully, Over The Moo has proven slightly more successful than the birdhouse business. After experimenting with recipes in his kitchen, Houseman hit on using coconut milk as a substitute and marketing his product to socially conscious, vegan and vegetarian consumers.
The resulting blend of nostalgic appeal and hipster cred gives it a point of difference on supermarket shelves and a way into trendy cafes looking to keep their socially conscious customers happy.
It didn't take long for Houseman to realise he'd hit on something big. Some 900 supermarkets now stock Over The Moo's nine flavours, an astonishing success rate given more than 90 per cent of start-ups fail.
Business has been so good that Houseman has even managed to solve the riddle of cracking Sydney's housing market: To buy a house in Sydney without rich parents, just become an ice cream mogul.
Start-up success stories are seductive, but they often gloss over the gory details. Houseman is candid about the crippling doubt, exhaustion and near-financial ruin that typify the shaky early years of many small businesses.
"I was working for free for the first 18 months - relying on my partner financially for day-to-day stuff, cutting my savings to the bone. One month we had $250,000 in unpaid invoices, $20,000 in wages due, and $45 in the bank. It was pretty scary," he says.
"Even now, I've got four people's careers relying on me, which I'm always concerned about. If people knew how hard it is to start a business, I think way fewer people would do it."
One of Over The Moo's more distinctive touches is the ice cream truck, an old Ford Transit originally shipped over from the United States in the 1980s for use as a Mr Whippy van.
Houseman found the old auto on Gumtree being advertised by a former Mr Whippy franchisee on the NSW south coast. Six months of repairs, revamps and modern touches later, and Sydney's newest ice cream truck hit the streets for the first time in March.
Despite the renovations, some things have stayed the same - notably the Transit's handling, which Houseman describes as "like driving a bathtub". He is not wrong. You don't notice power steering until it's not there.
When the free samples at Prince Alfred run out and the truck's business is done for the day, Houseman relaxes with some of his own merchandise. At least running an ice cream business hasn't done the unthinkable and ruined his taste for the stuff.
"It's a staple," says Houseman. "There's no getting sick of ice cream."