Welcome to Trading Places, a small-business series which takes a look at entrepreneurs who have successfully transitioned from working in the corporate world to founding their own business. If you have such a story you'd like to share, please email me.
Three years ago, Laura Howard was living the Hollywood life of glamour that many dream of.
She had a house in the hills, a wardrobe with designer names from Christian Louboutin, Fendi to Mark Jacobs and she dined out in Malibu and Beverly Hills almost every night. As an executive producer for Palomar Pictures, Howard lived a fast-paced life, working long, hard hours and regularly traveling to places like London, Paris and Barcelona.
Her life was luxurious and her job, exciting. But after a few years of working in the entertainment business, Howard couldn't help but feel unfulfilled. Something, she says, was missing.
Howard tried to satisfy the empty feeling by taking up hobbies. She started practicing yoga and even traveled to India, where she became involved in the slow-food movement. "Yoga really helped me slow down and take a big step backwards," Howard says. "Before, life whizzed by me so fast that I wasn't getting the most out of my experiences."
Howard eventually realized Los Angeles, even with all it had to offer, wasn't for her. So in 2004 she packed up her house, moved to a farm in Sonoma County and launched her own goat's milk ice-cream line.
Now, almost three years later, the 40-year-old Howard lives on a 3,000-acre farm -- with her daughter, husband, eleven cats, some goats, chickens and a rooster -- where she runs her thriving business and is happier than she's ever been.
"The biggest change since I've embarked along this new path is that time has just expanded," she says. "Every day feels like a really long period of time. I feel like I'm really living my life now."
: Executive producer for films and commercials
: Founder and owner of
Laloo's Goat's Milk Ice Cream
: While completely different from the work she did in the film industry, "having animals is
also a lot of work," Howard says. "You're up with sun, but you're outside in the most beautiful part of America and you're with living creatures. You're actually energized because it's physical labor. It really can't compare."
"It was also something I was doing completely for myself," she continues. "I own the company 100%, and I knew that I would live or die by what I put into it, which is a very gratifying feeling.
It's something very different than working for a big corporation where you're really killing yourself while it lines somebody else's pockets."
: Howard says she started the company with about $17,000, which went into buying product ingredients, packaging and purchasing a freezer-delivery truck she found on
The $17,000 didn't last long, though, and Howard says she's had to put more money into her business continuously. In 2006, she even brought on two angel investors.
Her company's edge
: "We're the only goat's milk ice cream," the entrepreneur says. Not only does it taste good, it has less than half the fat of regular ice cream and it's suitable for people who are lactose-intolerant. Another edge, Howard says, are her original flavors like lemon chiffon and pumpkin spice.
What she wishes she knew before
: "I wish I had known a little bit more about financing and street-level accounting," Howard says. "That part was difficult in the beginning when I was trying to keep everything organized."
Howard also says she would have appreciated taking a business course before starting the business. "I was always on the creative side of
my previous job and I didn't have a lot of business training," she says. However, in some ways she's happier she didn't approach Laloo's too traditionally, because the business was born out of love and following a passion, Howard says.
: People who are ice-cream lovers, but are health- and weight-conscious, Howard says. "A lot of people look at what they're eating and read labels," she says. "They want to be able to pronounce the things they are eating. That's a big part of our customer base."
Her most well-known retail client, she says, is
Some product favorites
: The best selling flavor, besides Laloo's vanilla and Scharffen Berger chocolate ice creams, is Black Mission Fig.
The Strawberry Darling ice cream, made with fresh strawberries and a swirl of balsamic vinegar syrup, and the Bittersweet Chocolate ice cream made with a cabernet wine swirl, also sell very well, Howard says. Additionally, everyone really loves the Molasses Tipsycake flavor, which includes chunks of hand-rolled oatmeal raisin cookies in molasses ice cream.
: "Get out from behind your desk and go meet people face-to-face," Howard says. "Part of the reason that I was able to get things together as quickly as I did was I didn't sit at home and try to research everything on the Internet. I went out and knocked on doors."
"I think every time you meet somebody in person you get that extra little nugget of information you didn't expect, which turns out to be the valuable thing you needed