Meet Paul: Ice-cream Enthusiast turned Entrepreneur
Paul Ballen is confirmation that hard work really does pay off. From feeling uncertain about his professional future, to turning a hobby into a viable business, the proof really is in the pudding.
Although a Johannesburg native, Paul spent much of his childhood in his father’s hometown of New York City. Little did he know that this multi-cultural upbringing would one day become the springboard for his own successful business venture. After following a traditional path that was preparing him for a comfortable corporate job, Paul soon realised his passions lay elsewhere. Today, Paul is an ice cream artisan with four store locations where they produce small batches of homemade ice cream, using only high quality, all-natural ingredients. This is Paul’s story:
My job is really cool! I’ve been doing this for seven years now, but the business is only three years old. I started making ice cream in my parents’ kitchen when I was 21. My role is quite diverse, and involves managing our kitchen. We currently have four stores, which requires a lot of management – there’s a lot of work that goes into managing suppliers, production and staff! I’m very hands-on, and involved in a lot of parts of my business.
ON HUMBLE BEGINNINGS
I was gifted an ice-cream machine for my birthday, and started making my own (ice-cream) during my spare time while I was still studying at Wits for a degree in History & Psychology. My dad is from New York City, so we travelled there annually to visit family since I was young. From my visits, I realised that there was a big ice cream culture there that didn’t exist here in South Africa. When I started making ice cream at home, I was amazed by the good quality of my product yet there was nothing like it available locally.
I started the company around the time Facebook and Instagram started gaining popularity locally so I would post my ice-cream on social media, and soon became associated with my product. I started small by dropping off ice-cream at people’s houses, and before I knew it, I had created a little brand that I called Paul’s Homemade Ice-Cream! At this stage, it was still a side-hobby, and only after completing my Business Diploma at Wits Business School did I start to see my brand’s potential as a viable business. I started discussions with a university friend of mine, and we decided to up the ante and start pursuing the business with more purpose.
ON BUILDING A BUSINESS
It’s hard being an entrepreneur – you have to be willing to face a lot of unique challenges that come with owning your own business. If you really believe in your dream, pursue it with all you’ve got, but just know that there will be a lot of hard work if you want to succeed.
It’s also crucial to stay true to your brand – never lose focus of what you do, and what you stand for. For us, our product is key, so we always have to remember to come back to this important element each time we lose focus.
IN HIS WORDS
“It’s important to do what you love – ultimately, your job is your life, so rather than try and separate the two, find something you’re happy to live with…”
ON LEARNING ON THE JOB
I learnt quickly that good relationships are key to my business’ success. In this business, you can’t afford to have a bad relationship with one of your suppliers, for example. Secondly, honesty is really important – always be upfront with the people you do business with. Misleading people causes huge problems down the line. And lastly, make sure you surround yourself with the right people, and maintain respect for your employees to foster a good relationship. The best business advice I’ve received is that you aren’t a good business without good people. You can’t do everything yourself, and you have to be able to rely on other people to make your business a success. I’ve had to learn to delegate some tasks to the right people who are up to the challenge.
I don’t think I have much of a style. My challenge is that I’m mainly in the kitchen, so I need to make sure I’m comfortable for all the running around that comes with my average day. If I had to describe my style, I’d call it casual, informal and minimalist. I put function and form before trends, and go for neutral colours and plain designs, usually paired with jeans. I love my sneakers and have a big collection!