Whether you’re team banana pudding or key lime pie (team chocolate sea salt, over here!), you know that when you pick up a King of Pops popsicle that the natural ingredients will give away to delicious flavors. Yet, how did cold treat lovers discover this tasty fact? Steven Carse, co-founder and CEO, has simultaneously produced a powerful popsicle story to the Atlanta community and kept quality a priority since its inception (so much that they bought a 68-acre farm just outside of the city to grow their own ingredients). Over the past six years, Carse has grown his brand thoughtfully with the help of his brother Nick Carse — a strong team that embraces both brand and product authenticity.
How do you stay true to your initial values as your company grows? Carse talks to Hypepotamus about staying original through careful marketing and getting one’s hands dirty.
Why is authenticity important for King of Pops as a brand?
A lot of it sounds very obvious, but authenticity is important for our company because it’s how we started as who we are. It’s something that we think as a differentiator. We pay very close attention to it when deciding what to do. For example, when we are choosing partnerships, is it a brand or someone who doesn’t align with our values?
It was what we had to do because we didn’t have money to do a marketing budget or pay to build the brand. We just did everything ourselves. I think that kind of bootstrapping nature is a big part of our culture now so when there’s an option for something, sometimes it’s easier to purchase the best option but we’ll really examine it to see if we could just do it just as good on our own. If we can do it better on our own, we’ll always do that because we feel that it’s going to look better.
What are those values you’re still holding on to?
Our core value is to be resourceful and getting our hands dirty goes with that. For example, our annual King of Pops Field Day at the end of the year, we’re kind of at the point where we could easily hire an events company to do it for us, but we choose not to do that. It adds a lot of headaches and probably it looks less polished, but we feel that it adds a lot of character.
As far as getting your hands dirty, what’s your advice for an entrepreneur who is trying to prioritize what to outsource and what to do DIY?
When you’re starting out, you’re going to have a million things to do and you’re going to have to choose which ones you’re going to spend your money on. You can either spend your money on somebody that maybe has more experience on that particular thing, but isn’t part of your tribe. Or you can learn how to do it with your employees — that’s always been a fun thing for us to do. Don’t be afraid to do it yourself and it’s okay to be an amateur sometimes. I think seeing the finished product, it feels different and better.
When you’re an amateur doing something and you don’t know how to do it, that’s where a lot of innovation will come up too. You’re not following all of the rules that you might’ve developed if you were a 20-year veteran in the business.
How did you prioritized these core values through King of Pops rapid growth?
There are two things: not losing sight of the product quality and realizing that you can’t take a lot of shortcuts. The experience with the person receiving the popsicle is not equal to a close second to the actual product in importance. Sometimes there will be people that may be the most reliable, but there’s something missing. It’s a hard thing to put your finger on, but we want people that are enthusiastic and interesting and fun to talk to as people come to the carts. As long as we can do those two things well from an outside perspective, I think people will continue to be excited about the brand.
How do you balance being authentic to your brand and growing as a brand?
Don’t start to stay the same, you have to keep trying to improve. We are constantly trying to use more local ingredients, more organic ingredients. We’re doing organic practices right now and currently undergoing the 2-year process to get certification. Beyond that, pushing ourselves for more relationships. We have a responsibility, but we are also lucky in that we are now buying enough produce that we can give attention to some farmers and get some really cool stuff done. If you try to maintain your quality, you’re probably going backwards. You have to keep trying to improve it.
As an entrepreneur, vulnerability and being honest with yourself. Often times we think we know things that don’t feel right and it’s easy to not acknowledge or not take part in the solution just because things are going along fine.
As far as marketing and authenticity, before you do something, just think ‘Is this something that anyone is actually going to want or am I doing something just to do something?’ Especially when you’re creating a product. Often times, I think you spend so much time executing the marketing plan and so little time on actually considering if this is something that people really want.
How do you stay inspired through it all and do you have any advice?
For me, in particular, that’s why I’m interested in being involved in the business — the opportunity to try new things and mess around with stuff. Naturally, I have ideas and a few of the ideas can be given a fair shot. That’s the fun part for me, more so than making as much money as possible.
Don’t keep those ideas in your head. It’s important to understand what you’re saying, unless it’s a straight up brainstorming session. If you have an idea, I think writing it down helps you formulate it and make sense of it. Write it down, sleep on it, and look at it the next day. If you still feel good about it, it’s a good sign to start talking to other people about it.
Photos by Isadora Pennington.