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From meeting in a seventh-grade gym class in 1963, to opting for a $5 course where they began their journey into the industry, this dynamic duo carved a unique path into a much loved industry.

It was the 1970’s and struggling artist Ben Cohen alongside failed doctor Jerry Greenfield, had a goal of starting a business in the realm of food. They weighed up their options, evaluating the pros and cons, almost opting for a bagel business until they realised the cost would be too high. That’s when they chose ice-cream due to the cheaper startup costs, little did they know what an impact they would eventually make in said industry.

To start with Cohen and Greenfield needed to know an essential skill: how to make ice-cream! They found a $5 correspondence course offered by Penn State and opted in. They split the cost and learnt the basics, passing the necessary exams. When creating their signature flavours, one apparent hurdle was Cohen’s anosmia, a condition making it hard for him to smell, hence creating a significant difficulty when it was time to tell apart various flavours. This welcomed in the Ben & Jerry’s touch of placing large chunks of the ingredients into the ice-cream, in turn making it easier to identify the flavours through better mouthfeel.

Alongside a completed course in ice-cream making, the duo also read up on businesses practices from managing books to calculating break-even points, all found in 20 cents leaflets located in the post office. With the basic knowledge and understanding covered they now needed to find a place from which to sell their product. They managed to find and convert an old gas station in Burlington, Vermont. With $8,000 ($4,000 from each of them) accompanied by $4,000 from the bank, they had their location sorted. Opening their first store in 1978: Ben & Jerry’s was born!

Initially Cohen and Greenfield figured the likelihood of their business surviving 6 months was very slim. So they made a promise, that if they reached a year, to give away free ice-cream to everybody as an anniversary celebration. The humility in their perspective of their prospects can be seen in the following comment made by Ben Cohen when interviewed by the Boston Post (2003):

“…the original thought was, we’ll do this for a few years and then sell the one shop and with the money we get, we’d buy a tractor-trailer and become cross-country truck drivers. Didn’t work out that way.”

The Ben & Jerry’s ice-cream brand surged in popularity allowing the company to go public in 1984, with its total worth at $30 million just three years later. Known for ice-cream names bearing references to such things as pop culture, the brand has thrived with its quirkier approach along with its social activism.

In 2000 the pair sold the company to Unilever for $326 million, whilst staying involved in a diminished capacity. This is a minute glimpse into the business journey of Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield. Quite the outcome for a $12,000 investment, don’t you think?

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