Henry Milroy’s Lessons From Building The World’s #1 Ice Cream Roll Brand

Sep 01, 2020
Created by the author — original image from Henry’s Instagram


Henry Milroy wanted to drop out of university but he needed a killer idea to start his own business. This came to him in the most unexpected of places; a backpacking trip around Thailand with his best friend.

While wandering the beachfront, they came across the magic of fried ice cream rolls. A whole crowd had gathered around to see a liquid mixture being turned into a tasty masterpiece before their eyes. The next day whilst relaxing on the beach, they made the decision to change their lives and bring ice cream rolls to the UK.

Everything moved fast when the trip was over. They bought their own machines and started to perfect their recipe. Soon they were up and running with their own food truck called the Bubba Truck and playful Pan-N-Ice brand.

The London Food Festival was where they had their big break when the owner of the busiest shopping center in the country loved their brand and wanted to give them a prime location. The Bubba Truck moved to London and the whirlwind began with a flood of event bookings and new locations. Pan-N-Ice was a product everyone wanted a piece of with a monumental 272,000 Instagram followers.

Of course, the pandemic hit the business hard but Henry spotted an opportunity. Pan-N-Ice now sells home DIY kits so fans can create their own rolls from home. The response has been strong with demand from all over the world. It’s been a steep learning curve for Henry but he wants to help others to live their dreams and here are the top lessons I picked out from our discussion.


Being an entrepreneur is “bloody hard”

Henry was full of optimism when Pan-N-Ice began and he dreamed bigger and better after every small win. The reality was a lot harder than he could ever imagine and he had to withstand a “bombarding of failures” over the years.

There are many times he could have given up, but he stays committed to his vision and the business has thrived for 5 years. Even in the face of the pandemic, which at one point reduced Pan-N-Ice income to zero, Henry didn’t quit.

Henry’s mindset has transformed in those years and he considers himself much more a realist now. If you’re reading this and planning to start a business then prepare yourself for the downs because they will come. Henry likes to reframe them by acknowledging they will be part of your future success so “see it as a positive because you will learn from it”.


Set responsibilities early and trust the system

Few things make a friendship more intense than running a company together. Luckily, both founders were both bundles of energy who loved their business and what they were doing. They were both inexperienced at the start and their relationship had to change as the company grew.

Henry wishes they set out clear responsibilities earlier to focus on their individual strengths. Everything slows down when two people need to be involved in every decision. It felt strange to be formal about their roles because they had been friends for so long but they both became far more efficient afterward. It’s vital to trust your partner to deliver and focus on your part.

It was emotional for Henry when his co-founder left the business and he needed to work out exactly what void would be left within the company. The clearer roles they had in the last couple of years made this far easier and meant Henry could reallocate those tasks. Not every business relationship will last forever so it’s important to have a solid plan B.


The challenge is maintaining hype after the spike

If you watch a video of Pan-N-Ice being made, you can’t be surprised they went viral across social media. The founders were invited to a host of popular TV shows and events such as Google and Facebook’s Christmas parties. The company raced to 100k followers on Instagram in less than 2 years but like any other new product, the novelty eventually wears off.

The work put into the branding is what separates Henry’s approach from founders who burn bright then fade away. Anyone could buy the same equipment but “they can’t replicate the vibe and experience of Pan-N-Ice”.

Sooner or later any product advantage over the competition will be eroded which is why it’s important to build the company’s recognition early. People think of Pan-N-Ice before they think of ice cream roll. Can you do the same for your business?


Absorb advice but trust yourself

As you can imagine, many people didn’t take 21-year-old Henry seriously when he told them about his business. They were quick to lecture him on all the things he didn’t understand and what he should be doing instead. They were certain it would fail but time has proven Henry right.

Henry advises other entrepreneurs to “be quiet and listen to experts” but then analyze for yourself and trust your gut above all else. The time taken to create the ice cream was a particular battleground. Outsiders told him it was too slow and would cripple the business. Supposedly, he should have focused all his energy on engineering a process to make it faster.

Henry disagreed as the spectacle of the ice cream roll being made was a key part of the experience and the queues attracted more people to see what the fuss was about. Customers loved to film the process while they waited and this gave Pan-N-Ice a flood of free publicity.

Everyone has a different opinion but only you can make the right decision for your business.


Take things slower to be where you want to be

Startup life began as a rollercoaster as Henry admitted: “there was no limit to what we would say yes to”. Each decision was partly taken on how cool it sounded rather than business logic. While he has no regrets about a summer of racing around the country serving ice cream at every festival, it’s not something he could sustain!

Life became so busy that his “stress levels went through the roof” and he felt spread too thin. He thinks a calm business is overrated and from our interview, it was clear to see he is in a much better headspace. At one point, they 12 locations but the growth was too fast so it was impossible to manage. Now there are two permanent sites that are run flawlessly. Henry has great managers in place and is freed up to work on the larger business strategy.

Take the time to think about the lifestyle you want as an entrepreneur as the 24/7 hustler mindset is more draining than the internet would like you to believe. Henry is now “exactly where he wants to be.”


Never stop learning

Henry was never academic and firmly believes you don’t need a fancy degree to be successful. This doesn’t mean he doesn’t value education highly through other channels though.

He loves learning from other founders and their stories. He advises other entrepreneurs to find mentors and go to talks held by people you admire. Surround yourself with people who are curious and passionate but never forget your support system.

Sam Walton, the founder of Walmart, is an inspiration to him as someone who started small and grew a massive empire. Henry is paying close attention to how Sam motivated his employees and the management prowess he possessed. The jump from university to CEO didn’t leave Henry much time to focus on these skills and it’s his key ambition now to become a great team leader. The people who work for him are great and he wants to keep them happy.

I was left impressed by Henry’s humility and desire to improve himself.


Wrap up

Henry is now focused on the exciting prospect of diversifying the business with DIY home kits. He believes the scalable nature of the product will form a powerful new pillar alongside Pan-N-Ice events and stores in the post-pandemic world.

Here are his top lessons:

  • Being an entrepreneur is “bloody hard”
  • Set responsibilities early and trust the system
  • The challenge is maintaining hype after the spike
  • Absorb advice but trust yourself
  • Take things slower to be where you want to be
  • Never stop learning

Thank you for reading and have a wonderful day

Amar's Letter

Real talk on driving impact as an imperfect human.