Strange Success

From 321 degrees below zero to $200K in sales

"Scot Rubin is a talk show host, producer, founder of All Games Productions, All Games Network and co-founder of the G4 television network."

That's the first line of Scot Rubin's bio on Wikipedia. Down at the very end of the paragraph is this: "Rubin is also the founder of Nitropod, a frozen ice cream company."

Rubin, 46, would like to flip-flop those two lines and have the last line go first. "We want to sell millions of dollars of ice cream," he said.

This, from a guy who is lactose intolerant and not very talented in the kitchen. More on that later.

Scot Rubin mixes a batch of liquid nitrogen ice cream.
Jeniece Pettitt | CNBC
Scot Rubin mixes a batch of liquid nitrogen ice cream.

Nitropod boasts that it makes better tasting ice cream from natural ingredients. Rubin uses liquid nitrogen to flash freeze the ice cream at minus 321 degrees Fahrenheit. "The freezing happens so quickly, that the ice crystals — the water molecules, the milk molecules — end up microscopic." This makes the resulting product creamier.

Rubin first saw nitrogen-frozen ice cream in the middle of the hot desert at the Burning Man festival in 2010. "I thought that was really cool," he said. The ice cream tasted delicious, and Rubin wondered, "What if you could make ice cream this way for thousands of people, instead of just a handful of people?"


Up to that point, the Boston native had already achieved great success in a completely different field. Here's the basic scoop (pun intended) on Rubin's path to ice cream:

— He helped pay for college working as a bartender for Club Med.

— He made his first website in the mid-'90s, teaching himself how to code from a magazine.

— He persuaded video game companies to send him new games, which he would review on his site, allgames.com.

— Eventually he helped launch the G4 network, where, among other things, he was an on-air host.

— Leaving G4, Rubin returned to producing online content, where he also made his biggest mistake, ignoring an idea that would become Twitch.tv, "which just sold to Amazon for $750 million, so that's a pretty big miss." (Twitch actually sold for close to $1 billion.)

But back to the nitrogen ice cream, Rubin first saw at Burning Man. He thought making it would be a fun hobby. "It was just an idea of, 'How can I give something to the people at Burning Man for free?'"

He soon discovered giving the ice cream away might not be worth it. Rubin found a mixer that could handle liquid nitrogen, but it cost $36,000. "I realized I was going to have to spend some serious money," he said. "Liquid nitrogen tanks, liquid nitrogen hoses, cryogenic mixers, nitrogen itself, everything started to build up in cost, and I said, 'OK, well, this has got to be more than a hobby.'"


Rubin cashed out his 401(k) to finance Nitropod in 2012. He rented out a kitchen, began building an ice cream truck, and started selling product. "When I started to put this stuff in people's mouths, they would look at me and say, "Wow.'"

In all, Rubin has invested $200,000, but the entire enterprise almost melted away immediately. The company outfitting Nitropod's truck failed to deliver in time for the company's coming out party. Rubin missed an entire summer of business, forcing him to bring in four investors to keep the ice cream business afloat. "Every time I thought this is it, this is done, something from the universe said, 'No.'"

Nitropod did survive, and now it's growing. Last year's revenues hit $200,000, recouping Rubin's initial investment ("I do not recommend people take large chunks of their 401(k), IRA out, because you have to now pay taxes at the highest rate on that money").


Nitropod
Jeniece Pettitt | CNBC

Current flavors include French Toast and Salted Caramel. There's a vegan option with an avocado base, which tastes like key lime pie and sells for $24 a pint. Rubin likes that one in particular, because he can eat it without taking a lactate pill. Is it crazy that a guy who can't eat ice cream is making a living selling ice cream? "It's not crazy," Rubin laughed. "Have you tasted the ice cream?"

One of the trickiest parts of the new endeavor has been learning to work with liquid nitrogen. The nitrogen doesn't stay in the ice cream, as it quickly burns off in the freezing process. The only danger is that it can also burn your skin if there's too much contact. The health department balked at allowing Nitropod to have liquid nitrogen on a food truck, until Rubin brought in a lawyer. "I had to explain to them that there are trucks driving around every day with propane tanks, which makes them driving bombs," he said. "Liquid nitrogen is not explosive."


In addition to sales made from the ice cream truck and catering, some grocers have called asking to put Nitropod on shelves. Rubin thinks he's on the verge of changing the entire frozen dessert industry. He's never been one to think small, and he credits part of his success with growing up with a hearing disability. "A lot of times I'd sit at the back of the classroom, and because I didn't really understand, I couldn't really hear everything, I'd just kind of start daydreaming and come up with ideas."

Crazy ideas like creating a website that reviews video games, or starting a television network devoted to gaming, and now ... ice cream. "I was terrible in science. I was terrible in chemistry. I was terrible in cooking," Rubin said. "But I have always been driven to do things that are kind of fun, magical, that have never been done before."

Disclosure: CNBC parent NBC Universal was a co-owner of the G4 network.