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A Righteous Fiasco

Fiasco is a cool name, but what does it mean? Chaos. So what's in a name and does it really matter? How do customers and employees engage with the BRAND, not the name?

James Boettcher joins The Chad & Cheese Podcast again to dive deeper into BRAND and also the RIGHTEOUS stuff that's just around the corner.

Brought to you in close partnership with Smashfly.

Let SmashFly help tell your story and keep relationships at the heart of your CRM. For more information, visit today.


Joel: This Chad & Cheese Cult Brand podcast is supported by SmashFly, recruiting technology built for the talent life cycle and big believers in building relationships with brands, not jobs. Let SmashFly help tell your story and keep relationships at the heart of your CRM. For more information, visit today.

Announcer: Hide your kids. Lock the doors. You're listening to HR's most dangerous podcast. Chad Sowash and Joel Cheesman are here to punch the recruiting industry right where it hurts. Complete with breaking news, brash opinion, and loads of snark, buckle up, boys and girls. It's time for the Chad & Cheese Podcast.

Joel: Oh, yeah. What's up, Chadbots and Cheeseheads? We're back. The cult gathering series marches on. Today, we have quite the treat for everyone. We have, from Fiasco, James Boettcher, hopefully I'm saying that correctly-

James: Yeah.

Joel: ... with the right Canadian accent, probably not, but James, welcome to the podcast, love that you set aside some time-

Chad: Welcome back.

Joel: ... and wanted to chat with us for a second time, which makes me think you're either drunk or need some psychiatric help. But yeah, welcome to the show. We missed you.

James: Yeah, probably a little bit of both.

Joel: So for those that didn't hear the first episode or don't know about you guys-

Chad: Shame on you.

Joel: Which let's be honest, are most Americans have no clue who you guys are. So give us a little bit about you and a little bit about Fiasco.

James: Yeah, sure, Fiasco is an artisan gelato company in Canada, which I acquired about 10 years ago. It used to be one shop and now we're available in all major grocery retailers across Canada, and for me, the question always is, why gelato? And the reality is, it kind of chose me, and we can get into that a bit later, so it's all kind of a happy accident. The thing I love about it is day in and day out I get to build a company that great people come to work and it's kind of on the premise that I build the company I'd want my dad to work for. So it's pretty cool stuff. You could also use some puns there, like it's sweet as well, sweet and cool. But yeah, we're only in Canada now. We're about to venture down south to visit some friendly Americans who like Canadians, so yeah, lots of amazing

things happening.

Chad: Yeah, it's pretty simple when you're bringing gelato south, you're going to have happy Americans is no question. Now you say that you wanted to build a company that your dad would be happy to work at, and that's actually the case, right?

James: True story, yeah. It's been an amazing adventure. He'll celebrate six years with the team, worked for a company prior to us that was a pretty good company, but I think they didn't have a great focus on developing what we'll call senior talent in a weird way, because he is a senior. And he came to me one day and said, "I'd love to be your janitor," and at the time, we couldn't afford a janitor, so I asked him if he'd be our shipper/receiver, and came over, some days back then we'd yell and scream at each other, but I'll tell you one of the best worst decisions I made, but the cool thing is I get to work with my dad day in and day out and as you get older, I'm in my mid-30s, it's pretty special to get to connect with him as much as I do.

Joel: So dude, I'm going to jump right into a conversation that we had started before we pushed record, because I was doing a little bit of research on you guys and turns out there's a Fiasco Gelato in Maine.

James: Yeah.

Joel: And apparently that's a big thing and you guys are making some big changes, so I wanted to just dive into what's going on there and how that can impact a company's brand.

Chad: Well, it's actually Gelato Fiasco, isn't it? Didn't they just take your name and then they just bastardized it? I mean, isn't that what happened?

James: Yeah, you know what? The timelines are a little bit spooky. Fiasco here in Canada, we were founded in '03. We did all the trademarks across Canada, the U.S., Mexico '06, and then about '07, these guys rolled out and I'm not sure if they have Google or Bing or Ask Jeeves, but I think your fiduciary duty when you start a company is Ask Jeeves, Jeeves, is there a Fiasco anywhere? And he would have told you yes, yet they decided to set sail and around 2012, we got a nice letter that basically said you can no longer hold the marks down here, and the reality is, and I don't think it's a bad thing in terms of law, but you can't hold a trademark in the U.S. unless you operate there and we just weren't ready. We were still getting Canada right and figuring things out, so...

Joel: Do you think it was a blatant shoplifting of you guys and your business, or was this a weird accident?

James: Well, I think the word is too weird for it to be a weird accident, to be honest, but I've spoken to the guys. There's not a lot of anger or animosity, there is frustration. The ironic part though is when I took over Fiasco in 2010, part of the deal was acquiring some of these marks and names and I wanted to change the name. I was sort of steadfast on this is a terrible name. It means imminent failure. It doesn't really align with growing....

Chad: Which doesn't go with gelato, because never have I had gelato and it's been a failure. Let's just put it that way, right?

James: Totally. So it was a weird time, and I fought it for a while and then really the only reason I kept it then was because I had this illusion that I owned the marks for Canada, U.S., and Mexico, so then in 2012 when all this stuff happened and had to give it up, it put me in a tough spot, we're growing this really sort of prolific cult, employee-centric brand, and then we end up down the road where we're across Canada and a lot of requests for us in the U.S., not only for our great product but also for our purpose-driven mission that aligns with a lot of the mindset of folks that want to participate in the brand.

James: So it's kind of a weird spot to be. They just went through a packaging change that I don't mean to talk shit, but it emulates another great brand in the U.S. that I think it's a little just too close to home I think, so I wish them well and hopefully the Fiasco name works out for them. I'll tell you, the last 10 years has literally been a fiasco for us. We've been through hell and back several times, and now in my mid-30s I want a name that maybe aligns with peace and sanity is maybe the new name for the brand, Peace and Sanity Gelato.

Joel: So are you in a place to talk about the new name and how you came up with it, or is that going to be under wraps for a while?

James: Well, you know what, I really admire what you guys do and I have a lot of respect and we can probably layer it in here a little bit, and I think it'd be kind of special for the listeners to hear it here first.

Joel: Nice.

James: So yeah, the ethos of the conversation of what the name could be really came back to first of all, a brand name really doesn't mean anything. You look at so many great brands and it started as nothing, right? Starbucks is a siren and this mystical tail, or Blue Ribbon Sports [crosstalk 00:07:38]-

Joel: Google.

James: Yeah, whatever. No one really cares what your name is, they just care what you stand for. And so that kind of gave us a lot of latitude to do some discovery. Where we came to was my dog, who's actually with me today, he's 17, and his name's Shaka, and I got him when I came back from Hawaii in 2002, I think it was, and he just had this chill attitude, sort of surfer, this righteous energy to him, and so then we were like, "Well, let's go with Shaka Gelato, and so we asked 100 people to pronounce five letters, and it was Shaka, it was Choka, it was Chaka Khan, it was... Chaka, Chaka, Chaka Khan.

Chad: And one of the gelatos could be I fell for you.

James: Yeah. Exactly right. Oh, that's good. That's good. So yeah, we kind of were like, fuck, this is not exactly the way we want, we don't want to spend time explaining how to say our name. We'd rather just tell people about

what we do, you know?

Chad: Right.

James: So we've danced around it a bunch and ironically, whether it's surfer culture or the energy of the Hawaiian islands, there's a lot of cool words that come out of that, so that's where we're going with it. It's going to be a word that truly stands for building a company the right way, the company that you'd want your dad or mom to work for, doing things right, all of that good stuff.

Joel: I'm going to predict Mahalo Gelato. I'm on record.

James: Oh, that's pretty good. That's a good guess.

Chad: Mahalo Gelato.

James: But it's never the word you think it is.

Chad: Huh.

Joel: Of course.

James: It's too obvious. That's like Aloha Gelato. We couldn't go wrong with either of those, but I think this one will stand the test of time, be highly identifiable with and the word play a little bit for us gets us a little bit more excitement, like brands like Kinder Method that we look up to that have a word that really explains what they do.

Joel: Dig it.

Chad: Nice. But so, you spent a good amount of money in branding Fiasco, and it is a brand that people feel. You are a cult brand because people love your brand, they love your product, and you've been building that brand for so many years, even though all the catastrophe, the floods and everything else that you guys, the rocks through the windows, those types of things. This still has to be a big move for you guys, right? Or was it really just one of those things where you know what, this is refreshing because I've wanted to do this for so long?

James: Well, I think it's about 90% fear of the emotional attachment we personally have to things, right?

Chad: Right.

James: It's easy to say we're a big deal and we know the name, but you guys, before you got introduced through the fine folks at the Gathering and some other great brands there, you probably had no clue who we were and so it was a bit of discovery that ultimately led you to fall in love with Fiasco. And I think that's where we realized that six letters in front of the word Gelato don't define us, and the irony is is that we have people, it happened to me this week, we have people participate and love our brand. We are a beloved brand and not even know the name. So when I was at an event, I said, "Oh, yeah, I work with Fiasco," and then they were like, "Oh, never heard of it. What is it? Do you have some shops? What is it?"

James: And then I showed them the package, I opened up our Instagram account, and they were like, "Oh my god, I have three of those in my freezer [crosstalk 00:11:15]." So they love what the brand stands for, they love the B Corp certification. They love the package. They love the flavor, they love the quality of the product, yet they don't know who we are, which is actually so magical. I'm so in love with this idea that we have done such a job of being pervasive with the quality and integrity of our company that it's gotten us license to literally not even have a name. That's pretty cool.

Joel: Yeah.

Chad: Well, yeah, and the first time that I think Joel or I have ever had Fiasco was when we were in Banff last year and it was magical, and I thought it was awesome. You brought it to Banff, to the Gathering for everybody to enjoy, and that was awesome. I actually went back for more just so that I had more [crosstalk 00:12:02]-

James: Yeah, we were short a few. I was wondering where they ended up.

Chad: But tell us about this rebranding journey though, because this has to be something that you guys have really thought about. You are seen in your country as a cult brand, whether it is the container, what's in the container, right, but it is still seen as a cult brand. Talk to us about this new journey that you're embarking on and where do you go? How do you do it?

Joel: And how active are your employees in that journey?

Chad: Oh yeah.

James: Yeah, so it's no secret I lead the company holistically and like a tribe, so when we've got mini or mega decisions to be made, there's often gatherings and this continual improvement about thought leadership amongst the folks that I get to work with, and where it started was I said, "We have these viable opportunities to enrich people's lives in America, but we can't exist under the same name. So we either have to give up what I would call cult status, there's no great cult brand in the world that has one name in one country and another name in the other-"

Chad: Right.

James: It just doesn't lend itself to being a prolific cult brand. And I said, "We can do that, we can call it Shaka Gelato in the States and we'll call it Fiasco up here and try to work through it from a PR standpoint or a communication standpoint. Or we can just say it's been a slice for the last 10 with this word that has survived four fires, a flood, two recessions, and all the shit in between of bootstrapping a company."

Chad: The fiasco.

James: Yeah. It's literally been a fiasco. Or we can say, "Who are we really?" Because we kind of got this, when I acquired the company, we were told what our name was, you know? And I think this reinvention and new discovery of really at the core and the heart of our brand, the team has been so, so onboard, and I think the cool thing about employing young folks and having them in the room on these mega decisions is that what I sort of call this blissful ignorance. It's like, you don't really know how hard it is or what the consequences are. You just kind of get what you want to do, right? So I liken it to being a kid and you're like, "Man, I want to swim across this river," and it's like white water rafting river. And you just go for it, and yeah, sure, you might bang your head or do some stuff, but you ultimately just figure it out while you're in the water, and our team is the same way.

James: We're looking at this not as oh, how much do we got to spend to tell people our new name and yada, yada, yada and so on and so forth. We really just got to a point where it was like, this gives us so much energy internally as people that this gets to be ours, wholly and fully, and we really get to share a deeper story about who we are and what we do.

Chad: So being excited instead of afraid.

James: Exactly. There's a great John Wayne quote, it's, "Courage is being scared to death and saddling up anyway." And I have a quote on my office door-

James: Yeah, I have a quote on my office door that says, "Tomorrow you'll be glad you did it today," and so I don't want to say we've procrastinated it, but we've been thinking about it for a while and I think where we kind of got to is celebrating 10 years of my leadership of the organization since acquiring it in 2009 and really sort of an understanding that the fans in the U.S. deserve to be a part of the brand and we really want to have a strong impact, whether it's on the employment side or on the community side in the United States. There's lots of problems to solve and lots of things for us to help put our fingerprints on to make the world a better place.

Chad: We'll get back to the interview in a minute, but first a quick question for Chris Kneeland about the Gathering of Cult Brands.

Joel: The vast majority of our listeners are in talent acquisition, human resources, recruiting. Many of them, if not all of them, have never heard of the Cult Gathering before maybe we started talking about it. For those who are now learning about and maybe asking, "Should I attend or should we send someone?" What message would you send them?

Chris Kneeland: Yeah, that's why I'm so grateful to have met you guys, frankly, because for years we've been talking about this three-legged stool of customers, prospects, and staff, but we've been under-representing the staff portion in terms of our attendees, in terms of some of the subject matter experts that should be there. So even though the CEOs and the brand leaders will talk at length about the things they do to enhance their culture, we haven't had an equal number of people in the audience to be able to action that great advice. So yeah, I would say again, anybody who feels a responsibility to create a business that people will care about, and those people can be customers or employees, would have a ton to learn from the most notable brands in the world getting a sneak peek into what are their talent acquisition strategies?

Chris Kneeland: One of the things that we even ask in the interview process is what percentage of your new hires come from employee referrals versus more traditional head hunting or recruiter fees? You talk to somebody like Zappos, they have 20,000 people on a waiting list in order for the privilege to go work inside that company. Unfortunately, they're the exception, not the rule, and that's because lots of brands have lots of room for improvement for that how they're going about nurturing their talent acquisition strategies.

Chad: Register now at

Joel: Although you're a brick and mortar company for the most part, your digital footprint is really intriguing to me. A few things to highlight, your website has an actual part of a main navigation is culture. Your link to jobs doesn't say jobs or careers, it literally says dream jobs. You're pretty much on every social media channel, which drives that culture and that brand. Talk about just I guess holistically how you look at your digital footprint and how are decisions like calling it dream jobs, which let's be honest, that's a pretty bold statement, right, as opposed to just jobs, how are these decisions made and how are they maintained?

James: Well, I think there's two parts to that. The first one is I really challenge brands to own who they are, so if Nestle put dream job up, I don't know if that's the right move because I think that it's... They've sort of exhausted maybe their credit on being a great employer, and they might be for some folks but they're not for everyone in the organization. So the first is kind of right back to where we started, having my dad in the organization and the decisions we make every day, I was raised with old-town values and he gets to witness this every day and challenge whether or not that is in line with who he raised essentially.

James: So it's easy to make decisions, like right now we're working through maternity and paternity leave, and the question is not how much will it cost us, it comes back to when is a kid fit to go into childcare? And really the answer is like, 12 to 18 months. So I know it's a bit different in the U.S., but in terms of this dream job and this culture we're creating, we're going to do a top up for employee salaries for 12 to 18 months while they raise children.

James: So if that's not a dream job, then I don't know what is, because we really focus on a longterm strategy of changing that most people work for companies now two to three years and jump around, and yada, yada, yada, and us saying, "How can we be flexible, nimble, and care enough truly about our folks that we get to work with to do those types of things?" So I think that the reason we aren't afraid to see it online is because if you come into our building or you meet anyone on the team at any moment, it is palpable and people communicate that to us all the time. So we'd almost be lying if we didn't make it sound like that online.

Chad: Well, that's awesome. And you just talked about B Corp. Everything that we've talked about thus far has been culture, right?

James: Absolutely.

Chad: So on the site, you talk about being a B Corp, Bullfrog Power, Hop Compost. If you're a person who cares about these things, it seems like this is the place you would want to work. How do you pinpoint those types of people or do they just find their way to you?

James: Well, I would say we're fortunate enough that lots of the majority of them do now and we kind of joke that getting a job at Fiasco is maybe harder than getting into Harvard based on a different set of standards, and that's not meant to scare anybody, but the reality is when you apply for a job, we go through a few checks and balances, but then we have what we call the get-to-know-them call, and it's just like, "Hey, what are you up to? What's going on this weekend?" And what we're really looking for is, I hate this conversation about talent and I apologize if I offend anybody, but I don't think that the quest right now to build a cult brand or a really great company should come down to talent.

James: Sure, there's some positions, like especially in tech, where you need really talented folks. I think the conversation really has to shift to quality people, and that's where I come back to in our process, it really, really starts to dig in on who you are, where you came from, what you stand for, and if you truly want to be a part of this. So when folks come to us and they discover us and then we get to discover them, there's this mutual understanding of both sides of these coins bring tremendous value to living an enriched life. Being with people that you want to spend your weekends with or make best friends with or show up when their kid's born or all of those crazy things, and that's really what it comes down to when we go through the process.

James: So it is hard, this kid... I do what's called 30 day founder coffee, and so every employee, no matter where you are, I was just in Toronto for one, between your 30 and 90 day, you get to sit down with me and they're shocked that the CEO would take half an hour or an hour to meet them for coffee in wherever they live, and I'm like, that is the simplest thing I can do. You're about to embark on this journey of building something that is so important to me and so important to our community, and if the CEO can't meet you for coffee and hear who you are and answer your questions, that's a problem.

James: And the cool thing is is I did one last week and this young guy, Bill, says to me, "I wanted to apply. I used to drive by all the time but I was too afraid." And then, I'm like, "Well, why were you afraid?" He's like, "I just knew that that place was so cool." And then I'm like, "Well, how do you feel now?" And he's like, "Like I am enough." And it's like, how cool is that that this guy was like, didn't think he could get a job at a gelato factory, like that crazy, because the brand stood for so much?

Chad: Yeah.

James: And then finally when we listened to him and he got to know us, he is a tremendous contributor, highly valued. How cool is that?

Joel: I want to look at the flip side of this for a little bit, and you can't make everyone happy. Looking at your Glassdoor reviews, by and large, you guys are crushing it. I think you're a 4.3 out of five stars. I think your rating as a CEO is above 90%, which is really solid. But you do have some people that criticize the culture, just looking at some of the reviews, someone said, "Repeating the word culture does not create culture," etc. So I'm curious, how do you look at the folks that don't get it or don't connect to what you guys are doing? Do you ignore it? Do you learn from it? Do you try to change? Or do you just stay the course when you look at employees that aren't happy in the culture that you've created?

James: Yeah, so a couple things there. I always share with our team there's something to learn, so you might get someone that just is upset or complaining or truly underperformed and this is their way of slighting the company when we ultimately had to say, "You can't stay here because we really do need everyone to do their jobs." And that's a collective mindset. But when you read between the lines a little bit, you're like okay, like one person I think in one of those, I'm trying to think back, but one of them says, "Long hours for events." And I'm like, okay, I appreciate that comment. However, I don't know if you've been to a festival where there's music and bands and a really good time is what I would really [crosstalk 00:25:25]. And then you get to, your job that you get paid good money to do is hand out gelato. There's a bit of a disconnect on yeah, it might've been a bit of a longer shift, but you're also in the coolest job in the world right now, so maybe there's a bit of a trade off.

James: So what we learn from those things is communicating upfront, you're going to go to this festival. You like music? Yeah, cool. Well, cool, watch your favorite band when they come on and then hop back to the truck, the truck's there or the team, and then keep rolling. We really treat it with you got something fun you want to do, travel, see a band, whatever? That's not defined by the hours you work. And I think the other thing that comes back on this is we have a very, it sounds like a really fluffy and fun, we got this teal truck, there's a dog as a mascot, we make ice cream, gelato, whatever. But the reality is is the only way we've achieved what we have is we're like an A-team, and we don't really have an opportunity to have this what I would call a regular business, where there's this acceptance of not wanting to work with the person next to you who under contributes.

James: So in the first 90 days, we have a ton of check-ins. We're very serious about that probation period. And our goal, I always say once I've signed off, because I literally sign off on their employment agreement, I say it's on us to help them win in the first 90, and sometimes unfortunately, as an employer, you cannot get people to get out of their own way, and so they're stuck on something that has jarred them from the past of an employer maybe taking advantage of them or not treating them right, and then they come to us and they think we're like that and we're absolutely not, but we still are garnered with whatever reputation their ex-employer did. So then when we say, "Hey, we need to move a bit quicker here or we need to improve this or this, you need to know this," kind of thing, and they sort of fight back.

James: I'm at a loss at that point and I always say it's unfair for us to keep these people what I would call imprisoned in a company where they may not succeed. We need to set them free and they're going to find another company that they're going to be great at. Everyone's great, they just may not be great in our company.

Joel: Well, it's refreshing, the simple fact that you look at those and you take them to heart and you try to improve yourself. Because I can tell you, a lot of companies put their face in the sand and ignore it. So the fact that you at least read those and act on them I think is a refreshing change from what a lot of companies do.

James: Thank you, yeah. There's literally always something to learn, no matter how frustrated or angry or full of contempt people are. Somewhere in between these lines there's something to take away.

Chad: As you grow, because obviously you have your sights on the south, right, the United States, so as you continue to grow, how are you going to have coffee with newbies? And then also as you continue to grow, one of the things that we heard from Douglas Atkin from Airbnb is they had to identify when their culture was getting wobbly, is what he called it. How do you guys do that? As you grow, how do you keep that delicate balance of a great culture and doing once again what we're just talking about, being able to identify when there are some individuals who might not fit the culture and you just have to make those hard decisions, or they make the hard decisions and leave themselves? How do you do that? How do you identify? How do you have that coffee?

James: Well, I think as we continue to grow, I've been steadfast and committed with this, so I'll just go back to a very simple concept. If someone's going to join the journey to live out what effectively is my dream that I've enlisted the support and minds of others, that's on me. And so I think something as simple as for our part-time events team, there's a group of them, so I get together when they're doing orientation and so it's not exactly a founder coffee, but I'm like, "Do you guys have any questions?" And I literally put it out, we operate on Slack, and I'm like, "If you ever need me, just reach out." No joke kind of thing. So yeah, if we jump into the U.S. and all of a sudden we're building this amazing brand team, field marketing team that's going to go across and share the dream, I'll get on a video Skype with them and we'll have a chat.

James: So in one way or another, it's important that they feel safe, that they have the opportunity to connect, maybe ask a question that they were curious about what the past looked like or what the future looks like. But more importantly, knowing that at any moment they can jump into Slack or even book five minutes with me or 10 minutes or an hour to go over things, because I'm here to serve them and I don't think that it would be crazy to think that at a company that maybe has two or three or maybe even 10,000 employees one day that that could not just be the most important part of the role that I do, because that's everything. They serve all of our fans, and that's the connection that they need to fully and wholeheartedly believe that they have that same connection with me.

Joel: Well, James, we thank you for your time today, for our listeners out there who want to learn more about the company or you, where should they go?

James: Yeah, or .CA you'll find us, and if you keep your finger on the pulse right around the time of the Gathering, actually, you'll see it start rolling over to a new and exciting name and we hope that all our fans and friends will join us on that journey and fall in love with the new version of us. We're not going to change too much out of the gate, we want to keep visually the brand the same. There's a lot of strength with that, but we will be identifying with a new name that is pretty righteous, so...

Joel: Now does that mean the free samples at the Gathering will be the new brand or the old brand? Because I don't think it really matters, but I'm just curious.

Chad: I just want to make sure there's free samples.

Joel: Yeah. Free samples is what we want.

James: Yeah, they will be there, and either they'll be the clear out of the old name or the freshest new version of us.

Joel: Nice.

Chad: Either way, just make sure you bring a little extra this time please. Thanks.

James: Hey, no problem, and I'll try to get some to Indiana for you guys.

Chad: That'd be awesome.

Joel: And with that...

Chad: We out.

Joel: We out.

James: Peace.

Walken: Testing one, two, three. Thank you for listening to, what's it called? The podcast. Yeah. The Chad, the Cheese, brilliant. They talk about recruiting. They talk about technology. But most of all, they talk about nothing, just a lot of shout outs to people you don't even know, and yet you listen. It's incredible. And not one word about cheese. Not one. Not cheddar, blue, nacho, Pepper Jack, Swiss. There's so many cheeses and yet not one word. It's so weird. Anywho, be sure to subscribe today on iTunes, Spotify, Google Play, or wherever you listen to your podcasts. That way you won't miss an episode and while you're at it, visit Just don't expect to find any recipes for grilled cheese. It's so weird. We out.

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