Barry Freeder always had a creative spirit and a passion for innovation. However it was only when faced with the prospect of redundancy that he decided to finally grab the bull by the horns and start his own business, offering the first of what he envisions to be a range of unique, innovative products designed to solve everyday problems. We spoke to him to find out more about his company Hit Products and its first offering, CouchCoaster

Tell us a bit more about the Hit Products and CouchCoaster offering

Hit Products Ltd was established as a launchpad to develop a range of innovative products designed to solve everyday problems. CouchCoaster is my first offering and is billed as ‘the ultimate drink holder for your sofa’!

And where are you based?

We are based in North Finchley, London but I grew up in Ilford, Essex.

Tell us who you see as your target audience

Initially our key audience was targeting 25 to 45 year-old males, but the product has proven to appeal to a much wider demographic as well.

What do you see as the biggest unique selling point of your products?

Hit Products was set up in 2015 and as the name suggests I wanted to create a brand in which the products launched would live up to their name! So for me, setting my business apart from the crowd began with the very naming of my company.

CouchCoaster is a classic example of an everyday product having been re-invented in a new fashion, and I think it is people’s familiarity with the problem that the product solves, and the simplicity of the solution offered, which makes it compelling for so many people.

I have also been lucky enough to work with a talented designer on CouchCoaster who fully appreciates the importance of blending form and function in product design, and has manifested that balance quite superbly in the final design of the product.

These approaches have resonated really well with CouchCoaster’s customers, and I hope will set a trend for all future products launched under the Hit Products banner.

How long have you been working on the CouchCoaster? Where is it at present?

The first prototype was created in 2010, followed by numerous other prototypes between 2010 and 2014. Hit Products was officially set up in February 2015 to develop CouchCoaster over a 12-month period.

We then officially launched the product at two shows in 2016 – the Spring Fair (B2B) and the Ideal Home Show (B2C). We are now fulfilling a number of domestic and international orders.

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How are you funding the business?

I am a Chartered Surveyor by trade, having worked in the property industry from 2005 to 2015. I was made redundant in February 2015, and was able to self-fund the development of the product from that time. 

Being made redundant was definitely a huge impetus for me to set up my business. I am naturally a risk averse person, but the reality of redundancy was the very much the push I needed to take a complete change of direction.

Where did you get the business idea from?

CouchCoaster was a cardboard mock-up which fitted perfectly around a curved sofa arm. My inspiration for the prototype came from a simple evening in on the sofa with a bottle of beer to hand, and thinking to myself that there had to be a better place to hold a drink on the sofa!

I had a hunch that CouchCoaster was a good idea then, but it took six years of thinking about bringing CouchCoaster to market, and around 15 to 20 more prototypes before I launched the product.

I have always had a desire to run my own business, and knew that it would be some form of ‘product-led’ business from the outset. This stems from my passion for design and technology, where I experimented in graphic, product and web design from an early age. Thus, I grew up testing many business ideas with friends and family, and with the prospect of redundancy looming, I knew I should run with CouchCoaster! My redundancy triggered a complete change of direction for me.

And is this your first startup venture?

I actually set up an online dating site in 2012, which I worked on for 18-months. Incidentally, my funders/partners in that business were the directors of the property company I last worked for!

Let’s talk about your earlier background, was there any entrepreneur from your family?

Sure. I grew up in a middle-class family in the London suburbs. My parents did not attend university and worked in secretarial and mid-management roles. I was very driven and competitive at school across all subjects, but in my free time I would gravitate towards creative pursuits like drawing, painting and inventing.

One of my grandfathers was the joint-owner of a successful furniture design and manufacturing business, so it may well have been his ‘commercial genes’ which have played their part in developing my own business today.

Do you have a mentor or role model who inspired or influenced you?

It may sound like a cliché, but a big part of my inspiration and drive has come from my two favourite television shows: The Apprentice and Dragon’s Den!

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Have you encountered some tough moments to date with this product?

I can describe two very different, but both challenging times. The first was during the early months of developing CouchCoaster, when I had recently left an industry which paid a good and reliable salary, and the realisation of ‘going-it-alone’ kicked in. I experienced constant feelings of doubt, panic and frustration, which were compounded by working in isolation at home.

The second has been managing production in China. This has presented entirely different challenges but particularly when problems have arisen. I have a great working relationship with my factory, but the frustrations of not being able to ‘pop-over’ and discuss a project face-to-face, cannot be understated.

Do you have any goal that you are planning to reach?

I would like to have at least one or two other products launched within the next three years, but in the immediate future, my plans are to expand the reach of CouchCoaster into different parts of the world.

Any advice you can give to those who are considering starting a new venture?

Find a good mentor. They are not easy to come by, but there is nothing better than learning from someone who has been in your industry and made mistakes before you. 

 

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