Huski co-founder Simon Huesser talks developing a product with its customers and where he hopes the business be in 10 years time.
What does your business do?
We produce thermal technology drinkware which is a fancy way of saying we help people make the most of their drinks. Our first product is a hand-held stainless steel cooler that keeps your beer ice-cold while you drink. We started working on the concept earlier this year and officially started the business at the end of May.
What sparked the idea?
I've always loved cold drinks. I'm not super fussed on what brand of beer it is, as long as it is super cold. A year ago my wife Meika and I were coming back from London after 10 years and took five months off to a do bit of travelling. We did a road trip from Miami to LA over five weeks, and came across these thermal vacuum insulated stainless steel drinkware which was being used by quite a few people which we thought was interesting.
I wanted to buy a few of them but we were trying to be light so came back to New Zealand and tried to order them, couldn't find them, and had to order one from the US. We tried to use it when it arrived but it didn't work.
It turns out New Zealand beers in bottles are different sizes to other countries, and they we thought people might be interested in this product - I definitely was - and so we did a few surveys to community groups. Within 24 hours we had over 200 responses on a survey and it was something people really seemed interested in.
How many employees do you have and where are you based?
We have one full-time employee - me. At the moment business operations are based out of our friends lounge in Ponsonby. Next week we're in Grafton and the week after that we're in Onehunga. Since my wife and I moved back to New Zealand just before Christmas last year, we've been house sitting to enable us to save money to invest in the business.
You product is manufactured in China, tell me about the process?
We would have loved to work with local partners to develop our products but it quickly became apparent that because we were looking for such a specialised technology solution, requiring specific processes and materials, that manufacturing in China would provide a better quality, faster and more cost-effective solution.
The challenge was finding a partner in China we could trust would work with us to develop the product and do it to a high standard within our budget. This meant an extensive search and vetting process of potential factories and trading companies.
We looked at many and choose to engage with 25 before we were comfortable progressing to review samples and develop prototypes. Once we had our preferred partner, it was a case of testing the designs until we had a product we were happy to take to market. You pay a price for manufacturing in China in that it is time-consuming and you need to be incredibly focused on details to ensure you aren't surprised with outcomes. Platforms like Alibaba for connecting factories and producers, buyers and tools such as Skype, WhatsApp and WeChat have made the world much more accessible for people to turn their ideas into reality.
You took a chance on pre-orders, tell me a bit about this?
We really wanted to make sure we were producing something that people would value, so we did a lot of concept and product testing. Pre-orders were part of the process to try and reduce the risk of us investing time and money into something people weren't going to spend their hard earned money on. Initially, we started by talking about the idea with friends and family to get their thoughts, but we weren't sure how objective this feedback was so put together an online survey.
The feedback was positive, we got 250 responses in less than 24 hours and found that 93 per cent of beer drinkers noticed a change in temperature of their beer while drinking. We decided to test whether people would really pay for the product and set up a transactional website for free on Shopify and bought $50 worth of ads on Facebook to see if anyone would actually buy our cooler.
Within two days we had two orders for three products and an enquiry to place a bulk order with their company branding. This was finally enough validation for us to proceed to invest and develop the product to bring it to market.
What's the biggest challenge you've faced running Huski?
Unfortunately, it's not all sitting around drinking cold beers testing coolers. There were hundreds of hours of research that went into determining how we overcome problems like the variance in beer bottle sizes in the beer market. This had us going through recycling bins to get a selection of all the different beer brand bottle types to measure them and work out how we could build one product to fit them all.
We've put quality product development and selection at the core of what Huski stands for and this means the biggest challenge is delivering on the expectations to produce remarkable products with exceptional performance.
What are your long term plans for Huski?
It's very early days for us, but at the core, we created Huski in the belief that there's a better way to enjoy cold drinks. We've broadened our vision and would love to see Huski become New Zealand's premium thermal-technology drinkware brand offering innovative and stylish products. If you look at what Sistema has done with plastics, we want Huski to become the Sistema of stainless steel.
What advice do you give people thinking of starting their own business?
Life is too short not to try. If you think you'll regret not trying it, go for it. And with the tools available today, there has never been an easier, faster, or cheaper time to explore whether your idea has potential or not.