Shirley and Addison Hayden are entrepreneurs who recently pitched their product, The Unique Seat, on Steve Harvey’s Funderdome TV show. Black Enterprise contributor Brandon Andrews sat down with the pair to find out exactly what The Unique Seat is and how in the world they came up with the invention.
Brandon Andrews: Tell us the Unique Seat story. When were you inspired to start the business?
Shirley: They often say that necessity is the mother of invention. Having a young child at the time and wanting to have an enjoyable day going to the beach created the necessity for The Unique Seat for me and many other outdoor enthusiasts. I recall how frustrating it was to pack and carry all the comforts of home with us to enjoy a family day at the beach. That’s when the idea for The Unique Seat came to me. After setting up for the day at the beach I sat thinking, “there has to be a better way to do this” and I received a clear vision of what The Unique Seat would look like. I remember coming home and drawing the vision in detail and therefore beginning the creation of my first prototype.
I showed my handmade prototype to my friend Sybil and she was so excited that she encouraged me to market “The Unique Seat.” She was so inspired she even came up with our tagline: “Carry Your Indoor Comforts to Your Outdoor Fun.”
We started the search to find a company to manufacture and make a real prototype. After some time passed, I finally started working with ProtoSew, The Unique Seat [took] form and become a real product. It has changed three times since the original handmade prototype, and each time it gets better.
The Unique Seat is a “unique’ combination of innovations; blanket, seats, materials, etc. How did you decide on this mix of pieces to create the product?
Addison: The way that the pieces were selected for The Unique Seat included ideas to enjoy outdoor events in comfort, as well as fixing the annoying flaws that came along with these items. The Unique Seat is equipped with two versatile chairs that attach to bleachers, roll into pillows, and have pockets. The interconnected queen-sized blanket is weighted on all of the corners as well as a waterproof bottom to keep everyone comfortable.
(The Unique Seat on Funderdome. Image: The ABC Television Network. (ABC/Lisa Rose))
How did you feel pitching your business in the Funderdome?
Shirley: It was absolutely exhilarating pitching on Funderdome and this was actually our first time ever pitching together. Addison actually influenced me to take the pitch in a different direction. It was challenging at first to change what I had been doing, however with direction from our awesome casting team and our team at home, we started to get comfortable with the new pitch. Stepping on the stage to pitch the audience was really one of the greatest moments for me personally. It also played a huge part in helping me overcome my issue with stage fright.
Addison: While pitching on Steve Harvey’s Funderdome I was very nervous, but also confident in our product. The energy of the crowd definitely helped get us excited to where we were able to speak genuinely and keep our enthusiasm.
You won the audience vote! Were you tempted to cash out?
Addison: Before we arrived at the show I told my mother we were in it to win it so we would not take the cash out offer no matter what. Throughout the show, I was not tempted to cash out because of how the crowd reacted to our product. My mom, on the other hand, looked like she wanted to take the offer. Given the amount of hard work and money put into The Unique Seat, the decision to not cash out was validated by the Funderdome crowd and through their constant excitement.
Shirley: I was pretty sure we had a proven product and believed the audience would use The Unique Seat more often than our competition. I was not tempted to cash out but did a check in with Addison just in case. He was really clear with a smile and his “no way” look so cashing out was not an option and I am glad it wasn’t needed.