Online business inspired by drawer full of half used tester pots
hen Rob Green opened a little-used drawer at his house and found 20 half-empty paint tester pots, it was the impetus he and old friend Rob Abrahams needed to start the online business they’d been discussing for yonks.
“We’d both spent our twenties and early thirties moving house, and getting stuck into DIY renovations – it became a bit of a running joke how often we found ourselves in B&Q at the weekend, choosing paint,” Abrahams reports. “But seeing all these half-used paint pots shone a light on the real lack of care for the environment within the paint industry, and once we kept pulling at that thread it made us passionate and determined to be different. I knew marketing, he,” Abrahams says of Green, “knew paint.”
That was the impetus to launch Coat, a two-year-old online paint business which has already hit £2 million turnover. The entrepreneurs first met working as marketing interns at BMW – “basically washing posh cars for a year”. Abrahams ended up moving into marketing and tech at motoring start-up carwow, where he joined the company at 25 people and left four years later when it had 200 staff. Green, meanwhile, worked as a project manager at Sherwin Williams, Valspar-owner and the largest paint company in the world – “that’s where the deep knowledge of paint formulations, colour, supply chain and customer comes from,” he says.
The first thing the pair – now both 34 – did to launch Coat was to split the work up: “we wrote every part of a business that we knew from textbooks – from product and formulations, through to stuff like finance and HR – on a whiteboard, and decided who did what,” Green explains. He was in charge of products and operations – which was very hands-on at first: the pair hand-painted swatches, wrote notes to customers and hand-mixed every tin for the first six months. Abrahams’ job was to lure customers, mainly using Instagram at the start. They launched in September 2020, making their own paints in a studio in Camberley, Surrey, and testing them themselves: “there’s a wall in [Abrahams’] house that’s ripped to bits,” laughs Green. “We’d used it to try 30 different ‘substrates’ to find one that was sticky enough, but not too sticky, paint-able, recyclable, and cost effective. We only found the right one after about two months of testing, and it was getting really tight.”
There was no big launch but “we gave a lot of paint to people for free,” the Robs report. “The biggest thing for us was getting paint on walls in real homes.” They began creating monthly color drops with fashion designers and influencers; “It was a great way to use our palette agility – making any color to order. We also created bespoke edits for Urban Outfitters and Heal’s for that reason.”
A 2.5l tin of Coat paint costs around £46, about double what a Dulux tin would cost and around £10 less than a Farrow & Ball one. “We never claim to be the cheapest, but our paints’ coverage is so good you can paint a black wall with one coat of our white paint, our products have one of the lowest levels of CFCs, and collect any dregs of unused paint and recycle or reprocess all of it.”
Not everything has run smoothly: “we once had two tons of paint delivered to [Abrahams’] house, dumped on the street in palettes on a one-way terraced street in London. We had to get a van, and ferry batches back and forth to the Surrey studio whilst simultaneously mixing orders,” says Green. By February 2021, the duo had hand-painted 10,000 swatches, using swathes of cardboard across a paste table: “Sometimes we’d have to use a hairdryer to speed up the drying process and get more done. Both of us now have a piece of that cardboard (covered in all our colors) framed at home.” The founders had to recover from two supplier factories blowing up, and the aftermath of “that ship in the Suez canal – both events reflect pretty persistent challenges with supply chains that us and most businesses are having at the minute.”
Coat was initially funded from £150,000 raised via Zoom from 23 of the entrepreneurs’ friends and family. “Having your parents, grandparents, siblings, and best friends put their hard earned money into us and our idea is pretty big, and it continues to drive us. Unlike a lot of startup founders we’re not from privileged backgrounds either.” But nine months after launch, the duo secured investment from venture capital funds Pembroke and True Capital, with another £3.5 million backing, including £1 million of media support from Channel 4 Ventures, signed in April. This year turnover is set to hit £2 million, with fans including Ronan and Storm Keating and influencer Mrs. Hinch – “when she used ‘Duvet Day’ [paint shade] a few months ago the website basically melted.”
The Robs plan to develop more eco-paint formulations, and have launched in France and Germany and may open a shop in London. “We’re not going to become a Dulux – it means you have to appeal to everyone. COAT is a conscious premium brand with real substance.”
Turnover: £2 million
Credit: www.standard.co.uk /