Guest Column: Fernish Co-Founder Says He's Taking Every Precaution During COVID-19

Lucas Dickey
Lucas Dickey is an aspiring polymath, lover of inventions and the co-founder of Fernish.
Guest Column: Fernish Co-Founder Says He's Taking Every Precaution During COVID-19

Let's call this the 'lede' and not bury it: I'm a co-founder, father, partner, community member and I've got a lot going on in my head right now. This piece serves as a rapid-fire, stream of consciousness glimpse into my mental montage, which at times shifts swiftly from Boschian fear-scapes, to gallows humor, to intentional positivity to give the vagus nerve the stimulus it needs right now.

Courtesy of Fernish

However, a bit of a necessary preamble here to know prior to digging in further: I'm co-founder of a company in L.A. — that also operates in the original U.S. coronavirus hotspot, Seattle — called Fernish, a full-service premium furniture rental company. It's important to share this bit of background:

A) Much like all VC-backed startups we're always thinking about the next raise, managing cash flow closely, and doing everything we can to retain staff,

B) That we have in-the-field delivery staff that are still entering customers' houses and apartment buildings despite possible exposure and accompanying risk, and

C) Our business has the "fun" and complexity of any bits+atoms business, including supply chain, logistics infrastructure, fixed capital costs associated with things like warehousing, and other upstream ramifications.

Also, much of what "I" am thinking about and "I" am doing are a direct reflection of my co-founder, Michael Barlow, our COO, Kristin Smith, and the rest of our team at large. And with that, we can begin…

What I'm thinking about:

  1. Our team. I'm spending probably 50% of my mental space thinking about the Fernish team. That might be an underestimation given 200% startup capacity. Questions like: Will our team even be able to continue to operate legally? Will there be an unexpected change to businesses designated as "essential services" that'll force us to shut down our warehouses or delivery services? Will we continue to receive demand for our services while people are hunkered down in order to justify the variable cost of contracted labor (i.e. keeping those non-Fernish employees we think of as our "team" employed)? Will our team be safe—both physically and psychologically—during these unprecedented times? Will our team have confidence that we know WTF we're even doing? (That last one is standard founder imposter syndrome that's only exacerbated given current circumstances.) Can we continue to live by our operating values—the values that should reflect who we are in thick and thin?
  2. Our customers. What can we do for them differently in terms of the service we're offering? What new product selection should we consider for them to meet their (temporarily?) changing needs? What sort of financial impact will "stay in place" orders have on their lives, their livelihood, and—not to be crass in any way, but—their ability to continue paying Fernish for their monthly subscription plans? And on a longer horizon, will they think of their home's differently and how might that interact their relationship with Fernish?
  3. Reading: Part 1: Biz Lit as a Tool. I'm reading. A lot. I've always read a lot, but I've found myself circling back to classics like Ben Horowitz's "The Hard Thing About Hard Things", his original "Peacetime CEO/Wartime CEO" blog post, Andy Grove's "High Output Management" (which is my all-time favorite business book). But I'm also reading new pieces by the likes of NfX including "28 Moves to Survive (& Thrive) in a Downturn" and dot.LA Chairman (and amazing operator) Spencer Rascoff's post "Advice to CEOs on Their Upcoming Layoffs — From Someone Who Has Done it Before". I have a strong preference and bias for sober, clear, and practical advice from those who have been there and done that, hence Ben and Spencer's posts speaking to me. Whether facing these choices directly or just to have back-of-pocket for "what if" scenario planning, these are great tools for steeling yourself mentally, and honing your empathetic muscles a bit in an anticipatory fashion.
  4. Reading: Part 2: The News as Direct Input to Operations. Much like everyone else, I'm following COVID news closely, but especially—much like my founder and operator peers—I'm following news out of Capitol Hill and state/county/municipal governments vis-a-vis fiscal stimulus packages, ever-changing "safer-at-home" order details, and further things that directly impact Fernish and offer us a lifeline via credit facilities, tax deferments, grants, and anything else that helps Fernish extend our runway AND has an impact on how we keep our front-line staff as safe as possible (i.e. Team Fernish delivery drivers and warehouse workers). Thank GOD that congress just managed to pass a multi-trillion dollar COVID financial package.

What I (and Fernish executive team) are doing:

  1. For our team. We've tightened all of the safety guidelines, secured all the cleaning and protective gear we can responsibly hold (as yes, we're being mindful of the health community needing this same gear), and are proactively reaching out to customers in advance of delivery to verify that no one in the destination household is symptomatic (while simultaneously being aware that COVID can be transmitted even by asymptomatic carriers). And for our now-distributed HQ team WFH, we're holding more virtual events (virtual taco Tuesday, virtual happy hour…but honestly our team is "caring for the communal" and arranging these from the bottom up), checking in daily over Slack on mental/physical health, and trying to make the teams as productive and happy as they can be in their "new" surroundings. And we're discussing all of this daily as an exec team as part of a recurring COVID war room (and yes, fighting this epidemic really does feel like war, even for us who aren't front-line medical professionals). So, succinctly: safety and security.
  2. For our customers. Like many of our delivery peers, you can expect to see options for "no contact delivery"—win, win for the customer and our team. We're also beefing up office furniture for the WFH masses that weren't quite set up for this to be an everyday thing for months. We're working out how to manage the inevitable financial hardships of our customers in the face of unexpected downtime due to sickness or unemployment due to business closures or at least furloughs. We're showing empathy in all of our communication—this is not new, but we're doubling down here as hardship runs rampant. Not surprisingly, these initiatives, much like those for our team, are also about safety and security.
  3. For our community. We're giving our time to our peers, as we always have, to contemplate all sorts of scenarios and how to manage that in the context of our businesses. We're giving our money to charitable effortsthat will ideally help those in the communities within which we operate. We're participating in forums to share thoughts, emotions, and posting things like this…that make us vulnerable, but also allow us to connect and allow others to feel isolated within the constraints of social distancing.
  4. For our company. As any fiscally responsible business should in a time of market volatility and economic uncertainty at a global level, you best believe we're finding opportunities to tighten belts, including filing SBA loans (thanks to new provisions in the recently passed legislation—see a great breakdown in tools for VC-backed startups in this NVCA post), revisiting vendor pricing & relationships (knowing those who work with us now will be good long-term partners), fundraising (but, really, what startup isn't always fundraising?), revisiting any and all variable costs to see what additional burn we can eek out (no sacred cows when you're at war!). Startups aim to survive and thrive in scarcity, so to a certain extent this is just more testing of our mettle, but damn if this isn't really pushing the startup community to our creative financial limits!
  5. For the future. And yet. And yet, despite all of the arguably defensive and short-term efforts above, we're still making time to think about how we might "gain ground" now, or at least tee up strategic efforts through the blessing of today's unique vantage. We're a funny bunch, entrepreneurs, and right now our delusions are coming in handy, for sure.

For lack of a pithy summary, I simply want to sign off by saying that I hope we all find collective safety and security, and solidarity in this shared crisis, sooner than later.

Lucas Dickey is the chief product officer and co-founder of the furniture rental service, Fernish.

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Here’s Why Streaming Looks More and More Like Cable

Lon Harris
Lon Harris is a contributor to dot.LA. His work has also appeared on ScreenJunkies, RottenTomatoes and Inside Streaming.
Here’s Why Streaming Looks More and More Like Cable
Evan Xie

The original dream of streaming was all of the content you love, easily accessible on your TV or computer at any time, at a reasonable price. Sadly, Hollywood and Silicon Valley have come together over the last decade or so to recognize that this isn’t really economically viable. Instead, the streaming marketplace is slowly transforming into something approximating Cable Television But Online.

It’s very expensive to make the kinds of shows that generate the kind of enthusiasm and excitement from global audiences that drives the growth of streaming platforms. For every international hit like “Squid Game” or “Money Heist,” Netflix produced dozens of other shows whose titles you have definitely forgotten about.

The marketplace for new TV has become so massively competitive, and the streaming landscape so oversaturated, even relatively popular shows with passionate fanbases that generate real enthusiasm and acclaim from critics often struggle to survive. Disney+ canceled Luscasfilm’s “Willow” after just one season this week, despite being based on a hit Ron Howard film and receiving an 83% critics score on Rotten Tomatoes. Amazon dropped the mystery drama “Three Pines” after one season as well this week, which starred Alfred Molina, also received positive reviews, and is based on a popular series of detective novels.

Even the new season of “The Mandalorian” is off to a sluggish start compared to its previous two Disney+ seasons, and Pedro Pascal is basically the most popular person in America right now.

Now that major players like Netflix, Disney+, and WB Discovery’s HBO Max have entered most of the big international markets, and bombarded consumers there with marketing and promotional efforts, onboarding of new subscribers inevitably has slowed. Combine that with inflation and other economic concerns, and you have a recipe for austerity and belt-tightening among the big streamers that’s virtually guaranteed to turn the smorgasbord of Peak TV into a more conservative a la carte offering. Lots of stuff you like, sure, but in smaller portions.

While Netflix once made its famed billion-dollar mega-deals with top-name creators, now it balks when writer/director Nancy Meyers (“It’s Complicated,” “The Holiday”) asks for $150 million to pay her cast of A-list actors. Her latest romantic comedy will likely move over to Warner Bros., which can open the film in theaters and hopefully recoup Scarlett Johansson and Michael Fassbender’s salaries rather than just spending the money and hoping it lingers longer in the public consciousness than “The Gray Man.”

CNET did the math last month and determined that it’s still cheaper to choose a few subscription streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime over a conventional cable TV package by an average of about $30 per month (provided you don’t include the cost of internet service itself). But that means picking and choosing your favorite platforms, as once you start adding all the major offerings out there, the prices add up quickly. (And those are just the biggest services from major Hollywood studios and media companies, let alone smaller, more specialized offerings.) Any kind of cable replacement or live TV streaming platform makes the cost essentially comparable to an old-school cable TV package, around $100 a month or more.

So called FAST, or Free Ad-supported Streaming TV services, have become a popular alternative to paid streaming platforms, with Fox’s Tubi making its first-ever appearance on Nielsen’s monthly platform rankings just last month. (It’s now more popular than the first FAST service to appear on the chart, Paramount Global’s Pluto TV.) According to Nielsen, Tubi now accounts for around 1% of all TV viewing in the US, and its model of 24/7 themed channels supported by semi-frequent ad breaks couldn’t resemble cable television anymore if it tried.

Services like Tubi and Pluto stand to benefit significantly from the new streaming paradigm, and not just from fatigued consumers tired of paying for more content. Cast-off shows and films from bigger streamers like HBO Max often find their way to ad-supported platforms, where they can start bringing in revenue for their original studios and producers. The infamous HBO Max shows like “The Nevers” and “Westworld” that WBD controversially pulled from the HBO Max service can now be found on Tubi or The Roku Channel.

HBO Max’s recently-canceled reality dating series “FBoy Island” has also found a new home, but it’s not on any streaming platform. Season 3 will air on TV’s The CW, along with a new spinoff series called (wait for it) “FGirl Island.” So in at least some ways, “30 Rock” was right: technology really IS cyclical.

As TikTok Faces a Ban, Competitors Prepare to Woo Its User Base

Kristin Snyder

Kristin Snyder is dot.LA's 2022/23 Editorial Fellow. She previously interned with Tiger Oak Media and led the arts section for UCLA's Daily Bruin.

As TikTok Faces a Ban, Competitors Prepare to Woo Its User Base
Evan Xie

This is the web version of dot.LA’s daily newsletter. Sign up to get the latest news on Southern California’s tech, startup and venture capital scene.

Another day, another update in the unending saga that is the potential TikTok ban.

The latest: separate from the various bills proposing a ban, the Biden administration has been in talks with TikTok since September to try and find a solution. Now, having thrown its support behind Senator MarkWarner’s bill, the White House is demanding TikTok’s Chinese parent company, ByteDance, sell its stakes in the company to avoid a ban. This would be a major blow to the business, as TikTok alone is worth between $40 billion and $50 billion—a significant portion of ByteDance’s $220 billion value.

Clearly, TikTok faces an uphill battle as its CEO Shou Zi Chew prepares to testify before the House Energy and Commerce Committee next week. But other social media companies are likely looking forward to seeing their primary competitor go—and are positioning themselves as the best replacement for migrating users.


Last year, The Washington Post reported that Meta paid a consulting firm to plant negative stories about TikTok. Now, Meta is reaping the benefits of TikTok’s downfall, with its shares rising 3% after the White House told TikTok to leave ByteDance. But this initial boost means nothing if the company can’t entice creators and viewers to Instagram and Facebook. And it doesn’t look promising in that regard.

Having waffled between pushing its short-form videos, called Reels, and de-prioritizing them in the algorithm, Instagram announced last week that it would no longer offer monetary bonuses to creators making Reels. This might be because of TikTok’s imminent ban. After all, the program was initially meant to convince TikTok creators to use Instagram—an issue that won’t be as pressing if TikTok users have no choice but to find another platform.


Alternatively, Snap is doing the opposite and luring creators with an ad revenue-sharing program. First launched in 2022, creators are now actively boasting about big earnings from the program, which provides 50% of ad revenue from videos. Snapchat is clearly still trying to win over users with new tech like its OpenAI chatbot, which it launched last month. But it's best bet to woo the TikTok crowd is through its new Sounds features, which suggest audio for different lenses and will match montage videos to a song’s rhythm. Audio clips are crucial to TikTok’s platform, so focusing on integrating songs into content will likely appeal to users looking to recreate that experience.


With its short-form ad revenue-sharing program, YouTube Shorts has already lured over TikTok creators. It's even gotten major stars like Miley Cyrus and Taylor Swift to promote music on Shorts. This is likely where YouTube has the best bet of taking TikTok’s audience. Since TikTok has become deeply intertwined with the music industry, Shorts might be primed to take its spot. And with its new feature that creates compiles all the videos using a specific song, Shorts is likely hoping to capture musicians looking to promote their work.


The most blatant attempt at seducing TikTok users, however, comes from Triller, which launched a portal for people to move their videos from TikTok to its platform. It’s simple, but likely the most effective tactic—and one that other short-form video platforms should try to replicate. With TikTok users worried about losing their backlog of content, this not only lets users archive but also bolsters Triller’s content offerings. The problem, of course, is that Triller isn’t nearly as well known as the other platforms also trying to capture TikTok users. Still, those who are in the know will likely find this option easier than manually re-uploading content to other sites.

It's likely that many of these platforms will see a momentary boost if the TikTok ban goes through. But all of these companies need to ensure that users coming from TikTok actually stay on their platforms. Considering that they have already been upended by one newcomer when TikTok took over, there’s good reason to believe that a new app could come in and swoop up TikTok’s user base. As of right now, it's unclear who will come out on top. But the true loser is the user who has to adhere to the everyday whims of each of these platforms.

We Asked Our Readers How They’re Using AI in a Professional Setting. Here's What They Said

Decerry Donato

Decerry Donato is a reporter at dot.LA. Prior to that, she was an editorial fellow at the company. Decerry received her bachelor's degree in literary journalism from the University of California, Irvine. She continues to write stories to inform the community about issues or events that take place in the L.A. area. On the weekends, she can be found hiking in the Angeles National forest or sifting through racks at your local thrift store.

We Asked Our Readers How They’re Using AI in a Professional Setting. Here's What They Said
Evan Xie

According to Pew Research data, 27% of Americans interact with AI on a daily basis. With the launch of Open AI’s latest language model GPT-4, we asked our readers how they use AI in a professional capacity. Here’s what they told us:

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