Using Backyards as Showrooms, Online Furniture Retailer Outer Raises $4.3 Million
Rachel Uranga covers the intersection of business, technology and culture. She is a former Mexico-based market correspondent at Reuters and has worked for several Southern California news outlets, including the Los Angeles Business Journal and the Los Angeles Daily News. She has covered everything from IPOs to immigration. Uranga is a graduate of the Columbia School of Journalism and California State University Northridge. A Los Angeles native, she lives with her husband, son and their felines.
Outer, the direct-to-consumer outdoor furniture brand that uses backyards as showrooms, raised $4.3 million in a seed round led by Mucker Capital. The two-year-old Santa Monica based company has seen business boom during the pandemic as retail stores shut down and online orders surged. Suburbanites looking for a stay-cation plucked up their eco-friendly sectionals as consumers spent more time at home.
"We went from tens of thousands of dollars in monthly revenue to millions of dollars in monthly revenue," said co-founder Jiake Liu. "In April we hit profitability."
The closure of retail has given the company an opening and the rise of Airbnb has made consumers more comfortable going into strangers' homes.
Outer has tapped into the shared economy with a network of 120 showrooms in customers' backyards. The company pays its partners $50 a visit and says it has a waiting list of 6,000 applicants.
"We are catering to this new consumer who is so used to online shopping, but that doesn't take away the fact that people still need to touch see and feel a lot of products and specifically around furniture," he said. "People just want to sit in a sofa before investing $1,000."
The pandemic has brought in new opportunities.
Outer's low-slung sectionals range from $2,000 to $8,000, and are supposed to appeal to Restoration Hardware and Pottery Barn shoppers. Liu and co-founder Terry Lin, a former designer at Pottery Barn describe the design as timeless.
The products are manufactured in Liu's family-owned factory outside of Shanghai. The family, which has built furniture for retailers for years, shifted their production to source recycled materials. The new round of funding will help Outer develop better products and build a line of rugs, tables and other outdoor products. Liu also said he's focused on expanding content around outdoor living.
If working remotely catches on permanently, he said, it could help his business as people seek to work outside of urban cores to roomier homes with wider outdoor spaces.
The funding round pulled in some big names in Los Angeles consumer tech, including Honey co-founder George Ruan, GOAT co-founder Eddy Lu and Thrive Market co-founder Nick Green.
"It's truly an L.A. story and I am really glad about that," Liu said.
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With most employees confined to their homes at least another month as the coronavirus pandemic rages on, there's been an unusual trend of construction projects continuing uninterrupted at many sites in Los Angeles. Among them is the new Rams and Chargers home, SoFi Stadium, where two workers have reportedly been diagnosed with COVID-19.
A Los Angeles company, WorkerSense, wants to make construction safer by embedding microchips in workers' hard hats that track how effective workers are at social distancing and send alerts when they get closer than six feet to each other. Crew members are ranked at distancing similar to competing in a video game or taking Flywheel class and can get bonuses for top scores.
Courtesy of WorkerSense
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"The time for inaction is over."
Such was the through-line in dot.LA's Thursday panel discussion on "Measurably Increasing Diversity in the Workplace."
Joining dot.LA host Kelly O'Grady was Oona King, VP of diversity, equity & inclusion (DEI) at Snap and a member of the UK House of Lords, and Kobie Fuller, partner at Upfront Ventures. The conversation centered on what organizations must do to ensure that this moment of acute awareness of the societal issues around DEI does not go to waste.
"I am grateful that white people have woken up," said King, who has also worked in diversity and inclusion at the UK's Channel 4 and YouTube. "But my gratitude will turn back to rage if they go back to sleep."
Kobie Fuller, Partner, Upfront Ventures<p><strong><br></strong></p><p>Kobie joined Upfront in June 2016, bringing deep expertise in enterprise SaaS and emerging technologies including VR and AR. Over his career he has invested early in notable companies including Exact Target (sold to Salesforce for $2.5B) and Oculus (sold to Facebook for $2B). Prior to Upfront, Kobie was an investor at Accel and, earlier, was the chief marketing officer at L.A.-based REVOLVE, one of the largest global fashion e-commerce players. Earlier in his career, Kobie helped found OpenView Venture Partners and was an investor at Insight Venture Partners. Kobie graduated from Harvard College.</p>
Oona King, VP of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion at Snap Inc.<p>Oona King is the VP of diversity, equity & inclusion at Snap Inc. Previously, Oona was Google's director of diversity strategy, YouTube's director of diverse marketing, and before that chief diversity officer for British broadcaster Channel 4. Oona is a member of the House of Lords (a life-time appointment as Baroness King in January 2011), and former senior policy advisor & speechwriter to the prime minister at 10 Downing Street. </p><p>Oona became a member of the House of Commons at 29, the second woman of color, and 200th woman of any color elected to the British Parliament. She became parliamentary private secretary to the minister for e-commerce, and secretary of state for trade and industry. Oona was voted by other MPs as "the MP most likely to change society." In the Lords, Oona's front bench roles included shadow education minister, shadow minister for the digital economy, and shadow minister for equalities.</p>
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Chief Host & Correspondent and Head of Video Strategy at dot.LA<p>Kelly O'Grady is dot.LA's chief host & correspondent. Kelly serves as dot.LA's on-air talent, and is responsible for designing and executing all video efforts. A former management consultant for McKinsey, and TV reporter for NESN, New England's premier sports network, she also served on Disney's Corporate Strategy team, focusing on M&A and the company's direct-to-consumer streaming efforts. Kelly holds a bachelor's degree from Harvard College and an MBA from Harvard Business School. A Boston native, Kelly spent a year as Miss Massachusetts USA, and can be found supporting her beloved Patriots every Sunday come football season.</p>
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