Outer Furniture Startup Targets Hotels, Shopping Malls

Samson Amore

Samson Amore is a reporter for dot.LA. He holds a degree in journalism from Emerson College. Send tips or pitches to samsonamore@dot.la and find him on Twitter @Samsonamore.

Furniture startup Outer wants to upgrade furniture in hotels, shopping malls.

It's no accident that this has been a banner year for direct-to-consumer furniture brand Outer. The Santa Monica startup co-founded by a former Pottery Barn designer seemed to emerge just as people were forced to stay home and its showroom concept seemed appropriately tailored to the social distanced demands of the pandemic world.

The company, which uses customer's backyards as a showroom for potential customers, is now looking to go beyond retail sales.

Outer CEO Jiake Liu said the company wants to furnish hotels, shopping malls and other businesses with their $95 throw pillows and outdoor sectional couches that retail at upwards of $9,000. And it's got some help. Outer announced on Thursday it raised a $50 million Series B round led by Chinese investor and Capital Today founder Kathy Xu.

"We're pretty excited to start testing the waters for working with hospitality groups: hotels, restaurants, and also shopping centers soon," Liu said.

The global outdoor furniture market topped $15.7 billion in 2020, and it's expected to grow 5.7% by 2027, according to a September report from Global Market Insights. The market was already on the rise before the pandemic, but like many industries, the coronavirus accelerated the existing growth trends.

Outer distinguishes itself from competitors like IKEA, Home Depot and Pottery Barn with their high-end eco-friendly designs inspired in part by co-founder and Chief Design Officer Terry Lin.

Outer distinguishes itself from competitors like IKEA, Home Depot and Pottery Barn with their high-end eco-friendly designs.

The company's wicker furniture, blankets and rugs are all made with recycled materials and Liu wants to use some of the Series B funds to invest heavily in making Outer's materials renewable.

A 2019 report from Grand View Research found that while residential purchases of outdoor furniture are still holding steady globally, the real growth is in the commercial sector. The report predicted explosive growth in commercial markets in Asia, including India and China, where Outer does its production at Liu's family-owned factory.

"The area that I'm from, there are a lot of master craftspeople that can actually weave rattan and this all weather wicker," Liu said. "It's a technique that we can't find that readily available in the U.S."

The facility isn't owned by Outer, but it's affected by its demand for sales. Liu said with the pandemic spurring customer demand, the production facility hired roughly 100 people in China over the past 18 months.

"I am really bullish about this marriage of Chinese supply chain and American design," Liu said despite the COVID-related supply chain disruptions that have delayed supply chains and bottle-necked the Los Angeles and Long Beach ports that it relies on.

Liu wants to use some of the Series B funds to invest heavily in making Outer's materials renewable. The company's wicker furniture, blankets and rugs are all made with recycled materials.

New investors Tribe Capital, C Ventures and Santa Monica-based Upfront Ventures joined the round, alongside participation from existing investors Santa Monica-based Mucker Capital, Marina Del Rey-based Mantis VC and Reimagined Ventures.

Outer co-founders Jiake Liu (left) and Terry Lin (right).Outer co-founders Jiake Liu (left) and Terry Lin.

Since its launch in May 2019, the company has raised $65 million.

Liu says Outer's pricing reflects the supply chain and added that the production of its woven materials is difficult for Outer to do outside of China, where his family is from.

Another factor spurring Outer's growth is its unique model for showrooms. Instead of leasing costly real estate to operate a showroom, the company recruits existing customers who own their furniture to join its neighborhood showroom program. The furniture owners earn $50 per showing plus a 10% discount, and often network with people in their neighborhood to show off their new setups and encourage them to buy in.

"There is a huge influx of just customers, looking for anything for their yard" or outside spaces, Liu said. "There's never been this level of demand and it's largely catalyzed by the pandemic."

Linda Kruse is a member of the neighborhood showroom program. Kruse said she found Outer while looking for "gorgeous and interesting" furniture for her backyard in her new Woodland Hills home a couple years ago and was the third person to sign up for the home showroom program.

Kruse said beyond the designs and durability, the eco-friendly aspect of Outer was a selling point.

Outer counted 1,000 virtual showrooms across the country as of July. The company employs 70 people in its offices, but Liu said it'll use some Series B cash to hire more people and double its headcount by next year.

"The big selling feature was that they guaranteed their product for 10 years," Kruse said.

🎬 Paramount and Skydance Are Back On
Image Source: Paramount

Happy Friday Los Angeles! Hope you all had a fantastic Fourth!!

🔦 Spotlight

Paramount and Skydance Media have rekindled talks to merge after negotiations abruptly halted in June. The proposed deal, contingent on approval from Paramount’s board, aims to combine Paramount’s extensive media holdings—including CBS, MTV, and Nickelodeon—with Skydance’s film expertise showcased in hits like "Top Gun: Maverick." This merger signals a potential transformation in the media landscape, positioning the new entity to compete more effectively amid challenges from streaming services and the decline of traditional cable TV.

Led by Shari Redstone, Paramount’s controlling shareholder via National Amusements, the deal represents a pivot towards revitalizing Paramount’s strategic direction amidst financial struggles and shareholder concerns. The involvement of major investors like RedBird Capital Partners and David Ellison underscores the financial backing aimed at stabilizing Paramount’s operations and addressing its $14 billion debt burden. Importantly, the agreement includes provisions to protect National Amusements from potential legal challenges, addressing previous hurdles that stalled earlier negotiations.

The deal also includes a 45-day period for Paramount to explore alternative offers, highlighting continued interest from other potential buyers like Barry Diller’s IAC and media executive Edgar Bronfman Jr. This flurry of activity underscores the significant stakeholders’ interest in Paramount’s future and its potential as a key player in a rapidly evolving media industry.

🤝 Venture Deals

LA Companies

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😊🚘 Rivian's $5 Billion Lifeline

🔦 Spotlight

Volkswagen announced on Tuesday a significant investment of up to $5 billion in Rivian, a struggling electric truck manufacturer known for its vehicles' distinctive smiley-face design reminiscent of Volkswagen's iconic Beetle. This partnership marks a unique collaboration between the world's second-largest automaker and a startup grappling with profitability challenges akin to those faced by Tesla. Volkswagen's infusion of $1 billion initially, potentially rising to $5 billion pending regulatory approval, underscores its strategic pivot towards enhancing its electric vehicle (EV) software capabilities, an area where analysts believe the company has lagged.

For Rivian, which has received acclaim for its electric trucks and SUVs but struggles with production ramp-up and financial losses, the investment offers crucial financial backing. The company plans to utilize Volkswagen's expertise in manufacturing, leveraging the German automaker's annual production of nearly 10 million vehicles. This alliance aims to bolster Rivian's efforts to launch new models like the R2 midsize SUV and complete its Georgia factory, paused earlier this year to conserve funds. Rivian's stock surged upwards of 40% following the announcement, reflecting investor optimism in the company's future prospects.

Despite their differing corporate cultures—Volkswagen's traditional, structured approach contrasted with Rivian's agile tech startup ethos—the CEOs of both companies expressed mutual admiration and shared goals during the partnership announcement. The collaboration is expected to yield EV software solutions benefiting Volkswagen's various brands, potentially including Audi and Porsche, while allowing Rivian to maintain its brand identity and separate vehicle marketing strategies. This strategic partnership between Volkswagen and Rivian not only promises to revolutionize the electric vehicle market but also highlights the potential for collaboration between established automakers and innovative startups in Southern California, where Rivian is based. Here’s to hoping these smiling cars will balance out some of the inevitable LA road rage.

🤝 Venture Deals

LA Companies

  • HeyGen, a startup that allows users to generate videos with AI-created avatars that can lip-sync to provided audio, making it easier for businesses to create engaging video content, raised a $60M Funding Round at a $500M post-money valuation. The deal was led by Benchmark, with Conviction, Thrive Capital, and Bond Capital also stepping up. - learn more
  • Pomerium, a startup that provides a secure access platform that dynamically verifies user identities to ensure authorized access to applications and services, raised a $13.8M Series A round led by Benchmark and including previous investors Bain Capital, Haystack, and SNR. - learn more
  • Etched, a maker of transformer-specialized AI chips, raised a $120M Funding Round. - learn more
  • Rocketlane, a customer onboarding platform, raised a $24M Series B co-led by 8VC, Matrix Partners India, and Nexus Venture Partners. - learn more
  • Sift, a developer of unified observability solutions for hardware sensor data, raised a $17.5M Series A led by GV. - learn more
  • LOST iN, a travel media brand, raised a $4M Seed Round led by MaC Venture Capital. - learn more

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