Eco-Friendly Furniture Outer Wants to Furnish Hotels

Samson Amore

Samson Amore is a reporter for dot.LA. He previously covered technology and entertainment for TheWrap and reported on the SoCal startup scene for the Los Angeles Business Journal. Send tips or pitches to and find him on Twitter at @Samsonamore. Pronouns: he/him

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.

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Genies Wants To Help Creators Build ‘Avatar Ecosystems’

Christian Hetrick

Christian Hetrick is dot.LA's Entertainment Tech Reporter. He was formerly a business reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer and reported on New Jersey politics for the Observer and the Press of Atlantic City.

Genies Wants To Help Creators Build ‘Avatar Ecosystems’

When avatar startup Genies raised $150 million in April, the company released an unusual message to the public: “Farewell.”

The Marina del Rey-based unicorn, which makes cartoon-like avatars for celebrities and aims to “build an avatar for every single person on Earth,” didn’t go under. Rather, Genies announced it would stay quiet for a while to focus on building avatar-creation products.

Genies representatives told dot.LA that the firm is now seeking more creators to try its creation tools for 3D avatars, digital fashion items and virtual experiences. On Thursday, the startup launched a three-week program called DIY Collective, which will mentor and financially support up-and-coming creatives.

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Here's What To Expect At LA Tech Week

Christian Hetrick

Christian Hetrick is dot.LA's Entertainment Tech Reporter. He was formerly a business reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer and reported on New Jersey politics for the Observer and the Press of Atlantic City.

Here's What To Expect At LA Tech Week

LA Tech Week—a weeklong showcase of the region’s growing startup ecosystem—is coming this August.

The seven-day series of events, from Aug. 15 through Aug. 21, is a chance for the Los Angeles startup community to network, share insights and pitch themselves to investors. It comes a year after hundreds of people gathered for a similar event that allowed the L.A. tech community—often in the shadow of Silicon Valley—to flex its muscles.

From fireside chats with prominent founders to a panel on aerospace, here are some highlights from the roughly 30 events happening during LA Tech Week, including one hosted by dot.LA.

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Inflation Reduction Act Officially Passes the Senate, Revamping Electric Vehicle Pricing

David Shultz

David Shultz is a freelance writer who lives in Santa Barbara, California. His writing has appeared in The Atlantic, Outside and Nautilus, among other publications.

The Capitol at Sunset
Courtesy of Mike Stoll via Unsplash

Over the weekend Senate Democrats officially passed the Inflation Reduction Act in what amounts to President Biden’s biggest legislative win so far. The bill includes a host of broad-spectrum economic policy changes and completely reworks the subsidies for electric vehicle purchases. The law still has to get through the House, but this should be a much smaller hurdle.

dot.LA covered the bill in depth as it neared the goal line at the end of July, and the final iteration doesn’t change much. To recap:

1. The rebate total stays $7,500 but is broken into two $3,750 chunks tied to how much of the car and its battery are made in the US.

2. The manufacturer caps are eliminated, meaning even EV companies that have sold more than 20,000 vehicles are once again eligible.

3. Rebates will now only apply to cars priced below $55,000 and trucks/SUVs below $80,000

With the new system placing a renewed emphasis on American manufacturing and assembly, the calculus of which vehicles cost how much is still being worked out. The most comprehensive (but unofficial!) list I’ve seen has come from Reddit user u/Mad691.

In addition to the EV rebate program, the bill also includes a number of economic incentives aimed at curbing emissions and accelerating the country’s transition to electric vehicles.

There’s $20 billion earmarked for the construction of new clean vehicle manufacturing facilities and $3 billion will go help electrify the USPS delivery fleet. Another $3 billion will go to electrifying the nation’s ports. Then there’s $1 billion for zero-emission trucks and buses.

Now that the bill is about to be codified into law, VC investment in the sector might heat up in response to the new money flowing in.

“I do anticipate more climate funds standing up to invest in EV infrastructure,” says Taj Ahmad Eldridge, a partner at Include Ventures and the director at CREST an ARES Foundation initiative with JFF/WRI that aims to provide training for people in the new green economy. “However, we do see funds being a little more thoughtful on diligence and taking their time to fund the right investment.”

The sentiment seems to be shared across Southern California. ChargeNet CEO and Co-Founder Tosh Dutt says the Inflation Reduction Act “super charges” the company’s effort to build infrastructure across the country.

“This investment accelerates the transition to renewable energy and gives companies like ChargeNet Stations the confidence to expand more rapidly, especially in underserved communities,” says Dutt.

For Rivian, the bill’s passage has left would-be customers in a sort of limbo. Because many of their models will exceed the $80,000 cap for trucks and SUVs after options, customers who’ve preordered are scrambling to sign buyers’ agreements to take advantage of the current EV rebate scheme which doesn’t include price caps. As I noted in the previous article, if you buy an EV before the bill is signed, you’re eligible for the current rebate system even if the vehicle isn’t delivered until 2023. Any existing contracts under the current system will remain valid.

With the legislation seemingly on the fast track to become law, it’s unclear whether or not Rivian will expedite the purchasing process to allow customers to sign the buyers’ agreement before the new rebate program becomes the law of the land. Tick tock!