With COVID-19 spreading rapidly throughout the nation, summer travel plans have been halted and people are planning to spend more time at home and in their backyards. The demand for outdoor furniture, grills, and patio heaters is surging. Outer is the innovative direct-to-consumer outdoor furniture brand. The company’s line is eco-friendly, made from recycled ocean plastic and wicker with individual pieces that are completely recyclable. Everything is designed to be used all-year-round and is weather-resistant thanks to a built-in OuterShell that serves as a cover and the use of specially-treated fabrics. In order to get the word out about the brand, the company has devised a shrewd asset-light community-based showroom model, where existing customers allow potential customers to come in and experience the furniture in their backyards in exchange for a discount on their purchase and payments for virtual and in-person showing along with early access to future products. Pricing for Outer starts at $2,300 for a two-chair set and goes up to $8,995 for an 8-piece sectional that
LA TechWatch caught up with CEO and Cofounder Jiake Liu to learn more about the outdoor furniture market, the company’s expansion plans, and recent round of funding from a number of notable LA operators and venture firms.
Who were your investors and how much did you raise?
Outer raised $4.3 million in series seed funding. In addition to Mucker Capital, the funding comes from more than 40 investors, including Unlock Venture Partners, UpHonest Capital, Reimagined Ventures, Social Starts, Wavemaker, Cybernaut Ventures, K2VC, Plum Ventures, as well as Los Angeles-based consumer-tech entrepreneurs including George Ruan (honey), Eddy Lu (GOAT), Nick Green (Thrive Market), Dan Dinh (TSM), Mark Geller (Happy Returns), Raaja Nemani and Chris Toy (MarketerHire), and Patrick Schwarzenegger.
Tell us about your product or service.
Outer is a California-based, direct-to-consumer brand whose mission is to reinvent the approach to outdoor furniture. Everything is completely sustainable – each chair in the Outer sofa is made from approximately 100 ocean plastic bottles. The entire sofa is 100% recyclable at the end of its 10-year life. From fabrics to all-weather wicker, Outer is committed to delivering the highest quality, comfortable and durable products to customers.
When Terry and I launched Outer in Santa Monica in 2019, our key focus was to create beautiful, durable and innovative outdoor furniture with an emphasis on quality design, community and eco-friendliness. Our vision for Outer was to create a way for customers to enjoy stepping outside each day and creating a beautiful piece of furniture that can make everyday life more comfortable and enjoyable. We had to make it easy to get outside.
How is it different?
Our sofa also comes with an OuterShell, an integrated cover that’s cleverly built into the seat cushion, which protects the cushions from dust, droppings, and moisture. Creating a product that can be used year-round was something very important to us. The sofa is built for indoor-level comfort and outdoor-level durability. So, it’s water-resistant, stain-resistant, and incredibly comfortable; the cushion is triple-layered and made of memory foam, the kind typically reserved for luxury mattresses. We also wanted to emphasize the sustainability and eco-friendly vision we had for the Outer Sofa, which is why we chose to create a product that was fully recyclable. Additionally, through our Neighborhood Showrooms, a new approach to the retail experience, we connect people and build a sense of community by bringing the showroom home and allowing potential consumers to experience the Outer Sofa in-person at a real customer’s backyard prior to purchasing. In light of COVID-19, we are prioritizing our customers’ safety and have implemented virtual showroom tours to help slow the spread of COVID-19 within the Outer community.
What market you are targeting and how big is it?
We are starting in the $20 billion outdoor furniture market. It’s the fastest-growing furniture category in the U.S. with no authentic consumer brands. The Neighborhood Showroom crowdsourced retail platform we’re currently building, currently in our customers’ backyards, has the potential of disrupting the trillion-dollar retail real estate market.
What’s your business model?
Our business model is direct-to-consumer online. We also have a trade program for designers, architects, landscapers, etc. and we are exploring inbound business-to-business inquiries as well.
If you could be invited to anyone’s home for an outdoor party/gathering, who would it be and why?
If I could be invited to anyone’s house for an outdoor party, it would definitely be Yvon Chouinard, Founder of Patagonia. I would love to pick his brain about his company and product philosophy, which I admire.
What was the funding process like?
We raised our round in incremental tranches from investors that understand our long-term vision. Our friends and family round was joined by many respectable LA consumer tech founders like Nick Green from Thrive Market, Eddy Lu from GOAT, Ariel Kaye from Parachute, George Ruan from Honey, and more. I’ve always wanted to work with Will and Erik at Mucker ever since I built my first company, so they naturally became our first institutional investor when we only had a prototype.
What are the biggest challenges that you faced while raising capital?
There are many investors I’d like to work with who are jaded by e-commerce and direct-to-consumer business models in general.
What factors about your business led your investors to write the check?
I would like to share a quote from Will Hsu at Mucker who I think can best answer this question: “Unlike many direct-to-consumer brands, Outer invested heavily into product innovation from day one with their proprietary design, materials and supply chain. It’s unusual that people would rave about a piece of patio furniture, but even before their exponential growth they had overwhelmingly positive feedback from their early customers, which was a clear sign for product-market fit. Our insight into changing consumer behavior led to their creation of Neighborhood Showroom, an asset-light retail model that has the potential of changing how we shop for furniture and other physical products for good. Both the outdoor living category and their reimagined retail model are especially timely in a post-pandemic world.”
What are the milestones you plan to achieve in the next six months?
In the next six months, we plan to release our next product to complement our sofa, expand to more than 200 Neighborhood Showrooms, and continue our high, profitable growth.
What advice can you offer companies in Los Angeles that do not have a fresh injection of capital in the bank?
Investors are still taking meetings and deals are happening – albeit a little slower. Aside from fundraising, focus internally and think about user behavioral changes caused by the pandemic as it relates to your own product. Schedule those Zoom calls with your customers to get true insight and you might find untapped potential in marketing/sales/product.
Investors are still taking meetings and deals are happening – albeit a little slower.
Aside from fundraising, focus internally and think about user behavioral changes caused by the pandemic as it relates to your own product. Schedule those Zoom calls with your customers to get true insight and you might find untapped potential in marketing/sales/product.
Where do you see the company going now over the near term?
In the near term, we want to create the perfect outdoor living room, that’s why we started with the perfect outdoor sofa, but we are releasing other outdoor versions of your living room essentials.
Do you prefer hiking or surfing in LA?
I prefer hiking, especially since it’s an activity I can enjoy with my child and my dog.
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