Michael Barlow and Lucas Dickey were tired of moving.
Barlow, who landed a gig as an investment banker for JPMorgan out of school, moved five times in seven years up and down the isle of Manhattan. Dickey, a University of Washington grad, moved 10 times in 13 years between Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles, a time that included a four-year stint at Amazon.
The two nomads met while working at Atom Tickets, a Los Angeles-based movie ticketing startup. Both were frustrated at the constant moving and inability to create a comforting home because they didn’t want to buy expensive furniture while moving all the time.
So, like many entrepreneurs, they decided to attack the problem themselves. The two teamed up to found Fernish, an on-demand furniture rental startup. Fernish is expanding to Seattle starting next month. It’s the first market outside Fernish’s home town of Los Angeles, and the company is looking to tap into the city’s highly paid tech workforce that tends to bounce around a lot. Also appealing is the crush of housing development in the area.
Eventually, the company’s goal is to “take the moving out of moving,” though Dickey was careful to point out that he and Barlow don’t want to run a moving company. In an interview with GeekWire, Dickey made a lot of references to Airbnb, how it started small and has since branched out to add things like destination experiences.
“If Airbnb is like experiences outside your home, can we be experiences inside your home, and initially that will start with furniture,” Dickey said. “And it could expand to art, decor. Over time maybe we end up having a concierge service to help you with things like utility transfers or getting your basic commodity items for when you move into a new place, the sorts of things you run over to Target at 11 p.m. to grab.”
Fernish, which offers furniture from places like Crate Barrel, CB2, Floyd and others, doesn’t have a physical storefront. Its digital presence is the main point of entry, but the company is also working out some unique ways to “showroom” its furniture, including outfitting co-working spaces and new apartment buildings.
Fernish supplies the Los Angeles location of the female-focused co-working startup The Riveter with furniture, and it will do the same with the company’s Seattle-area locations. Riveter co-founder Amy Nelson is a “friend of a friend” of Dickey, and the two companies have an investor in common, so the plan to both outfit the co-working space with furniture and display some of the pieces there came together easily.
Managers of apartments furnished by Fernish refer residents to the service, as well.
Customers pay a monthly fee that varies based on subscription length and which items they want. Customers can choose multiple pieces as part of a package created by an interior designer or opt for single items.
If customers want to buy the pieces, they have that option when the subscription term is done. Subscription payments count toward the sale price, or customers can swap the furniture out for other pieces once their contract runs out.
The service has been live in Los Angeles for about five months. The company is bringing on its sixth full-time employee, with plans to add five more in the coming weeks. Currently, the company outsources delivery, but it is looking at a variety of different options.
Fernish has about 220 different pieces right now, and it makes money on the margin of getting furniture at wholesale prices and renting it out at retail price.
So far, the company has raised $2.5 million as well as an unspecified amount of debt, and it is backed by TechStars as well as a group of private investors that includes the CEO of a large furniture rental company, a former director of planning at Wayfair and several current and former Amazon employees.
Furniture rental is not exactly a new concept, but Fernish executives say they are creating a new category of customer behavior. Dickey says Fernish stands out from traditional furniture rental companies, which tend to charge a big premium to renters, by offering items at retail price.
Fernish’s closest competitor is Feather, which went through Y Combinator. However, the founders say they are taking an “Amazon-like approach” to its business, and focusing on what customers need rather than what competitors are doing.
Fernish has larger ambitions to completely transform the moving process, but it can’t happen without further expansion first.
“Ultimately for this grand vision to work, for you to be able to pack a couple suitcases and head out the door, you can’t just be in one city,” Dickey says. “Somebody’s not going to be able to invest in the lifestyle if the lifestyle is constrained to a single geography, so we need to inevitably expand so that somebody can move intercity and not just intracity.”