Outer
Outer's passion is to create the world’s most comfortable, durable, innovative, and sustainable outdoor furniture. Their hero product is a comfy outdoor sofa.
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Under The Hood: Jiake From Outer

Where did the inspiration to build Outer come from? What made you both so passionate about the idea that you built a business around it?

Jiake Liu: I remember the exact moment when the idea of Outer struck. Years ago one morning I sat on my outdoor sofa to enjoy my cup of coffee, only to find a few seconds later the cushion was wet. It’s a bad feeling that many people can relate to, which we later jokingly call the “Wet Bottom Syndrome.” Then I did some research and found out that most people with outdoor furniture don’t use them as much due to the upkeep, and I thought there must be a better way to keep the outdoor furniture dry, clean, and ready to use.

This singular pain point led to discoveries such as the health and wellness benefits of spending more time outdoors, and ultimately what united my Co-Founder, Terry, and me is the mission of inspiring sustainable lifestyle through positive experiences. In other words, if people can enjoy the joy of the great outdoors every day, they will take action in protecting the environment.

It doesn’t take a grand trip to the national park to enjoy the great outdoors, it just takes a small step in a backyard. We thought this was a mission worth building a business around. 

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What was the impact of the COVID period on the Outer business? How have those impacts played out in the last 12-18 months?

Jiake Liu: Due to social distancing and home improvement trends, Outer’s business benefited from that period. People were looking for ways to make their home more comfortable, and for the longest time the only safe space to host friends and family was their backyard, so it naturally drove a lot of demand for our outdoor furniture products.

Our Neighborhood Showroom retail model, where existing Outer customers can host interested customers in their backyard to experience our products in person also benefited greatly due to the closure of traditional retail stores. However, the negative impact on the supply chain and logistics was felt in the last 18 months.

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We had customer order delays and manufacturing and warehousing hiccups that took much of our resources and focus to fix in the last 6 months. The extreme swing in customer demand also made business planning difficult.

Finally, the drying up of the capital market forced us to focus on profitable growth and not growth at all costs. In retrospect, I’m glad that we were able to grab the tiger by its tail and survived to tell its tale. And the result is a more resilient team and business to build a generational brand. 

How do you balance Outer’s category expansion between driving customer LTV vs. launching new categories for customer acquisition? 

Jiake Liu: We’ve prioritized LTV. Our ethos from day one has always been to focus on quality and not quantity. It takes years to build a brand, and to us, it’s always about making a small cohort of customers extremely joyous versus making a lot of people slightly satisfied. When we expand our product category, we first think about making our core customers’ experience in their backyard better. Now that they have our outdoor sofas to make their outdoor living room comfortable, can we create the best outdoor dining table to outfit their outdoor dining room?

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Our NPS has consistently been above 80, and the consistent feedback I get from customers is that because they are so fed up with the poor experience they had with other outdoor furniture they’ve owned before, they’d rather wait a year for Outer to come out with the outdoor dining table, fire pit, pool lounger, or umbrella than to buy something Outer doesn’t offer currently. 

What’s one thing that you didn’t expect to be true about building a D2C brand?

Jiake Liu: The supply chain is more important than marketing. I’ve always thought marketing is the most important thing for a brand because that’s how you get the brand out there for people to see. But now I know while marketing is important, the supply chain is what dictates the health of the business and the customer experience, which ultimately is the only thing that matters when it comes to building the brand. 

If you both go back to the early days of Outer and give yourself one piece of advice, what would it be?

Jiake Liu: There’s a global pandemic coming in 2020, get ready!