Chan Park feels like “an eternal nomad.” It all started at age 12, when he moved from Korea to the U.S., where he attended middle school in Minnesota, followed by high school in New Jersey, followed by college in New Hampshire.
Then he really began to bounce around, working as a trader in New York, embracing the life of a ski bum in Utah, then heading to Asia in the service of Uber, where he spent six years, running its expansion team at first, then managing its entire Southeast Asia business out of Singapore. More specifically, he was responsible for eight countries across the region, and 350 people, which didn’t give him a lot of time to organize his home.
It was something to which he was very accustomed — living in chaos — except something interesting happened in Singapore. “There’s this huge culture of landlords furnishing space to attract expats,” says Park. “The furnishings aren’t super high-end, but they’re well-designed and well put together and it enabled me to be basically moved in as soon as I put my clothes in the closet.” He also enjoyed being home a lot more. “For the first time, I was proud to host friends for dinners and barbecues and to just open the door and relax.”
Before long, he was talking with his Dartmouth classmate turned product and industrial designer Christian Talmage about forming their own company, and thus was born Oliver Space, which provides a lot of what that Singaporean landlord delivered to Park: it furnishes places for busy professionals, making moving into a new home as easy as hanging up their clothes.
The service is available in the Bay Area only. And Oliver Space employs just a dozen people so far. But the company has already gained enough traction to attract $6.8 million in seed funding from an interesting array of investors, including Mayfield, Abstract Ventures, operators turned investors Jana Messerschmidt and April Underwood, Opendoor founder Eric Wu and Kevin and Julia Hartz of Eventbrite, among others.
Now, Oliver Space just has to grow as quickly, or more so, than two other furniture-as-service startups to recently attract funding. Fernish, a two-year-old, LA-based startup that helps people rent from brands like Crate & Barrel, Floyd and Campaign, attracted $30 million in funding earlier this year led by Real Estate Technology Ventures, with participation from Intuit’s founder Scott Cook and Amazon’s head of global consumer, Jeff Wilke. Feather, a two-year-old, New York-based furniture rental startup that similarly works with known brands like West Elm and Pottery Barn, meanwhile closed a $12 million round a few months ago led by Spark Capital (it has raised $16 million altogether).
Park, who as an Uber alum is very attuned to the competition, knows his own startup isn’t the first out of the gate. He thinks it can win on a few fronts, however. For one thing, while Oliver Space uses traditional retailers for some of the items it’s renting, it is also making Oliver Space-branded furnishings — from sectionals to dining tables to beds — with the help of “dozens” of manufacturers in China and elsewhere, says Park.
Park also stresses design, saying that Oliver Space wants to replace that friend with the great taste to whom a college graduate or busy young professional might otherwise turn for help. Indeed, the company puts together “mood boards” for customers, featuring everything from the loveseat to plants to pillows to candles, all of which it will happily rent to them on a monthly or even yearly basis.
The longer a customer commits to rent items, the less they pay. If they decide eventually to buy the items, Oliver Space will sell them at their retail price, deducting all of their previous rental payments and considering them instead down payments on the furnishings.
Not last, Park says Oliver Space aims to move quickly. In fact, part of why it is having its own furniture made is so that it can be assembled, and later disassembled, fast, so that when a customer walks into his or her home, everything is picture perfect. (If you’ve ordered furniture anytime recently and been confronted with wait times of weeks or months, you start to appreciate this part of the pitch, particularly for someone who is new to a city.)
As for what happens when that furniture isn’t brand-new, Park says Oliver Space has plans to inspect, clean and repair pieces as needed. He likens the opportunity to that of the car market, where pre-owned, certified cars are another source of revenue. “In furniture, used means Craigslist, and you have no idea where a sofa or a rug has been. As our business grows, we’ll be creating that pre-owned concept with our brand’s stamp of approval.”
Maybe so. It’s early to know if these differentiators are enough to make the company stand out. A lot depends on execution as Oliver Space grows out of the Bay Area and into other markets. (Park won’t yet say where these will be.)
In the meantime, it’s easy to understand the appeal of the company and its rivals. Beyond making consumers’ lives easier in numerous ways, they’re presumably better for the environment. At least, with a reported 9.8 million tons of furniture that is thrown into a landfill every year in the U.S. alone, it seems worth seeing whether their way works better.