In the latest installment of this series profiling RET portfolio companies and their executives, we talk to Michael Barlow, CEO of Fernish.
Can you give a quick rundown of how you came to found Fernish?
Like many young professionals, I left college and moved to the big city (in my case, Los Angeles), relishing the independence of youth, the concept of being mobile and the ability to get a new job or a new apartment at will. But I quickly found out that moving time and again is a huge hassle and a significant expense. My co-founder Lucas Dickey and I realized that, for thousands of young professionals like ourselves, it didn’t make sense to throw out things that didn’t match a new apartment or to repeatedly move permanent furniture between temporary homes. Instead, we created Fernish: a premium furniture rental brand that solves the time, hassle, and money it takes to set up a new apartment and makes it effortless to create your home.
What is the inefficiency in the real estate industry that makes Fernish necessary?
While Fernish operates adjacent to the industry, our service is a critical input for residential real estate operators. All residents need furnishings, and Fernish is a win-win because operators are able to both offer residents a premium, seamless set-up experience as well as share in ongoing monthly cash flows.
How does your technology differ from your competitors’?
Furniture rental has been around since the 1950’s in a B2B or alternative-financing capacity. But rental has never been widely adopted by consumers, even though it makes so much sense for the large and growing segment of the population Fernish is targeting. We’ve built our brand around listening to the consumer and solving very real pain points in their lives – then turning around and marketing accordingly!
What accomplishment are you most proud of in the past year?
My team at Fernish has a lot to be proud of, as we never lost a step in 2020, despite a host of challenges. I’m proud of our ability to come together and navigate shifting to remote team and culture – which was a huge part of the phenomenal business growth we saw last year as well.
What advice would you give to a young entrepreneur just starting out in rent tech or proptech?
Be patient. Much of building a company – especially a venture-backed start-up – can be about showing growth now. But there is so much that needs to be tested and tried and learned before you have a winning solution in the market. This isn’t to say that you should test and try and learn slowly, but just don’t rush through those phases because those are the proof points that set you up to scale later on!
There’s an old trope about real estate being slow to adopt technology? Do you think that, in 2021, that is still an accurate characterization?
I think 2020 opened the world’s eyes to how nimble businesses have to be to survive. My instinct is that is going to accelerate the adoption – or at least the consideration – of new technology and services in real estate.
What’s next for Fernish?
We’re excited to bring our furniture-as-a-service offering on a national scale to service our customers wherever they are living today or moving tomorrow. So stay tuned!