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Meet Nickson, the furniture-as-a-service startup that Barack Obama’s ex-financial adviser just backed

Ever toured an apartment and fall in love with the model unit?

You’re not alone. Harvard Business School grad Cameron Johnson is a former institutional real estate investor and Greystar exec turned startup founder that realized that very often, “renters would try to rent the model apartment.”

This got him thinking. People would love to rent a model apartment in a building, and no one likes to move. This spelled opportunity in Johnson’s mind.

So in 2017, he came up with the idea of Nickson, a Dallas-based startup that fully furnishes apartments on demand.

Image Credits: CEO and founder Cameron Johnson / Nickson

“I thought ‘What if you gave people the ability to simply rent the model, or the ability to add everything in their space needs with a few clicks, similar to how a cable modem comes to your house ’ ” CEO Johnson said. “I wondered, ‘Why can’t we do that for everything else?’ ”

But Nickson doesn’t just provide furniture such as beds and sofas, it delivers all the essentials too — from extension cords to pots and pans to silverware to curtain rods. By partnering with a variety of retailers, the startup claims that it allows users “to make their new spaces move-in ready in as little as 3 hours.” 

Users take a style quiz and share apartment layout details. Nickson’s designers create an initial layout based on the dimensions of an apartment, desired functions (such as work from home) and the volume of furnishings based on a person’s lifestyle. Once the layout is complete, Nickson creates a custom design, including all furnishings and home goods. 

Upon signing up, users pay a one-time installation fee for the furniture-as-a-service offering, and then a monthly subscription charge for the duration of a lease — starting at $199 a month for a studio to $500 a month for a 3 bedroom apartment. The startup also offers concierge services such as a household supply starter kit and maid service, as an add-on to its flat monthly subscription.

Nickson is currently only live in the Dallas market, but plans to expand into other cities over the next 12 months, including expanding its beta tests in Austin and Houston. And it’s just raised a $12 million Series A to help it advance on that goal. 

A fund managed by Pendulum Opportunities LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Pendulum Holdings LLC, led the Series A round, which also included participation from Motley Fool Ventures, Revolution’s Rise of the Rest and Backstage Capital. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the global supply chain, leading to delivery delays for consumers. Nickson has purchased items over time that it stores as local inventory, making it even more attractive to renters who don’t want to deal with delays and hunting down furniture and essentials, Johnson said. The convenience Nickson offers led to its user base growing 700% in 2020 compared to the year prior, he added.

Robbie Robinson, co-founder and CEO of Pendulum, said his firm was drawn to invest in Nickson due to a combination of Johnson’s “vision, secular shifts toward renting and subscription consumption and the company’s disruptive business model.” (Robinson is President Barack Obama’s former financial adviser, and recently founded Pendulum to invest $250 million in founding startups of color).

Kabir Ahmed, vice president at Pendulum, added that he believes Nickson’s model is superior to the concept of renting one-off furniture pieces in that it offers an “end-to-end, turnkey solution.”

This seamless experience is highly differentiated and offers a compelling value proposition for the consumer,” he said.

Of course, Nickson is not the only company attempting to turn the stodgy furniture rental industry on its head. Other startups offering similar services as Nickson include Oliver Space, Fernish and The Landing.

But Nickson claims that it stands out from the competition in that it “takes care of everything” beyond furniture (including artwork and toilet wand brushes) and that it can curate space and bring it all in before a renter even shows up.

“No other competitor in this space offers this level of service, detail or turnaround,” Johnson says. “You can literally arrive at your new home with a suitcase and toothbrush, and it’s ready to ‘live in.’”

SkyWatch raises $17.2M for its Earth observation data platform

Waterloo-based SkyWatch was among the first startups to recognize that the key to unlocking the real benefits of the space economy lay in making Earth observation data accessible and portable, and now the company has raised a $17.2 million Series B to help it further that goal. Fresh on the heals of a partnership with Poland-based satellite operator SatRevolution, SkyWatch is now set to bridge the gulf between satellite startups and customers in a bigger way as it lowers the barriers to entry for new companies focused on high-tech spacecraft payloads.

The new round of funding was led by new investor Drive Capital, and included participation from existing investors including Bullpen Capital, Space Capital, Golden Ventures and BDC Ventures. SkyWatch CEO and co-founder James Slifierz told me that bringing Drive on was a major win for the Series B.

“Drive is a firm that has actually been researching the space industry for a few years now, and looking for an opportunity that would be their first space technology investment,” he said. “Not their first in the [GTA-Waterloo] area  they’re based out of Columbus, Ohio, made up of Silicon Valley veterans. They were a little early to the trend of believing that a majority of the really interesting and large opportunities would eventually evolve outside of the Bay Area and outside of New York City.”

SkyWatch definitely fits the bill, having built strong revenue pipeline for an Earth observation data platform that makes the information collected by the many observation satellites on orbit accessible to private industry, in a way that doesn’t require re-architecting existing systems or handling huge amounts of data in unfamiliar formats.

This fresh funding will help SkyWatch accelerate the rollout of its TerraStream product, a nw platform that the company developed to provide full-service data management, ordering, processing and delivery for satellite companies. This allows SkyWatch to not only make data collected by Earth observation satellites like those operated by SatRevolution accessible to customers — but also to source customers for those companies, too, effectively handling both sales and delivery, which many satellite startups born from a technical or academic background don’t start out equipped to tackle.

“My favorite analogy for TerraStream is it’s Shopify for space companies,” Slifierz said. “It takes away a lot of the complexity of going to market. So if you want to build an amazing shoe brand today, Shopify enables you to not have to worry about the logistics, and shipping, and the inventory management, the website, storefront and all that; it allows you to focus on the things that will build value in your company, which is the quality of your product, and your brand.”

He added that just like Shopify depends on the existence of a rich third-party ecosystem to support its platform, so does SkyWatch, and that ecosystem is only now reaching maturity after years of infrastructure development, including things like the proliferation of launch startups, ground station build out, data warehousing and more.

Ultimately, what SkyWatch provides is the ability to go to market “faster and more profitably,” Slifierz says, which is a major shift for hard tech satellite startups working on new and improved sensor capabilities, often spinning out of research labs at academic institutions.

“The strongest value proposition is that we give you instant access to hundreds of customers, which we’re growing at a very fast pace on the EarthCache [SkyWatch’s commercial satellite imagery marketplace] side. So in that way, we sort of joke, it’s like Shopify for space, but also integrated with the AWS marketplace.”

SkyWatch can also actually help identify demand, by providing satellite-side customers with real data to back up signals of what the market is actually looking for. Slifierz says that’s helped them advised partners on how to tweak their offering to meet a real need, which is beneficial in an industry where research and tech development often lead payload design, with actual demand as a somewhat secondary consideration.

SkyWatch raises $17.2M for its Earth observation data platform

Waterloo-based SkyWatch was among the first startups to recognize that the key to unlocking the real benefits of the space economy lay in making Earth observation data accessible and portable, and now the company has raised a $17.2 million Series B to help it further that goal. Fresh on the heals of a partnership with Poland-based satellite operator SatRevolution, SkyWatch is now set to bridge the gulf between satellite startups and customers in a bigger way as it lowers the barriers to entry for new companies focused on high-tech spacecraft payloads.

The new round of funding was led by new investor Drive Capital, and included participation from existing investors including Bullpen Capital, Space Capital, Golden Ventures and BDC Ventures. SkyWatch CEO and co-founder James Slifierz told me that bringing Drive on was a major win for the Series B.

“Drive is a firm that has actually been researching the space industry for a few years now, and looking for an opportunity that would be their first space technology investment,” he said. “Not their first in the [GTA-Waterloo] area  they’re based out of Columbus, Ohio, made up of Silicon Valley veterans. They were a little early to the trend of believing that a majority of the really interesting and large opportunities would eventually evolve outside of the Bay Area and outside of New York City.”

SkyWatch definitely fits the bill, having built strong revenue pipeline for an Earth observation data platform that makes the information collected by the many observation satellites on orbit accessible to private industry, in a way that doesn’t require re-architecting existing systems or handling huge amounts of data in unfamiliar formats.

This fresh funding will help SkyWatch accelerate the rollout of its TerraStream product, a nw platform that the company developed to provide full-service data management, ordering, processing and delivery for satellite companies. This allows SkyWatch to not only make data collected by Earth observation satellites like those operated by SatRevolution accessible to customers — but also to source customers for those companies, too, effectively handling both sales and delivery, which many satellite startups born from a technical or academic background don’t start out equipped to tackle.

“My favorite analogy for TerraStream is it’s Shopify for space companies,” Slifierz said. “It takes away a lot of the complexity of going to market. So if you want to build an amazing shoe brand today, Shopify enables you to not have to worry about the logistics, and shipping, and the inventory management, the website, storefront and all that; it allows you to focus on the things that will build value in your company, which is the quality of your product, and your brand.”

He added that just like Shopify depends on the existence of a rich third-party ecosystem to support its platform, so does SkyWatch, and that ecosystem is only now reaching maturity after years of infrastructure development, including things like the proliferation of launch startups, ground station build out, data warehousing and more.

Ultimately, what SkyWatch provides is the ability to go to market “faster and more profitably,” Slifierz says, which is a major shift for hard tech satellite startups working on new and improved sensor capabilities, often spinning out of research labs at academic institutions.

“The strongest value proposition is that we give you instant access to hundreds of customers, which we’re growing at a very fast pace on the EarthCache [SkyWatch’s commercial satellite imagery marketplace] side. So in that way, we sort of joke, it’s like Shopify for space, but also integrated with the AWS marketplace.”

SkyWatch can also actually help identify demand, by providing satellite-side customers with real data to back up signals of what the market is actually looking for. Slifierz says that’s helped them advised partners on how to tweak their offering to meet a real need, which is beneficial in an industry where research and tech development often lead payload design, with actual demand as a somewhat secondary consideration.