A realization that has come from this pandemic, is the perception of space. For some, in different areas, there was almost no space. And for others, how much space is too much? While predictions early only may have thought most would stay put, many did the exact opposite – they moved. Whether it was an apartment up the street, or a state-to-state transfer, the opportunity to start over has enticed some to completely transition their life.
Consequently, the weight of starting over can be troublesome; especially during the beginning of the pandemic. “People were coming back from LA and New York, and oftentimes needed everything to occupy a new place,” says Cameron Johnson, founder of Nickson, a new found concept that furnishes your apartment on demand. “We were there for them. We had a big crew during COVID,” he continued. The Dallas-based entrepreneur graduated from Harvard in 2012, and after working in real estate for over a decade, Johnson used his showroom-ready eye to create a trendy resource that now has investors ready to take a risk. “I’m not saying I’m a genius, but it seems to me that people hate moving,” the founder says when asked how he came up with the idea. Upon joining and paying a monthly subscription of $199, Nickson receives the keys to your apartment, and fully furnishes your place. From silverware to bedding, and entertainment – there’s no need to buy anything additional when moving in.
Amid the ongoing complications of the pandemic, Johnson saw a rise in business due to store shutdowns and safety concerns. This summer, the owner raised $12M in Series A funding, elevating the stock and value of the company. After launching in 2017, the pandemic is what jump-started his company into mainstream success. “Raising money can be difficult, especially in times with extreme uncertainty,” he says.
Houstonia spoke with the founder about the rise of Nickson, how he was awarded a large investment after years of networking, and what happens if you completely dislike the renovation.
What sparked the idea for Nickson?
I joined a firm called Greystar Real Estate Partners and they’re one of the largest managers of apartments in the nation. They also do investments and developments. What that means is I spent a lot of time around just looking at family assets. Ultimately I noticed a curious behavior, but didn’t come up with the perfect solution immediately, in that people would try to rent the model. You have this beautiful model unit and anecdotally, but consistently, some percentage of people in all of our buildings would say, “Can I just have this one?”
How did you form the connection then that people wanted to detach from packing, and unpacking?
I just kind of went to Google and started searching things like, “I hate moving,” “I hate packing.” Hashtag moving sucks, has been used hundreds of thousands of times on social media. And then you start seeing lists of the most stressful life events and the top five is things like moving, but it’s alongside things like death of a loved one and divorce. And people are moving more often than ever. Home ownership rates are declining. People move on average once every two years. So they do this once every two years, and absolutely hate it.
How does the service work?
So we try to make it really easy for people since moving can be so stressful. What happens in the typical use case is that someone will go out and they’ll find an apartment of their choosing. As long as it’s in a market that we service, they’ll sign a lease and get a move in date. You can reserve Nickson without it [a signed lease], but typically most people go find their place before they lease their stuff. Once you join, you select a package. They include everything your space needs. So you simply select one bed, two bed, three bed, or studio. You’ll answer a few style questions. Then select your reservation date, put your credit card in, and then boom, you’re off.
When somebody joins, are they able to pick and choose certain products?
For the most part, we do the whole apartment, but we can omit things. We are completely inclusive, but if you say, “I don’t want the couch,” the price won’t effectively change, but we are happy not to bring the couch. If you have your 65-inch and that’s your pride and joy, we’re happy to omit the TV. But when you sign up for us, you can get everything.
How is this different from furniture rental companies out there?
Other furniture rental companies, they’re focused on the objects. “You need a couch? Come get a couch. We wanted to solve your living problem. How do you live in your space? So less focused on the objects and more on the idea of, again, living.
What if someone doesn’t like their furniture?
The little bit of trade off that people have to make when they use our service is that you get everything and it’s going to be as close as we can to nailing your style, but you don’t necessarily get to pick it all out. Some people view that as positive, some people view that potentially as a negative. So we offer a complete 30-day risk-free cancellation. You get there and you just absolutely don’t like the pictures on the wall or don’t like the rugs on the floor, if you just can’t stand it and can’t live with it, we’ll come get it all. No problem.
How were you able to raise money for your business in a pandemic?
This round, trying to sell the business and sell yourself via Zoom, it was very different versus going in person. But ultimately, we did really well. Raising money during the pandemic was an interesting process. We were fortunate in that the business did really well. And so the process of trying to find new investors and meeting them virtually all felt really different than it had in the past. It was a long process because of the amount of uncertainty that existed. But once we were able to secure our lead, the process went relatively smooth from there.