I started the business together with two friends. It started off because we were talking one day and said art is like wine – you know what you like and what you don’t like. You don’t necessarily know what is a good investment. In either case, however, if you’re spending an affordable amount and are enjoying it, it’s worth it. If it becomes an investment, it’s a bonus. So that’s how the whole concept originally came about. We just wanted to make art accessible and affordable to the people around.
However, as we went along we saw that there were a lot of other sites that were kind of being an online art gallery promoting other artists, but there were no sites helping the artists before they got to the point where they could be on those sites or on their own site. That’s the gap that we think we can fill now.
If a person, whose main skillset is art, can make money from art before they can start making complete money from art, and not having to do any other work, and we can support them along the way, then we’ve succeeded in what we are doing and that’s the whole idea behind the company.
So now we offer three different things on our website. We offer people commissions where they can come and commission a portrait, or a landscape or anything else they’d really like to get painted. We do abstract commission as well. We do reproductions. These are reproductions of Van Goghs, Monets – brilliant artists that most of us can’t afford to buy and it’s not always easy to admire them in a museum either. We also offers services to the artist as a platform for them to sell their own original art. So that’s where we are currently.
My co-founders are no longer part of the organization. Recently we decided I would be the only one heading the organization and they have taken a step back. One of them was pretty much responsible for bringing a lot of the artists. He would go around and speak to art colleges, speak to art students and sign up artists through that. However, we have started seeing a shift in the past four months or so where artists have started to come to us directly, which is really a nice thing for us obviously because it means we have been noticed in the art community. They obviously feel that we’re going to be able to help them in some way. We are delighted with that change.
I have been involved in a fair amount of websites at this point. The one thing I tell people working on them is that it’s like a shop, if you have a shop it’s not going to bring people in. You still have to advertise, you still have to invite them in. You still have to do something to entice them in and a really good looking website on a fast server is not going to do it for them. They still need to be looking for you. That’s the one thing I always say. A website is just a shop front.
In India we never went to the customers directly. If they came to us we would look after them but we did not advertise to them very often. We must have advertised in a period of two years about three times.
We had a network of photographers who would offer our services. So there’s a wedding photographer and he’s doing wedding photography for a couple that is getting married. As part of his package he would offer three paintings. So that was our channel for growing the business in India. However, since we have decided not to focus on that market and are now looking at Ireland, I have decided to go with a very strong B2C route.
If I go back a bit in the story, what happened is the three of us started off and none of us were full time in this. One was based between New York and India, another was based in another part of the world and I was based in Ireland. So there were three of us in four different time zones.
When I decided to take over full time (I have only been doing this full time for about a month now), I said I’m going to go full time in this and give it a full shot, and that’s where we started to give it a lot more online focus. I knew I was going to go down this route so I had started working on social media, I had started putting basics together. I’m not saying we’re anywhere near being perfect but if I started waiting for perfection I’d probably be waiting years. It’s easier to tweak as you go along.
That’s one of my biggest tips to anyone out there who is ever considering starting a company – just do it. Somebody once told me if you’re not embarrassed by your first launch you’re doing something wrong. It’s a really good way of putting things in perspective. I might not be 100% happy with something on my Facebook page, and I might not be 100% happy with something on my Twitter and I might not be 100% happy with something on the site itself but they work. The customers come, they still buy, I still have a business going. And when it gets to a point where I need to change it, I’ll get to it. But right now that’s not my priority.
You have to give yourself a certain amount of time as well. What are the realistic expectations? Are you expecting one order in the first month? Are you expecting thirty orders in the first month? Are you expecting three thousand orders in the first month? In our business it’s not a volume game. But there are some businesses where it’s all about the volume. People need to be realistic and go ok, in the art world if there are five orders per day, that’s actually quite good. That’s very good for a startup.
We work with artists who are in developing countries. The cost of living for them is very low and you’re marketing it to people in developing countries. So they can afford a $180.00 painting of which a higher percentage is going to the artist than to the company. Which then means the artist has covered their costs in terms of the materials and also getting some money towards their time. That kind of flexibility allows them to do this on the side while putting together their collection and that is the added advantage to them. The materials actually end up being a lot less important to them in terms of cost because they are buying a huge amount of oils, they are buying a huge amount of acrylics and they are buying a lot of canvas. So by buying such large quantities of materials their prices are going down. If they had to buy materials for each individual painting it would not be cost effective, but because they’re also doing art otherwise it’s actually very cost effective for them.
They’re making enough money that in some cases if I can get an artist six commissioned paintings a month then they’re actually making enough money to keep them going while they’re putting their collection together. So they’re not making enough money to get savings or put together those bits in their lives but that’s not what they’re looking for and that’s not what we’re offering either.
The way we actually sell it to them is we say if you have three original paintings, put them on our site. If they sell you know there is a market for it. If they are not selling, think about it. Is it a style you need to change? Maybe is it that you’re going to be one of those artists whose only going to be recognized after you have passed on? Is this actually one of your talents?
There are some artists who come and they have thrown together these abstracts that you look at and say I’ll put them on the site but I’ll be very surprised if anybody buys them. But you can’t say that to them because we’re not here to judge. We’re not curating anyone’s work. I don’t know anything about art except what I like and don’t like, so it’s not fair of me to turn around and say I’ll only put up things that I like.
I have artists all over the world. I have worked with artists in Mexico. I have worked with artists in India. I have worked with artists in China. These are artists that are not necessarily in Ireland or only in Europe. These are artists from all over the world. I was doing a radio show a couple of weeks ago and realized the only continent where I have had absolutely no artistic involvement at all is Africa. We have artists from every other continent. It’s quite a global company.
There are actually a couple of things that I know are against me. One is people like to see prices in their own currencies and that’s not something that’s easy to implement because that also means that you are also maintaining the fluctuation and all of that and you’re opening up another can of worms that for a startup is not something they can really look at.
Secondly, everyone these days wants a quick response which is fair enough. We all want a quick response. We all want to be given an answer in five minutes but it’s not always possible. There are people emailing me on a Saturday afternoon while I’m at a barbecue somewhere. I’m not looking at my phone. I’m not checking it. I have switched off for the weekend but the people want the answer because it’s their weekend in their part of the world and that’s the day they’re thinking of buying something. Or they’re working that day somewhere. So it’s one of those things where people expect something but kind of forget – hey, hang on, it’s in a different country. I can’t get as quick of a response like if it was in my own country – which can be held against us. Then the time zones again, if someone in Australia is trying to get a response in five minutes I’d have to be working through the night which then means I can’t help the Irish customers or the English customers. So it is a bit tricky but it’s part of the challenge and part of the fun.
It is tough and I’m not saying it happens overnight. We have been doing this for two and a half years and I have only gone full time in it in the last few months. I have given myself a runway of six months. If in six months I’m not doing a slightly under realistic amount in my head than is it really worth my time? Is it something I should just keep as a hobby?
People just need to know what is it that they need to focus on and what is it they need to achieve. Everyone needs to know what is it I absolutely need to achieve in these six months or a year or what is the maximum I’m willing to spend. And then say I’m not spending anymore and see how it goes. At the same time though if you spend too much time planning a plan B are you giving enough time to plan A? So it’s a delicate balance.
Favorite Book: Autobiography of a Yogi (Self-Realization Fellowship) by Paramahansa Yogananda
Favorite Resource: Dropbox; Quora; Inc.com
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Guest: Kritika Ashok – Artnouv
Kritika Ashok is often deemed an entrepreneur, whereas she considers herself a businesswoman. She has degrees in Maths and Computers, followed by a Masters in Business Administration. Kritika is often called into the Trinity MBA to lecture about the different stages of a company’s growth cycle and the importance of understanding the stages and their impact on company culture, growth and strategy.
She has an extensive knowledge of the operations and the strategies required to grow businesses, especially in the e-commerce sphere and is extremely partial to the startup world!
Currently, Kritika is focusing on her latest company- ArtNouv. ArtNouv delivers Your Art, Your Way. They do so in 3 different ways- they offer commissioned paintings based on photographs provided by the customer, sell reproductions of masterpieces by artists such as Van Gogh, Klimt and Money and finally, the also offer people the option to buy original art from global upcoming artists.
When she is not working, Kritika advises not for profit organisations, plans a new travel adventure she is going to embark on, navigates in vintage car rallies, walks with her camera and enjoys going to see live music.
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