[Editorial Notes: Both PixMyWall and ArtFlute started as experiments. PixMyWall was looking to create a larger, broader market for art and ArtFlute had an online platform created for discovery and purchase of good art. The two forces merged (without any investor pressure) to build a bigger piece! Here is what startups need to learn from some of these untold/unsexy stories.]
“Focus on traction!”
You head to an investor or an incubator/accelerator or even a mentor, and that’s what you get to hear. It’s the conventional wisdom that’s also everyone’s advice these days – often ours included!
But Aditya Pisupati, CEO of ArtFlute has dared to think different.
Looking back, if I would have chased traction and got medium/ large deals on board, I am very sure that the quality of the end product would have been very poor and that would have set us back. In the space that we are in, customers expect quality and the product is also not something that is inconspicuous. It is prominent and it is critical that we offer something that creates an impression.
But first, some context. What is this “end product” that they were trying to build? Here it is in Aditya’s words:
“There are many talented artists in the market and unfortunately very few buyers. The art market market has traditionally targeted the HNIs and Corporates who have the money to spend and has not really tried to expand to other segments in the market. This approach has always limited how much an artist can sell and to how many.
We drilled down to understand why this was the case and two major reasons emerged –
Knowledge about art – Art is something that is too mystified, too complex for a lot of us to understand.
Affordability – Most art is often considered expensive and many do not identify it as a priority item to spend money on.
But there was another observation – Almost all people that we spoke to, loved to have an art work on their walls. It was only the ‘where to get one’ and ‘inexpensively’ that were the concerns. So we realized that there is this huge need where artists want to connect to the larger market and the market wants to experience quality art at costs that they perceive as spendable.
This led to the creation of “Art on Subscription” where we give an option to the customers (both individual and businesses) to Keep a work or art as long as they want, exchange for another periodically or just buy it if they’d like to.”
It started as PixMyWall, but is now ArtFlute. All this happened before too many customers, too many artists or any of that. As a part of the discussions PixMyWall were having with players in the market to understand the current model of art distribution, sale and consumption, they got introduced to Artflute who were also working towards creating a level playing field for artists and showcase their work to potential buyers. “We immediately sensed a synergy and decided to merge both the entities. Artflute came on board with the robust platform that was built over years (an online art marketplace with around 1500 artists showcasing 8000 artworks) and PixMyWall (erstwhile name) added value in the space of subscription.” Today, says Aditya, they are the only art based firm offering not only offering a wide variety of art works but also letting customers choose how they’d like to experience art.
ArtFlute has explored and come close to many partnerships that could have led to good revenue opportunities. But contrary to the MVP approach that’s usually touted as the right way to bootstrap, they have consciously decided to delay or postpone that multiple times in favour of not compromising, and indeed refining the offering they had.
“The basic idea of offering multiple consumption models to the market has not changed since the beginning. We’ve stuck to ‘Why’ we started off. The ‘How’ kept evolving and even today, we are experimenting with the sizes, the print quality, the kind of art forms, the distribution network and the pricing.
We consciously managed to limit the burn and ensure that we add resources only when we are confident that we can cover costs. So in the last 6 months, since the time we’ve started to have a team and are investing in some marketing activities, we’ve ensured that we close enough deals that will cover the basic costs. We have not always stayed in the black, but managed to stay afloat. And now that the team has been working and adding to the quality of offering, we are in a MUCH better situation to offer what the market needs.”
While he does appreciate the need to create exit opportunities for investors and other, Aditya personally is not focused on an exit, but building something that truly changes the market for appreciating and consuming art – both for the artists as well as for a larger set of buyers.
It’s heartening to see this passion and determined focus on getting the soul of a startup right before chasing traction, funding and scale. One would love to see more of this amongst entrepreneurs! The open minded (and sensible) teaming up with someone who had a good platform to take the problem on together is also something startups should find some inspiration in.
It’s a tough battle, but there’s little that this kind of passion, determination coupled with level headed thinking cannot achieve. We’re impressed, and very optimistic about this one!