Art and business don’t always marry well, but the founders of crowdsourcing website Artchu have found a way to combine business acumen with their love of art.
Based in Sydney, Artchu allows users to find talented artists to create original, personalised art. It was founded by Kern Wyman, Lon Taranaki, Alex and Mike Nguyen, and Pete Kellock.
The team has come up with a unique crowdsourcing model, which, according to Wyman, works like oDesk or Freelancer.
“A consumer uploads a project brief and outsources bids from artists around the world… We’re looking to service a number of Australian, US and Asian markets,” he says.
Wyman talks to StartupSmart about why there’s a need for an art-only crowdsourcing site.
What inspired the idea for Artchu? What niche did you identify?
Artchu came about because of a problem a co-founder had. In particular, they had a bad experience trying to find someone to do a painting of their child.
It took too long to find someone, it was difficult to arrange the work to be done, and security around work and payment was non-existent.
In the end, the deposit was paid but the work was never done and, most importantly, my co-founder didn’t get the art that they wanted.
Accessing good, affordable, original art that you love is, and always has been, difficult and so most people have very limited art in their lives. I’m all about changing that.
We wanted to make Artchu about personalised art for everyone. So one long night a few months ago, we decided to problem-solve around this issue.
Crowdsourcing, combined with web commerce, can massively impact and disrupt entrenched business models.
So we decided to see if we could apply it to the art world to make it just a whole lot easier, and we’ve done that by building Artchu.
How long did you work on the business before you launched it?
Artchu is launching right now.
We’ve taken a while to consider the model to be used, to build the platform itself, focus the message, and understand the interaction needed between the creatives (artists/suppliers) and consumers.
We’ve not rushed it, partly because we’ve not set out to raise funding to date, but also because we’ve felt it’s important to get the product pretty close to right.
So we’re a lean start-up in one sense (low budget, trial, find a customer, iterate) but not in another sense (where we’ve spent some months on the message and differentiation).
In particular, we’re deliberately being very consumer-focused. While we love artists, pretty much every web-based art site or business focuses on the artist.
Consumers usually struggle with that type of focus on the artist. So we’re enjoying opening that market to the consumer.
How did you fund the business?
It’s all self-funded to date.
We’ve been very fortunate to have the experienced development and design team that we do, with a proven history working together on some other projects and some great ‘been there’ advice available as well.
So start-up costs have been low – very low – with everyone contributing to get where we are now.
But I wouldn’t mind having a bigger budget to work with and so we’re starting to consider the impact an additional budget and/or scaling might have.
How do you promote the business?
It’s been very minimal promotion so far. From this point on, there will be some traditional in and outbound marketing, but keeping, where possible, to a low cost basis.
Social marketing will be critical, and we will spend some money on those skills and the development of some unique social applications too.
I’ll also add, we’ve just started a launch promotion. We call it the Artchu Great Art giveaway.
How many staff do you have?
We’ve a great team of about five working together at the moment. More to come in 2012.
What are your revenue projections for 2011/12?
We’ve not set them yet. We need to get the process right, the marketing right and the scaling right. Get it right, and there’s great revenue in the business model.
What are your points of difference?
This has been a point we’ve worked on quite a lot. Commissioning art is not new. Even commissioning art online is not new.
But commissioning original art for the average person in the street, where the consumer chooses what they like and helps to create the work from an open crowd of creative suppliers, is a little different.
And then we also go about doing it a little differently.
We’ve designed this for non-artists and so it’s very easy to use for people who already have art in their spaces, those who have never commissioned before, and many who have never even considered it before they found us.
That principle runs through everything we do, in particular our very simple ‘visual’ approach to how a customer describes their project brief.
It’s simple, fast, visual and gets around the difficulty of having to ‘describe’ what you want from another person.
We also use an open crowd. For instance, we don’t employ or hire a select studio of artists working on production line creation of paintings.
All of the artists on the site are their own business: freelancers from around the world. The customers therefore get a great choice of artists who want to do the work and are willing to help with ideas to give the customer exactly what they want.
Finally, we’ve given the power of selection to the customer. We think people typically do know what they like and we help them sit down and get it created.
There’s quite a lot of movement in the art-tech investment sector at the moment but, typically, these are focused on art recommendation engines, art prints or art rental.
No-one has applied themselves to art crowds for consumers in a big way.
What has been your greatest challenge and how did you overcome it?
Making things incredibly easy and open to everyone. It’s easy to make things that are difficult to use. It’s always a challenge to create things that are simple and elegant.
It took us a while, but we believe we’ve achieved it.
What’s the biggest risk you face?
Honestly, the biggest risk to any start-up is the one where you get ignored. We’re no different in that regard. Better products, even stunningly better products, still face that risk.
Is there anything you would have done differently?
Not at this point. We’ve taken the time to build an elegant and enjoyable product that people have said is refreshing and produces great results.
Future decisions will be around funding and growth, and also a couple of additional product-related add-ons as we get more and more use on the platform.