The media is constantly bantering about the next cool new startups that just got funded, but very few of those huge investments seem to be going toward art-based companies. However, that may be changing as a slew of new companies, focusing on the creative, are getting Angel investments of Venture capital for startups. In the early .com boom, art-based businesses were all the rage. Portfolio sites, like Deviant Art , Flickr, and SmugMug, got in early, using the internet in ways that we hadn’t been seen before. Next came online photo printing services, like Snapfish or Shutterfly, along with book making companies like Blurb. Now even Walgreens and CVS can print digital photos. Investors fawned over companies like Café Press, which began printing on merchandise but competition has pushed profit margins down, making those companies less desirable. Much of the innovation and money has gone into new tech, like lenses for iPhones, drawing tablets, high-resolution monitors and a plethora of art productivity software. The fine art market, on the other hand, has been relatively quiet. Just looking at Crunchbase, the crow-sourced database of startups activity, illustrates the relatively low investment recently for creative-based businesses. That seems to be changing with some interesting new companies getting funding. Here are a few to watch out for in 2015.
The Startups List
Depict has developed a beautiful high-definition 4K frame to display digital art. The company wants to revolutionize the experience of displaying and viewing art digitally. The Depict Frame measures 50-inches across diagonally, and boasts a native resolution of 3,840×2,160px. The border of the frame is handcrafted using American maple. The company says that it has raised $2.4 million in seed financing to begin shipping its frames by next summer. Given the high price of art and photographs, we can expect to see more companies finding ways to display digital art. Check out the Depict video below.
Saatchi Art is heralded as the ultimate marketplace for original paintings, drawings, photography, sculpture and other artworks. Users can browse according to medium, size and price, discover and follow artists, check the hottest new trends and see what Saatchi Art’s curators find most impressive. Even more interesting, the Satchi Art mobile app gives users the ability to see how the art may look in your home. In August, Demand Media (DMD), a digital content company based in Santa Monica, Calif., paid $17 million for the company. They have received another $11 million in three rounds of funding, giving the company the means to continue its climb to the top of the curated online art category.
Paddle8 is a virtual auction house, backed by the owners and technology investors behind Uber, Pinterest and Vimeo. The company is focused on fine art, holding two types of auctions: benefit auctions, which are held through collaborations with non-profits and major museums, and biweekly themed auctions. In the first half of 2014, total sales reached $17.8 million, a 400 percent increase over the same period in 2013. The company has received $17 million from Investors. Not nearly as large as the major auction houses, founder Alexander Gilkes isn’t worried, claiming that his company’s “focus is on the whole middle market, . . . the $100,000 range.” although he did qualify the statement saying, “we had a Jeff Koons egg that started at $500 and went to $900,000.” With Paddle8’s success, the major auction houses are ramping up their online business. In 2014, Sotheby’s inked a deal with eBay to stream its auctions online and Christie’s, the world’s largest auction house, putting additional marketing efforts into its $50 million media platform. In the first six months of 2014, 27 percent of Christie’s online buyers were new to the auction house.
Artsy wants to help people discover art. The company must be pretty good at it for Timeout Magazine to call Artsy “the coolest NYC startup.” Artsy recognizes that art buying can be elitist, making it hard for users to know what art is truly unique and what that uniqueness is worth. Artsy’s goal is to help people discover new artists through recommendations, just like Pandora or Netflix. The company’s online collection contains more than 230,000 works of art. Users can browse the artwork as well as share and discuss each piece. The personalized suggestions help find the perfect pieces which users can then purchase through the site. This past April, Artsy received $18.5 million from Venture capital firm, Series B. With that kind of investment, expect to hear a lot more from Artsy in the near future.
Juicy Canvas is taking a different approach to Print on Demand by allowing user to collaborate with other artists and customize work, allowing non-artists to create unique creative design. The final product is rendered on a high-quality canvas, American Apparel T-shirts, art posters, decor, iPhone cases, and lots of other merchandising. According to the company’s manifesto: “JC’s appeal is that it gives buyers more than just the usual, passive pick-and-buy-a-product transaction. With just a few simple clicks, it offers the user a powerful experience: the chance to be an artist and create a highly personalized and viral artwork or lifestyle product.” While people love art, many feel apprehensive about creating it. Sites like Juicy Canvas, can change that feeling. Now, users can collaborate with other artists and actually create tangible art for their home. Online artist / non-artist collaboration remains a relatively untapped market, so for those looking to start an art-based business, fostering collaboration between artists and non-artists may be a good place to start.
Slidely is a media-based social platform where users create and share meaningful moments from their favorite photos, videos, and music. The Israeli based company, started in May 2012, already boast over 50 million users across several apps. The company received $7.3 million in funding in April 2014 from Benson Oak Capital for its iMovie-like app, “Show”. The app lets users create movies by stitching together photos and videos from social networks and then share them across those networks again. Users are not limited to photos or videos on their phones but can grab media from any social media hosting their media, such as Facebook, Instagram or Dropbox. Apps are traditionally difficult to monetize, especially to the tune of $7 million. I would expect that the investment is based on the value of the user data being collected by Slidely. Which content is being used in the videos, where the user choose to pull media, where the videos are shared and who views them, are just a few of the many data points that product marketers want to get their hands on. A 50 million-person user base can provide a lot of valuable insights into buyer behavior.
Finally, there is Lofty, which comes at art from the seller’s perspective, rather than the buyers. While Lofty provides a traditional online marketplace for valuable fine art, antiques and collectibles, each Lofty item is reviewed and valued by a carefully selected network of experts, which includes qualified appraisers, current and former auction house specialists, reputable dealers, and other art world professionals with decades of experience evaluating items in their specialties. One problem with buying art online, especially when it has a heavy price tag, is making sure it is authentic, and actually liking the piece once it is seen in person. Art can look very different from what is seen on a computer screen. To counter those issues, Lofty provides a 5-year Authenticity Guarantee and a 100% Money Back Satisfaction Guarantee within seven days of delivery. In 2014, Lofty received $2 million in Seed investment.
These are but a few of the art-based startup companies to watch in 2015. Artstar, ArtKick, Auctionata, Saffronart, Uprise Art, Art Viatic, Artspace, the Art Stack, and many others have the potential for success. The question that artists, photographers, graphic designers or any other creative person looking to monetize their work should be asking is, “How can I take advantage of some of these new platforms to sell my work?” That’s not an easy task, especially if the creators don’t have a background in marketing. In the next post, I’ll recommend some sites that may help you stake advantage of some of these new startups.