A Q&A with ArtCorgi co-founder Simone Collins. The Palo Alto-based startup, an online commissioned art marketplace, launched to the public yesterday. It was founded late last year by Collins and fiancé Malcolm Collins.
SUB: Please describe ArtCorgi and your primary innovation.
Collins: ArtCorgi is an art commissions marketplace that makes it easy to commission original works of art—that is, work featuring you, your friends, your pets, etc.—from up-and-coming artists. We’re different from other art sales and art commission websites in that we have a very streamlined commissioning process—just one round of review, actively promote the artists within our network, feature upfront prices, and manage pricing centrally.
SUB: Who are your target markets and users?
Collins: Our initial target market consists of our own generation—millennials. We’re seeing that millennials are very keen on developing strong online identities and are willing to pay for customization, even when they’re not willing to pay for anything else. Take the gaming world for example—incredibly successful games such as League of Legends are free-to-play, but make a significant profit from gamers who buy special skins for their characters.
We’re also initially reaching out to people who are actively engaged with the online art world—people who love webcomics, fan art, and art bloggers. There’s a huge community of art aficionados online who follow, support, and engage with artists, but are really brought through the wringer when it comes to commissioning art—the art commissioning process online is famously difficult.
Collins: We don’t really see other art commissioning sites and platforms to be our competition. We prefer to see them as allies.
We consider our real competition to be providers of unique and romantic gifts—jewelry sites, flower sites, nerdy shirt and gadget sites, and other places where people go to find thoughtful tokens of affection. Our big, and admittedly far-fetched, challenge is to make art commissions a ‘thing’—something that comes to mind when people contemplate unique and thoughtful gifts to give to their friends, family, and loved ones.
There are several things that differentiate ArtCorgi and commissioned art in general from other ‘unique’ and ‘romantic’ things that people might buy, such as fruit arrangements and fandom-themed t-shirts. First, commissioned art is truly and utterly unique. Second, commissioned art lasts—it does not wilt, take up space, or wear out over time.
What I love most about commissioned art is its lasting impact. My co-founder and fiancé proposed to me with 21 pieces of commissioned art. I rotate those pieces out as computer and mobile device wallpapers on a regular basis, and thus see them 50-to-75 times a day. Every time I see this art, I am reminded of how much this guy loves me. It’s a surprisingly effective mood booster, and this art is a great gift to brag about. I’m always sharing my marriage proposal art with people—it’s hard not to do so when it’s on my phone’s lock screen.
SUB: You just launched—why was this the right time to make your public debut?
Collins: We’ve noticed growing interest in several niches relevant to ArtCorgi’s domain: Online art sales, fan art, and product and service customization. We’ve also seen several startups take a whack at the art commissions market and not quite get it right. We figured now’s the perfect time to step up to the plate and see what we can do.
We decided to launch in January, specifically with the hope that we might inspire some people to commission art as a Valentine’s Day gift. Nothing says romance like original art.
SUB: Have you raised outside funding to this point? If not, do you plan to in the near future?
Collins: We hope to raise a Seed round this spring. Up to this point, we’ve been bootstrapping, which makes things deliciously uncomplicated; however, given our plans for the future, we realize we’d do better with a bit more capital.
SUB: What was the inspiration behind the idea for ArtCorgi? Was there an ‘aha’ moment, or was the idea more gradual in developing?
Collins: I alluded to my co-founder and fiancé’s marriage proposal a bit earlier. It is that romantic gesture that ultimately inspired the business.
To provide some backstory, this wasn’t just any proposal. This past August, Malcolm proposed to me via reddit, using both advice animals and commissioned art. The proposal went viral and the art he commissioned ended up getting a lot of attention. Ever since the viral reddit proposal, people have been asking us about commissioning art, since they love what Malcolm did and would love to make some commissions of their own.
Since Malcolm had such a tough time commissioning the work he used for the proposal—he emailed hundreds of artists before finding 18 who were willing and able to help him—and since people were obviously so interested in the process, we decided to have a go at creating the art commissions marketplace that we wished existed.
In addition to incorporating our needs as commissioners into ArtCorgi’s design, we sent out emails to hundreds of artists to get a better feel for their personal pain points and needs with regard to working with clients and selling commissions online.
So I suppose you could say that ArtCorgi resulted from a huge spark over the summer, lots of repeated nudging throughout the fall, and our throwing our hands up and saying: “Heck, we’ll give it a go” this winter.
SUB: What were the first steps you took in establishing the company?
Collins: Our first steps were to outline what we wanted from a commissions site, then reach out to as many artists as possible to determine what they might want and need from an art commissions site.
SUB: How did you come up with the name? What is the story or meaning behind it?
Collins: Our goal is to act as a friendly go-between amongst up-and-coming artists and those who love their work. We’re out to make the art commissions process less intimidating and more fun. What figure better represents that sentiment than a corgi?
SUB: What have the most significant challenges been so far to building the company?
Collins: Building ArtCorgi was easy. Conducting market research and building a website requires little more than repeated blunt force and enthusiastic Googling. Convincing people that art commissions are a great idea for a gift, or delightful self-indulgence, is going to be the hard part.
SUB: How do you generate revenue or plan to generate revenue?
Collins: Our revenue is dependent on commission sales. We plan to drive sales through a mixture of SEM, SMM, content marketing and PR. In other words, we’re going to hang out online a lot, spread the word about art commissions and our awesome artists, experiment with online ad campaigns, and show people how fun it can be to work with an artist to create something truly unique and meaningful.
SUB: What are your goals for ArtCorgi over the next year or so?
Collins: ArtCorgi is part of a much larger plan to build a series of niche boutique marketplaces that enable freelance professionals to sell their work to clients with minimal hassle. On the client side, these marketplaces will offer all the security, predictability, and comfort of working with a cohesive brand while still boasting access to unique talent.
Once we’ve perfected our marketplace formula with ArtCorgi, we’ll roll out new boutiques, such as ones for commissioning album art and logo designs. Each boutique will have an entirely unique brand and feel, but will utilize the same connected backend network of artists. Over time, we’ll expand to additional realms, such as writing, coding, music, etc.
Our long-term goal is to create the ultimate career platform for self-employed professionals. We want to make it just as easy to work for yourself as it is to work for an established organization, and figure that a centralized online dashboard for selling services through multiple outlets would be a great step in that direction. In addition to making it easier to find work, we’d love to leverage the size of our network to make it easier for freelance workers to gain access to great insurance and 401(k) plans.
Clearly, we’ve got our work cut out for us. But with ArtCorgi, we feel like we’re off to a fun start.