- What made you take the leap into creative entrepreneurship?
Being from Johannesburg, South Africa we noticed a vast number of street artists trying to sell arts and crafts from the side of the road. We were really impressed by their work and stopped to ask a few of the artists some questions. After realizing that most of the guys did this as the only form of income for their families and were only selling a couple of pieces a week, we decided to create our platform to increase their exposure.
- What were the biggest initial hurdles to building your business and how did you overcome them?
Initially, our main challenges were getting our name out there as well as learning about the technicalities of the art industry. We managed to overcome these challenges through intensive networking via social media and face to face meetings of course. To learn about the industry we have been reading books, doing research online and have luckily been helped by various people we have met along the way. We have come a long way but still have a fortune to learn.
- Did you ever deal with contention from your family concerning your entrepreneurial pursuits? How did you handle it? What would you do differently in hindsight?
Our families have been very supportive luckily. There was an element of uncertainty from them, which is probably normal going into any new business but extremely supportive nonetheless.
- What was your business’ original mission? How has that mission evolved in the time since?
Our mission was and still is, to provide a platform that helps under resourced and up and coming African artists to gain exposure and create sustainable profits for both the artists and the business. Another part to our mission is connecting the rest of the world to Africa by showcasing the amazing art which Africa has to offer.
- Do you prefer to pursue funding or build organically, and why?
A combination of the two is ideal for us. Our business does not need huge amounts of capital and can be built organically which we have done for many months. However funding does help as it allows that building process to be fast-tracked provided the resources are put to good use. For example, additional funding can help with advertising and selling on popular/high volume platforms.
- Did you have major competitors when you started, how did you plan to compete with them, and how did that plan play out?
There are major competitors within the online art industry worldwide but the online African art market is growing at a fast rate, giving us an opportunity to enter the market with relative ease. We had a limited selection of art when starting which was difficult to deal with because our competitors had a larger and better range of stock. Our plan was not only to showcase the art on offer but the story of each individual artist we featured. We aim to create a personal connection between the artist and the audience through bios and videos, which has worked in helping us sell.
- What do you look for in a business partner?
Daniel and I (Alon), being partners, have certain principles we follow when working with each other. Firstly we are open and honest about all of our views on any decisions we make or have made for the business. Honesty is so important if we are to trust each other and trust is one of, if not the most crucial part of a partnership. Luckily we have been best friends since the age of 5. Another quality we strive to live by is the fact that we agree to never let financial issues come between us. Money is not more valuable than relationships. Money can be made over and over, broken relationships cannot always be mended. Aside from this being a good business partner entails a good work ethic, having an open mind and listening to other opinions and having clearly defined responsibilities.
- How do you facilitate a positive work environment that attracts and retains talent?
We are still a new business and haven’t had enough time to give a fully justified answer on this question but there is a certain culture we promote to facilitate a positive environment. We believe that a balance between creative freedom and business structures and systems contribute to this. As well as living by certain values when dealing with stakeholders: respect, honesty, fairness and openness.
- How did you build a consumer culture around your product?
Our initial target market was consumers outside of Africa. Besides for our goal of providing a platform for street artists, another goal was to provide non-African art collectors with African art, with just a click of a button. Part of our focus is to provide an easy way for our consumers to buy art, without having to leave their homes. We feel that we capitalized on this gap in the market based on what consumers need and how the world of online shopping is growing.
- What would you say was the single most influential factor in your business’ success?
As said previously we are still a new business so it’s too early for us to answer this question.
- What is the biggest mistake you’ve made as an entrepreneur?
Our biggest mistakes were probably in the way we approached getting our online platform up and running. It took a couple of months more than expected and we could have made wiser decisions to speed up the process. But this is all easy to say in hindsight. We did not have the knowledge at that stage so do not have any regrets because we have learned from the mistakes.
- What has been your greatest moment of success?
Our greatest moment up to date was our first international sale. To see that our vision was indeed possible was really uplifting. At first it was just a thought that African street artists would have the ability to sell their work online to international customers. When it first happened it made all the hard work worthwhile.
- How do you approach marketing your business?
Our approach to marketing is based on our target consumer. Our thought process entails asking ourselves “How do we promote what we are doing to the type of person who will buy from us?”
- How do you believe evolving technology will impact the way we do business over the next 10 years?
Business will be faster, globalized further and easily accessible from pretty much anywhere. A lot more people will be working either from home or on the go. Today we are able to have a video conference call from our phones with business people in any other country, worldwide. Imagine what it will be like in 10 years!
- What do you know today that you wish you would have known when you first got started as an entrepreneur?
Not much, because we understand that there will be many things that we don’t know at first and figure out along the way. But if we had to choose something it would probably be the technical knowledge of the art industry that we have now, compared to when we first started. However we still have so much more to learn.
- What is the most unpopular opinion you have on entrepreneurship?
There are many negative stigmas and opinions on entrepreneurship. These are mainly just stereo-types and untrue in most cases. Entrepreneurship actually entails being resourceful and having the ability to change and adapt to any situation for the purpose of improvement. In truth, it is crucial for all businesses, business owners and even employees, to be entrepreneurial.
- What’s the most important thing you’re working on right now, and how are you making it happen?
We are currently working on physically getting out there more to display our work in person instead of just marketing online. Our initial aim was to focus on selling art online to international buyers but we have realized what a long process that can be. We have now shifted some of our focus to displaying our artwork through pop-up exhibitions at markets and events as well as displaying our art in restaurants and hotels.
- Ask how she develops talent, how she helps people grow to the next level and be their best.
Our aim is to develop the under resourced street artists that we work with. The development comes from exposing our artists to other artists’ work, especially the art that is currently selling within the market. We believe that there needs to be a balance in an artist retaining creative freedom but also knowing which of their pieces are not up to standard and will not sell based on the current market.
- If you sold your company today, what would be the tone of the conversation? What would you want to gain? What would you want to avoid losing?
If we sold today, the tone of the conversation would not only involve financial details. We would want to sell to a person or business that would have a similar vision to ours and a great chance of implementing that vision. Of course we would want to gain the most amount of money possible through the acquisition but we did not only start this business for ourselves. We would need to be convinced on the well-being of our artists too. Perhaps we would not sell 100%, to ensure we would still be able to be a part of the decision making process.
- Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
In 5 years, we see ourselves travelling between multiple continents with our artists, setting up exhibitions and possibly African art stores around the globe. We hope to have an established platform that provides a programme to help street artists work from studios and galleries instead of a single street corner.
- How much capital did you have and when do we expect cash flow break even?
We invested a large portion of our life savings into this business because it is something we truly believe in. We have technically broken even through investment that we have received recently. In terms of breaking even through sales – that should happen by the end of the year, maybe early 2018 if all goes to plan.
- What kind of person will succeed in this industry?
A person who is not willing to give up and one who is always willing to learn and adapt to an ever changing industry. Of course it also takes smart financial decisions and hard work.
- How do you keep up with the changing trends of the industry?
By keeping an open mind, through continuous research and development and experimentation. It also helps to have a network of clued up individuals within the industry.
- What are some strategies that you would recommend for making the best use of one’s time?
- Planning is of course important. Setting goals and objectives and planning how to achieve them saves a great deal of time.
- Prioritizing your tasks then moving on or sidelining the tasks that are not important and do not deserve wasted time
- Waking up early – So simple but easier said than done. Keep your body and mind healthy through exercise and sleeping well, then wake up early to give yourself an extra couple of working hours.