NYLP: Welcome to the New York Launch Pod, a podcast highlighting new start-ups, businesses, and openings in the New York City area. I’m Hal Coopersmith, and in this episode, we’re going into the art world, and stepping on to the Launch Pod we have Alexandra Chemla. She’s the founder of ArtBinder. Welcome to the New York Launch Pod, Alexandra.
Alexandra: Thanks for having me. I’m excited to be here.
NYLP: So what is ArtBinder?
Alexandra: ArtBinder is, today, primarily a mobile sales and presentation tool for gallerists, as well as artists and collectors, that allows them to quickly access their inventory no matter where they are in a visual and easy-to-use way. As the name suggests, it’s a digital version of what used to be three-ring binders when I was working at an art gallery.
NYLP: How did you come up with the idea?
Alexandra: I was making those three-ring binders at an art gallery, and it was in 2010 when the iPad had just come out. And naively, having studied semiotics at Brown, where you also went, I thought that I could come up with a solution since one didn’t exist, to put together portfolios for the artist that we represented, at the time, as a small project on the side of my full-time job.
NYLP: So it’s 2010, how old were you at the time?
Alexandra: Now, I’m going to go on record saying how old I am which means that 80…like 50 years from now, people will be able to know if I’m lying about my age. I was 23.
NYLP: So you’re 23 years old. What made you think you can do this, you can come up with an app for art galleries?
Alexandra: Because it just didn’t seem that complicated, and because I really knew what I needed, and it didn’t exist. And I didn’t see anyone else potentially doing it. By nature, I’ve always been a problem solver, and I’ve always been one of those people that just makes what I can’t find, or is terrible at taking “no” for an answer, actually as my parents would probably tell you. So I think for me, it was mainly that I was so shocked that this didn’t exist and that there was no way of doing this, that I just was not capable of taking “no” for an answer, and I was just very driven to find a solution to put our content on iPads.
NYLP: The iPad had just come out. What did you need to do in order to develop an app?
Alexandra: So 2010, the iPad didn’t exist which is actually a time that is surprisingly difficult to remember today when mobile technology is so prevalent, but I still had a Blackberry, and that wasn’t that weird. I didn’t consider myself to be the tech-savvy person either, but I was the youngest person at the gallery because I was at the front desk. Gallery assistant was an entry-level job. And so the assumption was that I was the most tech-savvy person there, which meant that I was fixing stuff that was broken, and dealing with the technology challenges.
So I was sitting there. We’re getting ready for an art fair. The most important one, the Art Basel in 2010. And my boss, the director of the gallery, has 30 three-ring binders in her book shelf organized alphabetically for each of the artists that the gallery represented. And in those binders were printouts in those plastic, clunky, like that cranky stuff, which are basically offer sheets. So it’s the image of the artwork with the relevant details. Artist name here, medium dimensions, the stuff that really matters about the piece that you can’t necessarily tell from the image. And then there was also the artist bio, press clippings, a variety of like PDFs.
Those binders, in theory, were updated on a regular basis, but in reality were updated about once a year before this big art fair, which meant that I got a list of hundreds of inventory IDs that needed to be updated or replaced in those binders in a very short amount of time. And so I’m sitting there literally fixing broken printers because the printers can’t work fast enough, and trying to actually, most importantly match the color of what’s on the screen to what’s coming out of the printer.
So at that point, I was so frustrated because it was just insane. It was the most inefficient thing I’ve ever seen and so central to our business. And so to me, the fact that my boss had just received an iPad is a gift out of the blue while I was doing this was a sign because I saw it and I was just like, “Oh my god. The images on this thing look amazing.” But what I saw between the iPad and the situation that I was in, what I saw was just all of this potential.
In my mind, this had to exist. All I’m asking for is somewhere I can keep track of images that have relevant information corresponding to those images, and a clean way of organizing them. That’s it. If I try to do that in the iPhoto, it was impossible because I couldn’t even create a sub-album. So I couldn’t create an album for artists and then have albums within those. It sounds very trivial, but we’re talking about hundreds of thousands of dollars for one work. So all of that stuff matters a lot. You can literally lose a sale because the colors are off on the inkjet, or because you don’t have access to the right information at the right time.
NYLP: It had to exist.
Alexandra: It had to exist, yeah.
NYLP: How much time were you spending doing the binders when you were working at the gallery?
Alexandra: Way too much. I started at the gallery, I think, in January. I was supposed to get this assignment in May. It wasn’t clear who was going to get it. It was almost like I had graduated to a certain role that I even got this task, but for the three months leading up to that, I heard horror stories from the woman whose job it had been for the last six years to update these and to put them together. And our story wasn’t unique.
Everybody has the same issue, not to mention the fact that 30 three-ring binders had to ship to the fair two weeks before the fair itself. So they had to be ready two weeks before. Plus, we were spending so much money on ink and paper, and even just shipping cost because those things weigh a ton. Not to mention the fact that once they actually get there as a sales tool…imagine you’re at an art fair which is essentially the equivalent of the convention centers for art. So it’s basically like many exhibitions in a row from a lot of the top galleries.
And it’s basically galleries have like a 10-minute window to sell a work of art, and you have to get somebody when they’re interested because even though these are high-priced important sales, they’re largely passion-driven. And so you’re standing there with somebody and your colleague is talking about the same artist, and they’re really interested in a piece but you don’t have actually the binder to show them, “Oh, this is the work of art that I think you’d be really interested in.” If that binder doesn’t free up, you’re not going to close that sale. With the iPad, three different dealers were able to talk about not only the same artist but literally the same work at the same time.
NYLP: So you came up with this idea. What did you need to do?
Alexandra: I genuinely believe that necessity is the mother of invention, at least it was in my case. And I think that the necessity is what drove me through the entire time. But I was flying by the seat of my pants for a long time. But without any business degree, very little experience working in a traditional company, if any actually, because I really only worked in art organizations which are anything but traditional, and without really understanding technology, I think that there are a lot of things that…I mean I didn’t know what a wire frame was. And for those who don’t, it’s essentially a blueprint of what you’re going to be building that happens before you actually design it, which is what it’s actually going to look like.
There was finding not just somebody to develop it, but it was cloud-based, and at the time, no one really knew that much about the cloud. I think what I didn’t know going into it, one was that I was starting a business. Two was that developing software and technology does not have…it might have a clear starting point, clear-ish, but it certainly doesn’t have a clear endpoint. It’s iterative, and it’s about having the courage to release something that’s not completely ready and make improvements along the way.
I think initially when I started the product, it was, “Okay. This is going to take me three months to build and then I can sell it.” The reality is it might take me three months to get it to a point where I can get some clients, and three months was actually off by a decent amount. It was optimistic. But once I get clients, I’m going to keep developing it a lot more. So I think those were a few of the things.
NYLP: You think it was easier not knowing what you were getting into?
Alexandra: A hundred percent.
NYLP: Why is that?
Alexandra: It’s actually something that I talked to my team about today as we’re now going into building a new product again, which is basically a massive expansion of our current product rather than just doing what the sales side of the gallery’s business. It literally is the operational system that a gallery can rely on for everything from contact management to sales, and then all of the historical record-keeping that they need to do. It’s the system that they used to manage our system.
The one thing that I have today that I didn’t have when I started the company about five years ago, or about six years ago, is a team of people that are experienced, and that know about all of the things that could potentially be lurking around the corner that I wouldn’t have known. And I think that one of the things that I keep trying to impress upon my team, and myself even, is let’s not let that experience stand in the way of just taking the plunge, because I think that sometimes when you don’t know what could go wrong, and you just do your best and you let it go somewhat wrong, it’s very easy to correct.
But if you’re constantly afraid of doing something because of all of the reasons why it could go wrong, you’re never going to do it at all. And so it’s a careful balance to strike. Obviously, I’m not advocating for doing something that you know is going to have a terrible outcome. But I think that anyone could talk themselves out of starting a business or taking certain risks. Yeah.
NYLP: And by not knowing the risk, you didn’t know what you were getting into?
Alexandra: Yeah. I mean, look, to be honest when I started, too, it wasn’t that sexy to have a start-up or to have like a tech company. In the last three years it’s become a lot cooler, but at the time, I was going through this existential crisis of, “Oh my god. I’m going from having this clear path of what I want to do. I want to work in a gallery, then I’m going to stay here for a few years. I’m going to go get a master’s in curatorial studies, and then I’m going to go and apply for a job at a museum and work at a museum,” and it was very clear.
And then I started doing this, and it was like this, like I said, an existential crisis. Like, “Oh my god. I’m now going to be an IT person. I’m that person that’s coming into the gallery to help with IT issues.” But at the time it was like, “This very glamorous job versus this really geeky thing to do.”
NYLP: So it took you how long to develop the app?
Alexandra: It took us about a year to develop it initially. But the reality is that, like I said earlier, it’s iterative. And so in many ways, it’s taken us six years or five and a half years to get it to where it is today.
NYLP: So you were 23-24 at the time, and you develop this app. What was it like going into galleries and saying, “This is what you should use,” and you’re 23-24?
Alexandra: Yeah, so that was interesting. The one advantage that I had going into it though was…so what I did initially was when I was working at the gallery and I was working on this as like a side project, I was calling other people at New York galleries that I knew of, so it was mostly the big ones, and basically asking to speak to my equivalents there, so gallery assistants and archivists, and just trying to initially do some research for myself. I’m like, “What are you currently using? Have you tried this new iPad thing? Have you found an app to do any of this stuff?”
And that was how I started building these relationships to people. And then by the time that I decided to do it, I had a list of probably like 10 people that I just contacted again and said, “You know, I’m just going to do it myself. So can I come in and show you some of the designs I’m thinking of and get your feedback?” So that was over the summer in 2010 and fall. In the fall, I had a meeting through a friend of mine who worked as the assistant to someone high up at Pace Gallery, which is for those who don’t know, it’s one of the biggest galleries in the world, said he’s interested in meeting you and you can tell him about the product.
And so I met him, and I showed it to him, and I showed their IT guy. And they liked the idea, and they were willing to test it out. And so that December in Art Basel in Miami, I had one dealer with the prototype of the app, and I started just going around the galleries booth to booth, and showing them the app and introducing myself. I think the advantage though that I had was empathy. I knew not to go and sell it to them during the VIP days. I knew not to approach their booth when it was crowded or when they were talking to potential buyers.
I knew I could go and talk to them on the weekends when the serious buyers had left, and when they were inundated with questions from people that are not going to necessarily be buying art. And so I knew that that was sort of my window of opportunity. And also, I could go up to them and say, “I work at Gavin Brown’s. I’ve been doing this for him.” It was easier than it is for most people that have an idea for the art industry in trying to bring it to the industry from the outside because I was an insider.
I interned at galleries and museums when I was in college. This is sort of the industry where I have some relationships and where I build out more and more. And I also had an appreciation for their jobs in a very intimate way that many people don’t, especially we’re building technology solutions. So I think I was received very well because of the fact that, well, you can see me how but nobody else can see me, but I don’t necessarily look techy. I don’t feel techy. Like I said, I’m not an early adopter of stuff. Now, I straddle both the art world and the sort of tech startup land, but my bread and butter, the industry that I sort of grew up in and where I really learned a lot was the art industry.
So I kind of know how to talk the talk there. And I was able to relate to pain points that my potential clients were pointing out. I was able to relate to things that might seem insignificant outside of the industry like, “Oh, well, I need my font to be this or I need this text to be aligned with the image in this certain way.” But look, that’s not to say that I did not have that. Maybe I’m like actually remembering it with rose-colored glasses because the reality is I still get some really nasty…
I think no matter what you’re selling and no matter who you’re selling to, you’re going to get nasty stuff, and actually, I have an incredible team of, for some reason, all women selling and doing client relations and I remind them of this, too. Sales is one of the hardest things, I think, out there, period. And you get a lot of no’s, and a lot of times, it has more to do with when you catch that person. But the way I’ve always thought about it is sort of positioning myself in their…
NYLP: So what was the pitch? You’re going up to all of these people at Art Basel in Miami. What was the pitch?
Alexandra: Part of it was pointing out how ridiculous it looked that they had all of these binders brought out on their desks. The other part was sort of…I mean in some cases it really was pointing out like, “Okay. Those 30 binders over there is this one flat thing here. Ten thousand images there, 10,000 images here.”
NYLP: And you can show the same thing to multiple people?
Alexandra: Yeah. And at the beginning, I was really pushing the zoom because they loved that. The quality of the images on the iPad was so revolutionary at the time when it had just come out. We take it for granted now, but it was a game changer for the art industry, from my perspective, because you can actually zoom in and see a level of detail in the artworks without actually standing in front of it that you couldn’t before. And I’m not advocating for looking at art through a screen rather than in person, but I do think that it could give color to objects that you’re looking at in person that you don’t have access to, in a way that nothing else could on paper before.
It was mobile. It was fast. It was everything that they needed. It saved them time preparing for art fairs which they attended, a minimum of twice, if not all year-round. They could all access the same work at the same time. They could quickly send an email with that information. They could show and hide details because the reality is that the art world is many things, but it’s certainly not democratic. And so the price of the work for you might not be the same as the price of the work for the next person that comes along that has a massive collection, and is going to get a discount because of a relationship to that person. So it really factored in a lot of the nuances of this industry that I became aware of as being very important in terms of presenting and selling a piece of art.
NYLP: Was it hard to get these galleries to embrace technology? Were they resistant to technology?
Alexandra: Initially they were very resistant to technology. I think my inability to take “no” for an answer, which resulted in me starting ArtBinder in the first place, also made me a very determined salesperson. Any meeting that I left where I got a “no” for me was just like a “not now,” at least that’s how I read it. In hindsight I was right. I got a lot of no’s for my handful of galleries, and some of them were super not friendly to me. Their no’s were not, “Thank you so much.” It was like, “Out of my face.”
NYLP: Don’t ever come back.
Alexandra: Yeah, yeah. You little girl. But now some of those people, I’m not going to name any of them, but now some of those people are literally my best testimonials and my number one clients. It just takes some people longer to come around than others. I think art is an industry that’s been very slow to adopt change.
It’s been very reluctant when I think that there has been a lot of technological innovation attempts in the art industry that have sought to, in some way, displace galleries or take a percentage of the sale, that have been maybe somewhat misguided. But I think there was this perceived threat, I think, at the time was this, “Okay. Technology has won over fashion with the Net-a-Porters and the Gilt Groupes of the world.”
And it’s changed music in a way that we never thought that it would with the Spotifys and the Napsters or whatever of the world. And so now, art is like the last industry to really be changed, and everyone used the term “disrupted” by technology. I mean this is an industry that’s been operating pretty much in the same way for the last century, if not longer. So people were very reluctant to technologically driven change, and I think particularly, to the degree that it potentially threatened their business. And I mean I would be if somebody came and said to me like, “Hey. I’m going to sell you something that’s going to make you irrelevant.” I’d be like, “Whoa.”
So I think that despite the reluctance to technology or their fear of technology, I think that what I was able to convey to them was the problems that we were solving and the use cases that made sense as opposed to a list of features and metrics that did not make sense to them. I joke about this all the time with my clients but the reality is like, I went from being the gallery assistant for one gallery to being the gallery assistant to hundreds of galleries.
NYLP: Are other gallery assistants out of work now?
Alexandra: No. No, but hopefully they’re downing less Advil than I was when I was the gallery assistant. Our strength is our alignment with the industry. Our strength is our empathy and our understanding of the industry. I think that there’s a perception that art and technology are very different. I actually view them as being very similar.
NYLP: So with the app, were you trying to save these galleries on cost or increase their sales or both?
Alexandra: Well, I think to have a successful business, especially with technology, people are looking to be more efficient and spend less money. I know this now. I didn’t necessarily know that then. From my perspective, one, time is money. Two, I was spending a lot of time and to the extent that I was getting paid a salary that was obviously money, but there was also the fact that I was wasting so much money on paper and ink. I can’t even try to start to describe it.
If I’m totally honest about what I was thinking about at that time, it was, “This is a problem that needs to be solved. I know how to solve it so I should just do it because nobody else will.” It turns out a lot of other people have this problem. So in terms of whether or not I saved them money or saved them time, again, from my perspective I was doing both. The challenge was that from their perspective, this was something that was saving them time. But the price thing is an interesting one, and this is something that I’ve come to appreciate over the last six years.
Pricing is probably one of the most challenging things, I think, in business especially with technology. There’s an amazing book about pricing called…and I’m probably going to mess this up because I always get the title slightly confused. It’s called “Predictable Irrationality.” It’s about the psychology around pricing. It’s considered one of the best pricing books. And what they talk about is how irrational our behavior is and our thinking is around prices. The reality is that $99 a month is not a lot of money for any business, I mean, especially in a business where you spend that easily in a week on taxi fares or dinners or lunches even.
NYLP: Or shipping your binders.
Alexandra: Shipping binders is actually thousands of dollars. That’s the crazy thing. But that was almost even more of like a, “Well, there’s already all this other stuff going into crates.” I actually did do the breakdown of, this is how much you’re spending in ink and paper. Look, we got buy-in very early on from the top, top galleries. That was not the issue. I think the challenge for us actually was how do we get the long tail. How do we get the smaller galleries that are super price sensitive? And that’s where the pricing psychology became really apparent.
The reality was that what we were actually providing was a cloud-based content management system — or for those in the industry, it’s CMS — that was able to sync wirelessly with the mobile application, store locally thousands and thousands of images, and update on the fly. So it was actually a lot more than that. But again, we were selling an app, and it was more than 99 cents. It was 100 times more than 99 cents per license.
We have clients that have been paying us on a monthly basis for four years, five years. When I talk to them, it’s, “ArtBinder has changed the DNA of the industry. This is completely changed the way we did sales. I don’t know how we did sales before this. I can’t imagine life without our binder.” The difference between that and “it’s too expensive” is very big, and I think that for the people that realize the value, the price is completely insignificant. And we see this with galleries who we’ve been trying to sell onto the platform for years who finally adopted, and actually try it, and put their stuff on there and use it.
And after the first time of actually using it, they’re hooked. They can’t stop. That’s why we offer a 30-day free trial and we try to get them engaged. But 30 days is actually, for a software company, if it’s not the right 30 days, sometimes there’s not enough time to get somebody engaged. Pricing is a very interesting, tricky thing, and a lot of it just has to do with what people choose to compare the pricing to.
NYLP: And it’s generating more sales.
Alexandra: Yeah, they’re generating a lot more sales, a lot more. On a very high level, it’s logical, right? If you’re interested in buying something at a particular moment, you see something, you love it, you want to buy it off the wall. And someone says, “Great. I’m going to take down your information. I’m going to write your interest.” But then you walk into two other or three other places and you see other stuff that you really like and you give them your name.
Then you go out to dinner with your friends, and you go on and you live your life. And three weeks later, you get an email with information about that piece that you were interested in purchasing at that moment. And now, maybe you’re having a bad day. Maybe you’re not really in a buying mood, you’ve lost interest. That sale didn’t happen, as opposed to, you go into a gallery or into a booth. You see a work of art. You love it. Before you leave, they’ve sent you the email with all of the work information, you have it right there.
You go and you meet up with your buddy who’s at the other… “Hey, check this out. What do you think? This is the offer. Should I get it?” And now, it’s in your inbox, it’s in your hand, and you’re actually considering the offer. It’s basic selling principle, right? But you have to always be closing. And you can’t close a sale if you keep it open. And if you keep it open for three weeks, it’s going to be much harder to close it.
So yes, it’s helped them close sales but at the same time, it’s still their inventory. It’s still their contact. It’s still their personality. It’s still them that’s doing the sale. We’re just facilitating it, and we’re just allowing them to actually do what they would do if they have the tools. I didn’t see some huge vision for some massive business in some massive opportunity in this industry, and then go after it, and kind of figure out the industry afterwards.
It was, “Wow. This is a big industry that’s doing over $63 billion in sales a year, and they still don’t have their [bleep] together, because no one has done anything that’s actually addressing their needs in an adequate way.” I get their needs. I can find people that know how to make good software, and guide them. But somebody needs to be advocating for these galleries and giving them solutions that actually can eliminate the friction. They have all of these blockers that are standing today in the way of their sale. That’s what’s crazy.
NYLP: So it’s $99 per month, per license.
NYLP: Who’s the target?
Alexandra: Our focus in terms of outbound sales is galleries. The reality is that there’s a huge market for private collections and private collectors. I would say that the majority of our inbound inquiries have come from private collectors or from art advisers who manage collections. The reality for us though is just that it’s much more straightforward, and it makes more sense from a scale perspective for us to go after galleries, because they’re listed, because we can contact them. We don’t have to pay for ads where we think that wealthy collectors are reading.
NYLP: Is there a certain type of gallery that you’re targeting or is it all galleries?
Alexandra: With inventory management system, all galleries, all private collectors, artists. Yeah, we work with artists. One of my favorite artists actually, Will Cotton, makes these amazing, fantastical paintings of mostly women in candy land type scenes. He’s an ArtBinder client, which I’m very proud of, and he’s actually always been a fantastic guinea pig of ours. Our office is in Chelsea, on 26th between 10th and 11th, right where all the galleries are, in a gallery building that still has an elevator that’s operated manually, which is great and charming; not convenient but great and charming.
There’s another artist, Ross Bleckner who’s represented by a very prominent gallery. Mary Boone in New York, who is in our building, is also a client of ours. We have a handful of other artists that also use it, but it’s a great portfolio management tool for them. The inventory management system that we’re building is a dream for anyone in the industry though, even outside the industry. It’s really asset management.
NYLP: Are there any competitors?
Alexandra: If there were people that were doing what I was trying to do well, then I wouldn’t do it, not because I was intimidated but because there wouldn’t be a need. I don’t believe in reinventing the wheel. I believe in partnering with companies that are doing something very well where there’s synergies, and building what doesn’t exist.
So, sure, there are people out there and there are companies out there that are doing some version of what we’re trying to do, or that have been doing it for a long time to the extent that they’re “competitors.” I don’t really think of it that way. I see us as being unique in our specific approach to this industry and our specific vision on what to build for it.
It’s such a niche industry. It’s so small. In some ways, there are close to 300,000 galleries in the world so it’s not that small. But it is a relationship of business. Everyone knows each other word of mouth. If this thing existed that we were building today, and if the app existed that we were building yesterday, I wouldn’t have done either of them. But no, there are no adequate solutions at all to meet the needs of the industry. Nothing innovative, nothing that actually helps galleries and art industry professionals function in a way that is sustainable in today’s day and age.
NYLP: And that’s why you built it, but has anyone come in like Artsy for example?
Alexandra: There are a number of technology companies that started around the same time as us, that we get grouped in with oftentimes, but whose focus is very different. Artsy is one of them. Another one who I have a tremendous amount of respect for and that I have a great relationship with is Paddle8, also Artspace which was recently acquired by Phaidon.
The difference between those three companies — even though they’re each distinct — and ArtBinder is their primary focus is on the consumer. So those are primarily consumer-focused businesses.
We’re not focused on the consumer. At least that hasn’t been our primary focus. The only way in which I see ArtBinder being relevant to the consumer is to the extent that our clients interact with consumers. Our main focus is simply that we’re really focused on providing tools for the key players in the industry to help them do the business that they’ve been doing more efficiently and better. Eliminate friction that exists in communications between the various key players, and strengthen their ability to basically do what it is that they already do well, but to do it even better.
NYLP: You’re B2B, you’re business marketing to other businesses, how are you able to get the word out about your company, and how are you marketing yourself?
Alexandra: I would say that that portion of our business is the most organic, and financially, it’s probably where we put the least amount of resources. My theory on marketing, especially business to business, especially when you’re talking about providing a solution that you want people to use for many years, what it basically boils down to is quality of service and quality of product. Word of mouth when you’re in a relationship-driven industry is everything. Reputation is everything, and you can’t fake that. You can’t pay for that.
The biggest thing for us has been making sure that we’re building products that our clients need and love, and that they rely on. And if they do, then they will tell other people about it. And we can point to them and say, “These are the happy customers that we have.” Our retention rate is insanely high. There is nothing more valuable than a happy customer. It’s just…you can’t fake it. You have to do the actual grunt work that it takes to make them happy.
NYLP: What’s been the best piece of feedback you’ve gotten from a customer?
Alexandra: It’s unoriginal because it’s on our website, but one of my favorite testimonials…I have a bunch. The reality is that my clients are like walking testimonials, and if you spend a weekend around Chelsea, and you see people with iPads and it’s ArtBinder, just ask them. You would think that I was paying them and I planted that. But one morning I woke up to an email from a client of mine, and it said, “Thanks to ArtBinder, I just completed a transaction at 35,000 feet. Sure beats the mile-high club!” That was it.
There’s a bunch of others. I mean we just signed up a gallery in Mexico that I’ve been trying to sign up. They have like 10 locations, but we have been trying to sign them up probably since we started. I’ve pitched them and then once I finally had people working for me that could pitch, they went and pitched them, and it was sort of the same, “We’re interested but not now.” And they finally used it and just this past Art Basel, one of the girls of my client relations, she was telling me that she walked into the booth and one of the women from the sales team runs over to her and goes, “I just made a sale thanks to ArtBinder. I just made a sale.” So it’s sort of those things.
There is also this one amazing story where a year ago, I was at Art Basel and massive gallery that I wanted to sign up for a long time who had been really resistant for unknown reasons — still a mystery to me — have finally signed up and they were really happy. Let me call it Smith Gallery for now, but I’m walking around to other galleries, and I go to our gallery and I’m showing them ArtBinder, and they’re like, “Wait, is this what Smith Gallery uses?” I said, “Yes.” They said, “Oh. They mentioned it to me. I’m supposed to go down there in 10 minutes for a demo.” And I’m like, “Wait a second. They’re paying me, and they’re doing demos of my own product now? This is crazy.”
So those are a few, but to be honest, the one thing…because having a business is difficult no matter what, no matter how successful you are. If you’re successful, it’s difficult. If you’re unsuccessful, it’s difficult. No matter what, it’s really challenging. You’ve got to be resilient. But the one thing for me that is reenergizing above and beyond everything is really hearing my clients talk about the product, and talk to them about it, or just even being around my clients and seeing them use it because that makes everything so worth it. That’s where I feel the most part of what I’ve created.
NYLP: Has there been any feedback that you’ve used to make the app better?
Alexandra: All the time, all the time. Our clients are not afraid of speaking up and that they know exactly who to call when there is an issue, or when there is something that they would like to see differently and we’re talking to them all the time. So I would say that actually, a lot of our success has been driven by feedback that we’ve gotten from our clients early on.
NYLP: What’s an example?
Alexandra: We had this one thing that I thought was interesting, which was we had a number of galleries who wanted works to be removed from the app or what they could see when they marked it as “sold.” We recently released a feature where they could update the availability status of a work. Some galleries wanted the works to be removed from the app automatically when they’re sold. A bunch of other galleries didn’t care whether an artwork was sold or not. They wanted to be able to see all of it.
And so it was this really tough situation where it was, “Okay. Well, we could do this and please this percentage of our galleries.” It was guesstimation at best. Or we leave it alone but they’re going to keep bothering us about it. And so how do we please everybody? And what we ended up coming up with was a filter. It sounds simple but nothing is. It was an availability filter which basically let you set, “Okay. I only want to see works that are available, reserved,” whatever.
You could toggle it so you could hide the sold works. And so for the galleries that wanted a sold work to hide, once they marked it as “sold” if they had the availability filter toggled properly, then it would be hidden and vice versa. But yes, there’s a lot of feedback. I think the interesting thing though for anybody creating a business or a technology prior to keep in mind is that people only really call when they have a problem.
They don’t ever really call to say, “Hey, I’m loving this. It’s helping me so much. It’s doing exactly what you said it would do.” And so when you’re on the receiving end of that sometimes, you sort of feel like, “I’m effing this whole thing up. I’m doing it all wrong.” But the reality is that when you start to put it in perspective, and when you start to look at it in a quantified way and you start to say, “Okay. I have a hundred galleries and two have called about this problem, and they’re really loud, and they’re screaming, and they’re really upset. But no one else called,” you start to realize you can’t always get pulled in to the squeaky wheel.
NYLP: So you’re based out of Chelsea which you mentioned.
NYLP: What’s it like having your company in New York, and how has that benefited you?
Alexandra: There is nowhere to be like New York in the art world, which is true. I mean the location specifically of our office was no mistake. We are in the heart of Chelsea. Between 18th or maybe even a little bit earlier, but around 18th and then up to maybe 30th from 10th Avenue, between 10th and 11th is sort of, to me, that is the heart of the art world. And then there is the lower East side, and there’s a lot of other galleries, but that’s where it all started for me.
NYLP: In terms of how the app actually works, the general public like someone like me can actually open the app. It’s more just for galleries, and artists, and collectors to showcase their art, is that correct?
Alexandra: Yeah. We do have a consumer facing site. It’s called ArtBinder Viewer, so you can go to artbinderviewer.com and you can see several thousand artists, I think about 11,000 artworks that are uploaded by, I don’t know, how many galleries that are clients of ours. It’s a free add-on for the galleries that use our product. It basically gives them a platform where they can essentially show off their program, where they can show off their artist. They can talk about the exhibitions that they have going on, and it’s visual and not focused around dollars.
So by default, we don’t allow them to show price or availability information because it’s really just about giving galleries a place where they can show off. Beyond that though in terms of ArtBinder and who our clients are, you’re exactly right. If you were to download the ArtBinder app right now, you would see basically somewhere for you to put in your username and your password. We would have more explanatory text around that if it weren’t for the App Store’s restrictions.
NYLP: Where do you see ArtBinder going in the future?
Alexandra: What we’re currently working on, which is ArtBinder Index, an inventory/contact management solution, so essentially asset management, is in my mind the future of the business, which takes that one inefficiency that we were solving which is the sales process, and expands it to the rest of the business. And so our goal and where I see ArtBinder five years from now is the technological backbone of the art industry. It’s the equivalent of the Bloomberg of the art industry. It’s what dealers, sellers, and producers, and space rely on, on a day-to-day basis to run their business.
NYLP: How do people find out more about you and ArtBinder?
Alexandra: Well, I’m not relevant, but ArtBinder is artbinder.com and Instagram… Wait, we actually have a great Instagram for anybody who’s interested in art or what’s going on in the art industry. Our handle is ArtBinder. Our Twitter handle is ArtBinder. I think that’s all… Oh, we have a wonderful blog called “Off the High Line” which has a lot of great information about what’s going in the art industry, a lot of suggestions about what exhibitions are opening or closing, what you should see, any relevant news in the space.
I can’t take much credit for it. My team has done a wonderful job. It definitely leverages the way in which we’re sort of tapped in as insiders into the space.
NYLP: Well, Alexandra, I think it’s great what you’re doing. You really found a problem in the art world and came up with a wonderful solution. We look forward to seeing the future for ArtBinder. Thank you for stepping onto New York Launch Pod and sharing your time with us.
Alexandra: Thank you so much for having me. This has been really fun.
NYLP: And if you want to learn more about the New York Launch Pod, you can visit us at nylaunchpod.com. Follow us on social media @nylaunchpod, and we’d love to hear from you, too.SHARE THIS: