When it comes to a marketplace for fine art, a space which seems to intrinsically resist digital services, technology really hasn’t had quite the same disruptive influence it has in so many others. Startups like Zazzle and Art.com have taken steps to make art commercial and broadly accessible, with some cool technology to boot, but automation and democratization haven’t really penetrated the upper crust world of fine art in any significant way, for understandable reasons. Democratic luxury sounds like an oxymoron, or phony marketing.
Founder Collective, an early-stage venture capital fund based in NYC, has made some smart bets on disruptive models in niche markets, namely on Uber (and Makerbot and Milo), and today the fund is collectively making a bet on the online art market with a startup called Paddle8. Today, Founder Collective announced that is leading the series A financing of Paddle8, investing $4 million alongside Mousse Partners (a private investment firm affiliated with the luxury goods company, which has invested in Paperless Post and Warby Parker). As a result of the financing, David Frankel of Founder Collective will be joining the startup’s board of directors.
With this infusion of capital, Paddle8 hopes to cement a position as an online destination for both beginner and veteran collectors to access fine art works by way of curated selection, insider opinions, on top of a transaction platform that brings automation to the startup’s storefront.
And that’s where Paddle8′s value proposition lies, on the one hand it is providing a set of tools and services that enable galleries to run their back ends via its platform, allowing them to ship, insure and install the purchased art without any limitation on time and geography. (A dashboard for inventory and transactional management is in the pipeline.)
On the other hand, the NYC-based startup is racking up 100,000 pageviews per day on its current stock and adding 2,000 hand-picked art collectors per month. Art buyers are becoming a more and more global (and less homogenous) audience, and Paddle8 wants to become the service that introduces them to the well-dressed concoction of fine art and eCommerce, engages them online while streamlining purchasing, insuring, and shipping.
Paddle8 has already formed partnerships with museums like the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) and the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM), along with 200 other galleries. It will use its new infusion of capital to beef up its technology and feature set. For collectors, this means that it will be launching a new user interface that focuses on collector-to-collector engagement, dynamic editorial, customized navigation, enabling art buyers to browse art works from a slew of eras and media.
And for galleries, museums, and art fairs, this means that Paddle8 will provide B2B services like a point of sale transaction platform, virtual “private rooms” to showcase individual works of art (galleries generally have to rely on sending .JPEGs via email when showing pieces of art, as they usually don’t broadcast price), as well as a set of mobile apps that aim to bring ease and efficiency of search and purchase to that increasingly global audience of art hounds. Furthermore, galleries can also offer additional artworks outside of the exhibitions under their own name within Paddle8’s extended gallery.
The value and meaning of art often rely on context, and Paddle wants to provide that aspect to its community by inviting influential figures to participate as curators. Every month, a new guest curator introduces a set of works that center around a particular theme. Current curators include the inimitable Robin Williams and Warhol collaborator and Interview Magazine Co-founder Glenn O’Brien. The intent is for that content to become a multimedia archive that will act as an educational tool for the site’s visitors.
Somewhat ironically, Paddle8 is looking to bring democratizing and leveling technologies to a traditionally offline and luxury market, though co-founders Aditya Julka and Alexander Gilkes say they are not attempting to surplant the physical and emotional engagement with art, but “rather to enhance access to the fine art world via curation, services and community.”
Of course, to continue doing that, they have to monetize, which means that the startup will be taking a “low double digit” percentage of each transaction that takes place on the site. So far, the team has been able to find some traction in a notoriously prickly niche market, both in terms of visitors and revenue, without much capital. And now there are 4 million reasons why that could continue. Add some AR to product pages where users can view enhanced, 3-D representations of the art, and Paddle8 could sail on to victory. Though it’s clearly going to have some push-back from Art.sy.
For more, check out the company at home here.