All startups have origin stories of some sort, but for ArtCorgi, it’s both about the beginning of the company and the engagement of its co-founders.
That’s right, it’s a startup run by an engaged team of Malcolm (CEO) and Simone (COO) Collins. You can read Malcolm’s full account of the proposal here, but the gist of it is that he commissioned 21 pieces from 18 artists via online art community deviantART, and then posted them on Reddit. Maybe not the way you would propose, but still, pretty darn amazing. (And most importantly, she said yes.)
Apparently Malcolm (who’s also a grad student at the Stanford Business School) and Simone (formerly director of marketing at HubPages.com) were working on another startup called Gigaverse at the time, but they found that people seemed much more interested in talking about the proposal story and the commissioned art. Malcolm said that as he thought about it, he realized “just how ridiculous” the process was. In fact, he said that he had to contact more than 300 artists to get the final 21 pieces, because so many of those artists were no longer active or said they were too busy.
So with ArtCorgi, they’re aiming to make the process as easy as possible, and they’ve developed the system in consultation with artists. Someone looking for work can upload their portfolio, showcasing different types of art that they’re proficient in, then users can browse the submissions and choose the style that they like — so for example, you could say, “I want a picture of me done in this style.” (What you’re really purchasing on ArtCorgi is the digital art, but if you want a physical copy, it also connects you with printing services.) To deal with the disappearing or inactive artist issue, artists are removed from the system once they don’t do a commission.
Simone said they talked to Justin Cannon, founder of Y Combinator-backed art commissioning startup EveryArt (which appears to have shut down) about some of the challenges that he faced. Apparently the big difficulty was the “attrition rate” during the initial back-and-forth between the artist and potential customer. ArtCorgi tries to avoid that by making it clear what you’re asking for (hence the style-based ordering) and by offering set pricing, so there shouldn’t be any negotiation or surprises.
In fact, the money is held in escrow during the commissioning process, so you know the artist isn’t just going to disappear before they finish their work, and the artist knows that they money is there for them to get paid eventually.
Of course, there can be complications. You might agree on a style and a subject, and then the artist comes back with something that you hate. If that happens, the art gets sent to a five-person panel of other artists in the network. The panel is asked to evaluate whether the piece is, in Simone’s words, “the same style, the same level [of quality], the same subject the artists said they were willing to depict.”
The company isn’t focusing too narrowly on one particular audience, but Simone suggested that one likely customer base is romantic — not just marriage proposals, but also Valentine’s Day cards, wedding invites, that kind of thing.
Beyond the launching the site (which currently has 70 artists, they said), Malcolm and Simone said they want to build an ArtCorgi community, which will probably be important from the business side, because it turns one-time customers into repeat buyers. And in the long-term, Simone said they want to build “a series of boutique marketplaces that leverage a connected backend of freelance suppliers.” In other words, there would be a number of different brands focusing on different types of work, but behind it all would be “a huge network of expertise.”
“We wanted to bring a different idea to freelannce work online,” Simone said — she compared sites like Elance to Costco and Walmart, and she suggested that the ArtCorgi approach will be higher quality (and presumably offer higher payments).