Startup ideas strike at all different times, and in all different places. For Naysawn Naderi, inspiration hit when he bumped into an artist while roaming the streets of New Delhi. A computer engineer who studied at McGill University in Montreal, Naderi later quit his day job at Microsoft and formed Art Sumo based on that chance meeting. We chatted with the 28-year-old entrepreneur about that decision, and what sets his new venture apart from other online art sites.
Explain what you do so our moms can understand it: Art Sumo is a socially motivated e-commerce Web site featuring paintings from artists in the developing world. We provide folks in North America with access to original, handmade paintings from up-and-coming artists in the developing world, while also giving these artists a sustainable way to make a living. Since we highlight one painting a day on our daily email, we’d like potential art buyers to feel transported to a different place and culture, just by checking their inbox.
Inspiration hit me when: I was on the back alleyways of India. A couple of years ago, I found myself in New Delhi. I met an artist whose whole family specialized in extremely intricate depictions of the story of Krishna. Their work was more impressive than anything I had ever seen, yet despite the quality of his work, he said it was hard to find people eager to buy his paintings. I couldn’t help but think about the amount of people back home that would love and buy his work, and how much of a better living his family could make if someone could connect the continents together.
VC, Angel or Bootstrap: Bootstrapped. Rumor has it that angels and VCs are not currently into investing in lifestyle businesses.
My ‘secret sauce’ is: Creating a business that allows me to travel the world for work.
The smartest move I’ve made so far: Investing in continual learning. Seems that having your own online startup requires you to be a jack-of-all-trades. Not only do you need to know how to code, but how to market and hustle for success. I don’t think it’s possible to learn everything before starting your own business, so I found that dedicating about five hours each week to continual learning is totally invaluable.
The biggest mistake I’ve made so far: Trying to launch like Hipster. I loved the fact that Hipster got huge amounts of press and 10,000 signups by basically revealing nothing but a nice splash page and a signup process that required recruiting friends. I tried to do the same thing, and while I likewise got to the front page of Hacker News, we just didn’t have the supporting press lined up to help the launch. Also, the people that signed up weren’t my target audience; they were more interested in figuring out what the site was about than purchasing art. I think our time would have been better spent targeting an art market and launching normally.
Would you rather have Gates, Jobs, Zuckerberg or Bezos in your corner: Bezos. He just seems to be an innovation machine these days, and he also seems to have the best taste in art of the bunch! Jobs would be great, too – although I would primarily like to investigate his closet to see if there is anything hanging up other than black turtlenecks.
Our world domination strategy starts when: Ashton Kutcher Tweets us out.
Rivals should fear us because: Supporting struggling artists just feels better. Also, we’re a technical company dedicated to learning what art buyers need to feel comfortable buying original art online. Since art is normally something bought in person, I don’t think any company has properly learned how to sell paintings over the Internet. Etsy is trying with a personal touch, Ebay is doing a miserable job, and every art gallery is using the net just to present a painting, not to close a sale.
We are truly unique because: We’re offering handmade, original paintings at affordable prices from artists you can’t find without a plane ticket and a lot of mosquito repellant. Most other companies selling art online are either selling prints or re-productions at the prices we’re offering – why buy a print when you can get your hands on an incredible original for the same price, all while supporting the developing world?
The biggest hurdle I’ve overcome: Convincing myself to leave Microsoft to pursue entrepreneurship wholeheartedly. For years, I tried to create a business on the side while all the while dedicating myself to my day job. I found that while life in the day job went well, my entrepreneurial efforts never took off. Only by fully flying the (coop) was I able to learn about the important stuff that would make my entrepreneurial efforts succeed and make progress in the things that I really cared about. In hindsight, I think I should have paid somebody to make progress for me while making a steady income at Microsoft. To everyone debating making the leap, I would suggest putting a small portion of your monthly pay check towards outsourcing efforts to make progress in your proposed venture. Once you have visible progress in your entrepreneurial efforts, making the leap will be that much easier.
What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to other entrepreneurs: Hang out with people who are living the lifestyle that you want. I think we all live in a bubble made up of the people who we interact with on a daily basis. If your bubble is solely filled with people who are living corporate lives, you will naturally get suggestions and goals centered around moving up in the ranks and graduating to the corner office. But, if you hang out with entrepreneurs, you’ll start hearing a different set of goals: doing a lot with a little, creating a business that supports the lifestyle you want, and creating a product that you’re proud of.
Startup Spotlight is an occasional look at a Seattle area statup company. Have an interesting new venture you want spotlighted in GeekWire? Fill out the questions above, send a couple photos of the founder(s) and company logo to [email protected] Past profiles can be found here.