If you’ve graduated from tacking up posters — including the faux-fancy kind that are shrink wrapped on cardboard — and you find that the offerings from West Elm and Pottery Barn evoke a mass produced, screwed-to-a-hotel-wall vibe, it’s time to consider Small Run.
The Seattle startup offers an online, curated selection of original artworks or limited edition prints by local artists. Most of the pieces are in the $250-$1,000 range, with a handful costing more than $2,000.
The two saw an unmet need for people who wanted authentic art, but found massive, online marketplaces overwhelming and shopping at art galleries inconvenient or too lacking in transparency.
“A lot of galleries don’t publish the price of artwork and there are some other barriers for the market we’re trying to sell to,” Gerber said. “We want to make it really easy to buy local art.”
Small Run has a pilot in Seattle and currently features seven local artists. The team plans to expand to other cities and is considering a B2B model, selling to interior designers or building managers. The art includes landscapes, images of animals and bold abstracts.
“We are still exploring how much variety in terms of style and medium we should feature. We’re trying to show art that is appealing to a lot of different people, but there’s a lot of variety,” Ward said. Customers tell them that they want art that ads interest to a room, but isn’t overpowering.
Small Run is following the pricing model used by galleries, which is a 50-50 split between artist and dealer, though they’re considering shifting the percentages to favor the artists.
Launching their own startup provides “the opportunity to re-envision the way things can be,” Gerber said. “That there can be a better way to do it is really exciting.”
We caught up with Gerber and Ward for this Startup Spotlight, a regular GeekWire feature. Continue reading for their answers to our questionnaire.
Explain what you do so our parents can understand it: Small Run lists both original, one-of-a kind artwork and high-quality, limited edition, archival prints of artwork, by established local artists.
Inspiration hit us when: We both noticed that it seemed unnecessarily difficult for people who appreciate art, but aren’t traditional art collectors, to find and buy locally made art for their homes.
VC, Angel or Bootstrap: Bootstrap. We want to prove our business model works before seeking funding. We have have done a lot of customer research, but see great value and actually testing out our model. We want to see if what our customers have told us about their preferences translates to actual sales. Once we feel confident that we have a product that our customers love, we will fundraise to expand to markets outside of Seattle.
Our ‘secret sauce’ is: Being nimble and responsive as we grow and learn from our customers. It’s really easy to fall in love with your own ideas, but we have found that pivoting quickly when one of our “brilliant” ideas isn’t working has been invaluable.
The smartest move we’ve made so far: Partnering with other local businesses. All of the artists whose work we sell operate as small, local businesses. Each of them has spent years honing their craft, and they create stunning artwork that reflects their dedication to art making. Rock’s Studio, the local print shop who produces our SR Prints (limited-edition archival prints), has the same commitment to quality and customer service that we do. They only approve prints that are nearly indistinguishable from the original artwork.
The biggest mistake we’ve made so far: Overlooking the possibility of developing a B2B product early on. Initially, we only focused on selling art directly to consumers. As we got further into the business, we discovered there was a pain point we could solve for other businesses like interior designers, office managers and building managers. We wish we would have been more open to that idea at the outset and built our business with that in mind.
Which entrepreneur or executive would you want working in your corner? Kieran Snyder, CEO and co-founder of Textio. Snyder has a mix of experience that would be valuable to us at this stage: product management, marketing and building a company from scratch. We’d love her input on product development, marketing and building a diverse team.
Our favorite team-building activity is: Visiting artists’ studios.
The biggest thing we look for when hiring is: We haven’t done any hiring yet. When we do, we’ll be looking for people who can do things better than we can, and who bring diverse viewpoints to the table to help us improve and grow faster.
What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to other entrepreneurs just starting out: Find an awesome co-founder with complementary skills.