Founders Series: Arun Sugumaran, Founder and CEO of ArtWallSt
The founders series takes a deep dive into the journey of Antler portfolio company founders and sheds light on the space they are building in. This week, we spoke to Arun Sugumaran, co-Founder and CEO of ArtWallSt. ArtWallSt is a global exchange for art where anyone can become collectors, exhibitors and investors. In addition to bringing art closer to people through everyday physical spaces, the startup is currently developing a platform where blockchain-authenticated physical artworks can be traded on the platform.
What attracted you to want to build in this space and democratize art in this unique way?
We want art to be a part of everyone's lives. We also have a heart for artists, having been surrounded by many close friends in the art ecosystem and we understand the challenges that they face. We believe in the future of blockchain technology and how it can help the art ecosystem take leaps and bounds forward, paving the way for artists and art appreciators to interact in novel ways.
You are pioneering a new category in tech: ArtTech. What has been the biggest learning when it comes to company-building in such a rapidly evolving space?
We are really excited to be pioneers in this space. While there has been a lot of attention on digital art, we've gone back to the basics of understanding the key problems in the traditional art ecosystem and applying technology to solve those problems.
Staying focused on our key customers and their challenges and not getting distracted by new trends has been a key lesson for us. The art ecosystem is at a point of inflection and we are privileged to be a part of that change.
How do you feel about the boom in popularity of NFTs around the world? Do you see this as just the latest crypto trend, or do you think it will have a significant lasting impact on the digital arts space?
I'm excited that NFTs are getting worldwide attention: blockchain as a technology is going to change the way we interact with each other. Adoption of the technology and making it relatable to everyone has been a key challenge. There are many views on "hype vs not" but I personally feel blockchain as a technology is the biggest winner in 2021 thanks to digital art and NFTs. Digital art isn't new - there are many museums around the world that feature it. However, it's still too early to tell if there will be a culture of collectorship in the digital arts. For the sake of creators, I hope that it has a lasting impact and attracts more creators who will view the path of an artist as a viable one. It would also give consumers and appreciators more avenues across traditional and digital to enjoy art.
NFTs are quickly transforming the way art and tech intersect. Can you tell us more about your longer term vision of fusing blockchain technology into your business model?
We believe that art should be made accessible to everyone. There are several barriers that new collectors face in their art journey such as lack of transparent information, verifying authenticity and fine art being too expensive to even consider as an investment or collection. Blockchain solves many of these problems as it democratizes ownership in a transparent and decentralized manner. We believe these traits align with our vision to make art more accessible to everyone.
ArtWallSt has over 160 unique artworks up for display all around Singapore. What has the feedback been like so far?
Thankfully, we have had nothing but positive feedback. Venues that are displaying these works are thrilled by how the art has transformed their spaces and become a talking point. There have been requests to reach out to even more local artists and we are currently working on acquisition channels to widen our reach within the local community. We've also had several offers to work with venues to run art programs together. This is also a possibility but our primary focus is on being an enabler to these venues leveraging technology.
How is what you are creating in this industry different and why is it needed (for artists, for curators, for the general public, etc.)?
We are creating more opportunities for art discovery in addition to existing channels such as galleries, museums and e-commerce. We believe that we're taking the best of both the online and offline worlds and binding them with technology. This enhances the user experience of the platform as ArtWallStreet will journey alongside our users in the online and offline worlds seamlessly. This is especially important for the art ecosystem as most of the time, art has to be experienced in person and in its physical form. Even digital art tends to seek a physical space for display through screens.
Can you share your co-founding story? How did your diverse backgrounds benefit you in the ideation process and while creating your company?
We came together and connected as a team at the height of the pandemic in 2020, thanks to Antler. Being part of Antler's 5th cohort in Singapore gave us a rare opportunity to dive into the minds of talented founders from diverse geographies and backgrounds.
One of our team's main strengths is our ability to identify gaps, analyse challenges from different perspectives and respond with creative solutions. I believe this strength is fuelled by our team's diverse backgrounds and experiences. I think it's important for any team to embrace the different viewpoints and ideas of team members and that's when the magic happens.
What have been some of the milestones your company has achieved since its inception? How has this growth been possible?
In a short span of time, we're one of the leading art-rental companies for co-working spaces and that's where most of our demand has come from. We've also onboarded two leading malls which, are household names and we're probably the first company to have created a gallery in a food court in the Central Business District of Singapore. The growth has been driven by the market need and our network within the real estate ecosystem has helped us meet this demand more efficiently.
Arun and his co-founders Aleksandar and Taryn were part of Antler Southeast Asia's fifth cohort. They launched ArtWallSt and pitched at our Demo Day earlier this year.
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