Celebrating its one-year anniversary this Friday, Artsicle, a virtual art rental gallery start-up, is looking to grow with recent funds raised.
The company raised $390,000 on AngelList, an online meet-up for start-ups and investors, and will use the funds for national expansion and hiring.
Based in New York City, Artsicle was founded by Alex Tryon and Scott Carleton last November. After a gallery experience left a bitter taste in her mouth, Tryon wanted to create a “try before buy” online gallery experience where people interested in starting an art collection could rent expensive pieces from emerging artists before committing.
Rentals range from $25 to $65 a month and customers can hold onto the art as long as they want due to a monthly renewal process. If they fall in love and just can’t part with the piece Artsicle allows customers to purchase it, and applies the rental fees towards the price.
Recently ranked on Business Insider’s Silicon Alley 100 list, Artsicle has grown from a mailing list composed mostly of friends and family to over 4,500 active users. After tweaking the business model to require email sign-ups, Artsicle is now accumulating 100 to 150 new email addresses a day, which results in 75 to 100 pieces rented a week. The conversion of renters to buyers is between 18% and 20%.
The virtual gallery has about 52 artists with most focused on paintings and a few on sculptures. When choosing the artists, Tryon relies heavily on word of mouth for referrals and selects professional artists who demonstrate passion.
“When I talk to them it’s a gut thing; it’s how they talk about their art. We choose the born artists.” Tryon said.
With Artsicle’s growth, challenges arise. Tryon and Carleton continually play a juggling game between supply and demand and choosing where to invest their limited assets.
“It’s difficult to decide where we put our resources behind. Do we focus on getting more artists or more customers? Right now we are doing both, but are always short resources,” Tryon said.
Even with Artsicle’s desire to make art collectors out of newcomers, some artists and galleries are unsure of this business model.
An artist on Artsicle worries galleries could shun his work. He thinks galleries may chastise artists who are making their art readily available to mass consumers because the exclusive factor is lost. He does admit there are more artists than galleries and this platform may be the only way he gets his foot in the door.
In terms of new competition, Marissa Sage, owner of Like the Spice Gallery, believes Artsicle’s customers differs from traditional galleries.
“The virtual gallery is for customers who are just entering the art world. I think it’s a totally different experience, which doesn’t meld well with serious collectors. You can’t walk in and view the piece, smell the paint, see the depth, move around the piece. It’s just not the same,” Sage said.
Yet, with an additional 50 artists in the pipeline many people are firm believers of Artsicle’s mission. Myles Bennett , a five-year veteran in the New York art scene, hasn’t sold a piece of art on Artsicle but raves about his experience with rentals.
“The premise is great; it’s amazing. They take care of everything for the artists and the customers. I have never had it so easy,” Myles said.
Joining the likes of Paddle 8, a curated collection from fine galleries; Buy Some Damn Art, an art flash site; 20×200, an in-house print production site, and Uprise Art, an installment payment plan site for art lovers. Artsicle is part of a growing online art industry where having a niche is still possible.
“Selling fine art online is a relatively new phenomenon. We are all very, very different from each other and really support each other,” Tze Chun, owner of Uprise Art, said.
As Artsicle looks to firm up its marketing strategy in the coming year and expand to new cities, the founders will continue to strive to disrupt the art world.
“A lot of great art will never see the light of day. We are looking to change that.” Carleton said.