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Grace Cho: “Reflection and gratitude”

Artrepreneur will really democratize the arts world by providing transparency and taking out the middle-men that are often currently the gateholders for the industry. Artrepreneur holds the belief that every artist or creative can achieve success when they have access to the right resources. Artrepreneur was formed to empower members of the creative economy, both […]

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Artrepreneur will really democratize the arts world by providing transparency and taking out the middle-men that are often currently the gateholders for the industry. Artrepreneur holds the belief that every artist or creative can achieve success when they have access to the right resources. Artrepreneur was formed to empower members of the creative economy, both individuals and organizations, with the tools and insights to help manage the various complexities of business. We have created the infrastructure to make a connection between art, the artists and the design world. And bring an end to “the starving artist” concept.


As a part of my series about “Big Ideas That Might Change The World In The Next Few Years” I had the pleasure of interviewing Grace Cho, Founder & CEO of Artrepreneur.

Grace Cho has 20+ years of experience in global development of startups to mature businesses, consumer and commercial finance across multiple industries including media, digital, aviation, industrials, retail, and consumer credit. Most recently, Grace was Operating Partner with Advent International for their Media and Data practices. Prior to this role, she was COO and EVP Global Development for Global Entertainment & Automotive at Nielsen. Before that, at GE Capital, she held senior positions in several large divisions with annual revenues up to 25B dollars spanning 30+ countries, serving as global growth leader of operations, product development, and marketing. She led commercial strategies for major industry sectors such as consumer and commercial financial services, retail, aviation, and media.

As Managing Director, Strategic Marketing at GE Capital, Grace structured first-ever global content and partnership agreements with CNBC, Universal Studios, The Weather Channel, MSNBC, NBC Sports, as well as Wall Street on Demand, Standard & Poor’s, Wharton, Zagat, Thomson Reuters, and many other B2B and B2C content providers in targeting c-level executives of Fortune 1000.

In the backdrop of her corporate career, Grace has always wanted to be an artist and makes time to paint regularly. Watching her talented friends and experiencing what it’s like firsthand, she understands the challenges of pursuing a creative career. Grace is deeply committed to helping others turn creative goals into successful businesses.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you please tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

ARTREPRENEUR was originally conceived as Orangenius (orangenius.com) in 2015 as an answer to a fractured art universe. It is a comprehensive online platform and collaborative community for creatives of all types to show and share work and cultivate a thriving community that brings together creatives and buyers of art. The site aims to unite everyone who is working in the creative economy: individual geniuses, creative professionals, members of an organization, students of the arts, sponsors, and patrons.

The concept came about in multiple ways. I was leading a business at Nielsen that dealt with artists and creatives and trying to protect the work of artists has always proven very difficult. I saw a number of opportunities for building ways to protect the rights of the creator.

I’m also a painter, so I knew that there was no real infrastructure for artists to build their careers around.

I wanted to bring the business skill sets I had gained and apply them to the creative economy. I built a platform to give freelancers, as well as individuals who are part of a larger corporation, the ability and infrastructure to showcase themselves and their work and to build a network.

Can you please share with us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

I was working with GE Capital in the mid-1990’s and I was charged with merging two traditional Japanese companies with competing cultures. They had no interest in working with each other — or me — a corporate representative from the U.S. My challenge was to find a unifying interest that they could all relate to and something that would serve as a neutral ground for opening discussions about the merger. Art turned out to the bridge. I brought in local artisans and illustrators to work with the teams. All of the teams respected these artists because they were local and there is a great respect for artisans in Japan. We used the creative teams for many purposes — one of which was to literally come to meetings and illustrate the people in the room. This generated great pride for those who were included in the illustrations and the illustrations became a corporate collection that actually told the story of the merger. In the end, it was through the language of art that I was able to turn a 1 billion dollars company into a successful 4 billion dollars company. This integration became the feature of a Harvard Business Review case study.

Which principles or philosophies have guided your life? Your career?

Reflection and gratitude — important forces that guide me in my present and future life. I ask myself constantly, “what did I learn from those experiences?” I built this company because I wanted to surround myself with trusted friends to achieve a goal that we all feel passionate about. We feel passionate about the arts, but also about giving back in the sense that we want our company to give back. We want this to succeed, but a great portion of our success will go back into the arts in the form of scholarships, grants, and foundations.

If I can help people reconnect with that spirit of creativity, be curious, and pursue their creative dreams through our site, I will be fulfilled knowing I left a small legacy

Ok thank you for that. Let’s now move to the main focus of our interview. Can you tell us about your “Big Idea That Might Change The World”?

The art market is a very fractured one. Being such a fragmented market is a problem, because everyone is working in silos. Most artists are good on the creative side, but when it comes to marketing themselves, and protecting their work legally, they are often ill-equipped to do those things, and can’t afford to hire someone who can do it for them. Many artists don’t even have a digital inventory of all of their work. Galleries are becoming harder and harder for an artist to display with, and most will charge commissions on what they sell.

Let us look closer at the two groups who are most in need of help. Emerging artists and impoverished artists. First, emerging artists. While we see our addressable market as 226B dollars in the US alone, visual artists in most industrialized countries need help in establishing themselves as professionals because they don’t have access to the resources and the connections to enter into the visual arts industry. In general, both the fine arts and commercial sectors are opaque in the flow of information and opportunities. The global art market is truly a small club of the most wealthy and famous. There are no formal clear-cut paths to entry. Additionally, the lack of transparency on many levels, such as pricing of works, building a network, gallery representation, job boards, recruiting, protection of work, are determined largely by luck and serendipity. Updated and integrated tools for financial, operational, legal, and marketing support tailored to this market are hard to find, outdated, or nonexistent.

Going further into artists in need, impoverished artists in countries that lack basic infrastructure need help for purposes well beyond comprehension. Despite their destitute circumstances, artists however are able to use whatever materials available and still create breathtaking art. After all, it is only human to make art that represent our lives, culture, and imagination. Artrepreneur is uniquely committed and able to bring the open market system to these artists. This is when technology becomes truly powerful. I will explain by describing our most recent project with Aseema.org.

For twenty years, Aseema has been a school in the poorest cities of India. They provide education, food, and basic medical care for children age 9–17 years. With the extraordinary artworks that the children created, Artrepreneur built and launched a global online art auction in about 45 days. In that short time, we mobilized 24 of the world’s greatest names of media, literature, education, film, science, art, and music to donate time to speak with the highest bidding winners of each work. The artist children represent the most extreme form of disenfranchised lives on earth, lacking food, shelter, and medical care. Yet, with the help of Aseema, Artrepreneur was able to develop online profiles, set up their online gallery showroom and online auction site, and built a global PR campaign in just days. The result of the two-week auction is that all the works are now sold out, and 100% of the sales will be given back to Aseema.

Our ability to enable emerging and impoverished artists to compete in the global market is unique and unmatched. Our operating model enables these artists in need to commercialize their work and helps them to be on par with other artists from around the world. Artists of all backgrounds, ages, skill levels, and geography join, about 4K new members a month. This ability to come into a destination site, learn about the business of art, tap into the tools and resources, connect and collaborate, and therefore take control of their career… all this empowerment will change the world.

On the other side of the coin, if you are a collector or someone who buys commercial creative talent, there is no one single resource you can go to find up-and-coming talent, or even established creatives if you are in the market of hiring creative talent.

Artrepreneur is the only comprehensive platform for both the fine arts and commercial design markets. Artrepreneur is a profile-maker for all types of visual artists, regardless of discipline, skill level and geography. Our platform represents the 4 legs of a chair bringing all facets of the artworld together.

How do you think this will change the world?

The current market opportunity in the visual arts market is 226 Billion dollars. The total global market for art, culture, design and media services is 1.5 TRILLION dollars. The GDP actually relies on art and design with millions of jobs dependent on the creative business. Art represents approximately 226 Billion dollars to the total GDP. To date, this is an untapped market as an industry, and it may actually be bigger when you add in all the creatives who cannot / do not enter due to issues of access or too much reliance on serendipity.

Artrepreneur will really democratize the arts world by providing transparency and taking out the middle-men that are often currently the gateholders for the industry. Artrepreneur holds the belief that every artist or creative can achieve success when they have access to the right resources. Artrepreneur was formed to empower members of the creative economy, both individuals and organizations, with the tools and insights to help manage the various complexities of business. We have created the infrastructure to make a connection between art, the artists and the design world. And bring an end to “the starving artist” concept.

We are positioned uniquely, situated in the middle of artists & designers, businesses, schools & institutions, and buyers. We offer these constituencies profile making tools and multi-modal marketplace, so in essence Artrepreneur helps folks discover each other. We have a robust online framework that attracts and aggregates all the key players of the global creative industry. Simply put, there is no one who does what we do, so we believe Artrepreneur will become a very important core source of verified talent and works worldwide.

Keeping “Black Mirror” and the “Law of Unintended Consequences” in mind, can you see any potential drawbacks about this idea that people should think more deeply about?

Challenge 1: There is this notion out there that artists are bad at business, or that they hate it.

Our response: When information and tools are customized to the industry lingo, they embrace it and understand it quickly.

Challenge 2: Too many platforms already, some good, but most are not great.

Our response: There have been so many attempts with single-function apps out there, the market may be tired of seeing yet another platform. But it is our challenge and goal to make sure everyone understands why we are different in every way. We are a full robust career builder site, and not an app.

Challenge 3: Instantaneous culture

Our response: Many artists’ expectations may have been tainted to think that when one simply puts up work and it will just sell in minutes. Of course, like any profession, artists need to put in the time and discipline to build a career and Artrepreneur helps to kickstart that journey and lead them down that path. We help them to understand substantively the need to study the market and construct a plan through the usage of/engagement with our tools, journals (art business journal, art law journal), youtube, podcasts, and other learning content, VR technology (art360), curatorial programs, job board, and contests.

Was there a “tipping point” that led you to this idea? Can you tell us that story?

In addition to being a finance executive, I was also a closet artist. I liked to dabble with painting as a hobby, but never thought my work was gallery-level, and in fact, I had no idea how to go about selling a painting. Then, at the encouragement of a friend who happened to view my work, I agreed to sell one of my paintings. That became a real tipping point for me. Here I was a successful finance professional used to building and buying companies and I couldn’t figure out how to go about selling one painting! Did I need an agent? How do you price the work? How do you market yourself and find buyers? Should I work with a gallery? What about protecting the work from being copied? Chasing down all of these rabbit holes, I realized there was no central platform to go to — and I am a person used to solving difficult business problems. Imagine an artist who has no knowledge of the business or marketing world. So, the idea of building a comprehensive platform dedicated to providing creatives with the resources they need to succeed was created! That was in 2015, and we now have almost 70,000 members, 140,000 works uploaded to the site, 1million pageviews per month and 105,000 users monthly.

What do you need to lead this idea to widespread adoption?

We are developing partnerships with companies like BMW who focus on cultural engagement, as well as organizations like Google, Facebook, Pratt Institute, PBS, Art New England, Ringling Academy Art and Design, Fashion Institute of Technology, NY Society of Illustrators and [email protected] to give us the tools to reach as many people as we can. Engagement is what will prove the platform’s value — the greater the population on the platform, the more we will be able to develop the opportunity. We work with art schools to empower their students to register on the site and create digital resumes and portfolio.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. Fundraising in general is difficult and time consuming. Fundraising during major events or certain times of the year are hugely important considerations. Holidays, vacations, days of the week, weather, major current events, ie. COVID and presidential elections! In the pitching process, describing the business is not hard, but reading the room so-to-speak is extremely tricky. Oftentimes, the ability to break through the noise may not be objective factors but subjective. Pinpointing the exact tone, words, angle, and timing to pitch takes art and science. Luck and connections are also critical factors in play.
  2. Be very careful about hiring the right people. Startups are not for everyone. People might think working in a startup is exciting, fun, liberating. My lessons learned. Carefully decipher people who are in love with the idea vs ability to fight through an intense startup. When some of the folks quickly experienced the challenges of no resources, no staff, 24×7, ambiguity, insane pace, exorbitant amount of work, constantly charging through the trenches, they are not able to keep up and fail. Terminating someone from a very small team can be painful and a major disruption.
  3. Stay vigilant about competition, even the biggest ones in your space. Most ideas can be imitated. While imitation is a form of flattery, if your idea gets copied by a bigger competitor with much bigger budget, it can be quite demoralizing. Regardless, use your nimble startup capabilities to jump forward and pivot as needed.
  4. Expect the naysayers. “Will never work” was something I heard all the time. Combat this with exhaustive analysis of the market, thoughtful A/B testing, continuous surveys and staying close to users, and effective change process management.
  5. People don’t read, or they choose not to read and everyone wants everything for free online. Make sure to spend time writing cogently with good visuals to accompany copy. Even when you provide ample explanations, they still ask the questions when its right there in front. No one wants to pay for anything. Getting something for free is wildly engrained on social media culture. Be clear and confident about delineating what is free, what is not free when marketing services.

Can you share with our readers what you think are the most important “success habits” or “success mindsets”?

  1. Stay informed of industry trends, events, and reports, and not just the art market but also financial and political as well. I set aside about an hour daily and religiously read 20 publications to know what is happening in our core sectors, adjacent ones, competition, and global news that would affect our business.
  2. Metrics and analytics. Constantly monitoring the full set of numbers from reach, conversion, engagement & retention, and using quant / qual data to finetune and optimize.

Some very well-known VCs read this column. If you had 60 seconds to make a pitch to a VC, what would you say? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

We live in a visual virtual world. Huge market. Everything around us has a visual element… work, buy, use, live. Artrepreneur is the only one designed to centralize the visual arts industry across all fine art and commercial sectors. Traction. We are posting strong growth at 10x + across all metrics since July 2019 (Google partnership started). We have an operating model with very low headcount and hard to copy. Conversion rates are 4x competition, churn rates are immensely low, deep engagement with members. High ratings from big global partners and our members. Mission. We are a company of purpose and we help artists succeed with ecommerce and employment opportunities. We urge all creatives to join regardless of background and geography.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

https://www.instagram.com/artrepreneur_og/
https://www.facebook.com/artrepreneurbyog
https://www.linkedin.com/company/artrepreneurbyog

ARTREPRENEUR LINKS:

SITE LINK:

https://artrepreneur.com/

INSTAGRAM:

https://www.instagram.com/artrepreneur_og/

FACEBOOK:

https://www.facebook.com/artrepreneurbyog

LINKED IN:

https://www.linkedin.com/company/artrepreneurbyog

MEMBER STORIES VIDEOS:

SHOWROOM VIDEO AD:

YOUTUBE CHANNEL:

https://www.youtube.com/artrepreneur

PBS DOCUMENTARY:

PODCASTS (iTunes, Google play, Spotify):

ART360 VIRTUAL EXHIBITIONS:

JOURNALS:

OPEN CALLS:

https://artrepreneur.com/search/opencalls
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