How did you get the idea to build an online marketplace for custom artwork?
I was travelling in Cuba when we visited a really well-known but ugly mural. One of my mates asked, “wouldn’t it be nice to have an easy way for the artists to paint for us?”. That gave me an idea try going online as a customer to search for mural artists, but they would only get back to me in seven to 10 days. I was living in London then and asked the bar and restaurant owners why their walls were so plain. They said finding the right artist was hard. It became a personal goal to make it easier to connect artists with clients.
Prior to starting Book an Artist, you worked as a commercial accountant. What prompted you to let go of the corporate life for a startup?
Doing something I was passionate about motivated me. I grew up in a house with plain blue walls, so getting custom artwork into the hands of people was something that I believed in.
I was looking for the next big thing after a good job at Coca Cola. So, I went to London and travelled. When travel stopped giving me that kick, I thought to myself: I can’t just travel for the next 20 to 30 years, but I didn’t want to return to suit life either. The idea for Book an Artist came along, and I saw that the next step of my life was to work harder than ever on one thing.
How did your accounting background help in running a startup?
Surprisingly, it didn’t help much for the first six months. That’s when you are trying to improve the product. Once I found out that it’s a scalable product, then my accounting comes in really handy. I use my accounting knowledge to figure out the breakeven point. What do I need to do to become profitable? How much do I need to grow to show return of investment? As a startup, the struggle is having millions of ideas but limited money. As a commercial accountant, your mindset is – what works best for you with the least amount of money spent?
You came from a family of entrepreneurs. What’s one thing you learnt from their influence?
Trying. The fancy word for it is “resilience”. If you try something and it doesn’t work, try something else. It helps to not get overly attached to the idea as well. If it worked, great. If it didn’t, cross it and move on. Don’t get too attached to it just because it’s your baby. My job is to do the best for both the customer and the artist. We’re attached to the goal, but not the platform.
What is it like being your own boss?
When it’s your sale, it’s your sale. Sure, it feels great when you’re working for a company and can get million-dollar tenders approved. But making $5000 now feels bigger to me because it’s MY business.
It’s hard work. You need to have that constant drive. I haven’t had a holiday in 12 months.
Then, you start listening to people talk about work-life balance. Initially, I thought it was rubbish, that work-life balance was for weak people. Now, I try not to look at emails after 10:30pm. The other day, I worked, played squash, met friends, and went home to do some work before sleeping. I was quite happy about that I’ve burned 500 calories and got to do some good work on my own time.
What’s next for Book an Artist?
We want more collaboration. Yes, we’ve painted for big brands (such as Netflix), but if you stop the average person on the street, they wouldn’t know what Book an Artist is. They are the people we have our eyes on – the local person with a house of plain walls. My personal goal is to paint houses and give the average customer an artwork that is unique to them.
We want to turn it into a substitute for wallpaper. So, anyone who buys wallpaper should think about Book an Artist, because you might as well pay a bit more for a real artist to bring your home to life.