Discover and Commission Great Art Work

The story of ArtCorgi, told by Co-Founder Simone Collins

How it Started

Oddly enough, ArtCorgi started with a marriage proposal. Malcolm Collins, my boyfriend at the time, decided to propose to me with commissioned art. He posted 18 pieces of original art depicting the two of us, along with a bunch of proposal-related AdviceAnimals, on the popular website reddit (one of my favorite online hangouts) for me to find by chance. I was charmed, surprised, and completely overwhelmed by the pieces Malcolm had commissioned- and was happy to say “yes” to his proposal.

I wasn’t the only person who reacted to Malcolm’s proposal, which ended up getting a lot of attention on reddit and being covered across several online media outlets. Both Malcolm and I were surprised by the sheer number of people who buzzed about the way he popped the question.

For months after Malcolm proposed to me with commissioned art, people asked us how they could commission original art of their own. Unfortunately, commissioning art online is not so easy. Just to commission 18 pieces of art, Malcolm had to email over 300 artists and spent a ridiculous number of hours negotiating with and checking up on the artists he ultimately selected.

At first, we were frustrated by repeated questions about commissioning art. We wished that people were more interested in the startup we were working on together: a website called Gigaverse that offers free courses on freelance careers. Our mission as a team is to make it just as easy to work for yourself as an independent professional as it is to work for an established organization, so while we loved talking about art, we wanted to discuss freelance careers even more.

Over time, however, we learned Gigaverse was neither specific nor compelling enough to catch many individuals’ attention, so when we sat down to brainstorm ideas for a more attractive, targeted way to address freelancers’ needs, art commissions immediately came to mind. It was at that point that we finally committed ourselves to building an art commissions marketplace- a place where freelance artists could easily build income and augment their portfolios in between big jobs.

Our Approach

Malcolm and I are huge proponents of transparency and communication- in our relationship, in everyday dealings, and in business. Naturally, open and active communication has been a big part of ArtCorgi from the get-go.

Well before we began building the, I emailed hundreds of artists, asking them about their experiences with art commissions, terms they considered to be fair, and pain points they have with regard to selling work online. Based on their feedback, we created an artist contract and terms of use that accommodated artists’ needs.

We communicate directly with every artist and client that places or accepts orders through our site, to make sure that they’re getting the support and information they need.

The conversations we’ve had with artists and clients over time have helped us refine our business and resolve problems that we wouldn’t have noticed ourselves had we decided to automate ArtCorgi’s commissioning process, as many other art sites have.

We also actively monitor buzz about ArtCorgi over social media, which turned out to be quite useful one day when we discovered that someone on tumblr had posted a misinterpretation of the license granted to ArtCorgi customers. Within hours, we were able to post a full explanation of our terms clearing our name, and were delighted to see complete strangers defending us and correcting others’ misunderstandings. I never thought that being falsely accused of being a scam site would be good for our business, but the whole debacle (both the accusation and the defense) ended up driving more traffic to our site than all of the PR we got around our launch combined (by several orders of magnitude).

A Day in the Life of ArtCorgi

We believe people should work when and how they want, and absolutely practice what we preach. Because Malcolm is presently a full time student, finishing his MBA at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business, his ArtCorgi work day starts at around 1:00am and ends around 8:00am (after which he goes to class). He likes the clarity one can get working late at night, with few people calling, emailing, or stepping in to interrupt him.

Because I want to spend as many hours working on ArtCorgi as possible, but also love exercise, I spend about three hours a day working from an elliptical, with my laptop propped on the machine’s handlebars. I love the focus I can get from an exercise high, and don’t mind being in pretty good shape despite my long work hours (which typically span from 5:00am to 9:00pm, broken up by the occasional meal break, of course).

Our Biggest Challenge

We’ve bootstrapped our business so far, scraping together around $33,000 between the two of us to fund our business (plus more to cover our living expenses). While we’re proud to have come this far independently, we’ve run through our bootstrap fund and run out of money to cover our living expenses in May.

Launching a business with the knowledge that failure raise funds or make break even in several months will leave us unable to pay our rent or buy food for the month certainly gives workdays an extra edge of drama and urgency. We appreciate the drive our financial deadline gives us.

We know that not giving up is key. Several of Malcolm’s professors at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business have said that one of the most important behaviors that distinguishes successful entrepreneurs from their unsuccessful counterparts is that they don’t give up when they run out of money.

What’s In Store

Now that ArtCorgi has been live for close to a month and has more or less gotten most of its technical kinks worked out, our focus can turn to driving customer sales. Our goal is to bring patronage of the arts back into vogue and inspire people to become modern Medicis, commissioning original, personalized art that expresses who they are, what they like, and what they believe in.

From personal experience, we’ve found commissioned art makes a great gift, and we’ve been inspired by the thoughtful commissions customers have made so far through ArtCorgi (romantic gifts and anniversary presents for parents are two of our most popular themes). We hope that more people will begin to recognize original, personalized art as a good alternative to flowers, chocolates, jewelry, and other physical objects (which rarely come across as thoughtful and brag-worthy as commissioned art).

We’ve also found that self expression online is growing increasingly important. More people in a given day are likely to see your social media avatar online than they are to see the outfit you’re wearing, and more people are likely to see your mobile phone’s lock screen than art on a wall in your home, so why not invest in some original art that makes those visual properties truly special?

We have yet to really discover how art commissions will resonate most with people (be it self expression, gifting, or something else entirely), but we’re determined to find a place for the practice, and to turn ArtCorgi into a platform where up-and-coming artists can easily kick off their careers.

Once we perfect ArtCorgi’s marketplace formula, we’ll roll out additional boutique marketplaces in new niches- album cover and logo designs, for example- all the while leveraging the network of artists we’ve already accumulated (and giving them more ways to sell their work).

Over the long run, we intend to expand our network to include all sorts of freelance professionals- from coders to freelance writers, journalists, consultants, and translators. For now, though, we’re sticking to art commissions- and having a real blast.

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I Me
17 Feb, 2014 I Me
very funny website and name :)))
11 Feb, 2014 Prof
good luck, guys
10 Feb, 2014 UnsoundM
As one of those original 18, I'm so happy to see how far AC is getting! Best of luck to both of you.
10 Feb, 2014 Beatrice
I love this story.
Gerry T
10 Feb, 2014 Gerry T
Very interesting and inspiring !
Jimmy Delgado
10 Feb, 2014 Jimmy Delgado
what a great story, I loved it :)