Friday, September 3, 2010

Interview With Chandini Harlalka, Artflute.com

Featuring Women Entrepreneur
Chandini Harlalka
Founder: Artflute.com
[Category: Emerging Market Segments & Trends
Online Collaboration in Verticals]

Artflute.com was formed with the fundamental of providing an online platform for the artists and the art enthusiasts. Its philosophy is to build an online community in Contemporary Art. Its endeavor is to allow the budding artists an easy access at the same time allow art collectors to buy at early artists’ prices.

Artflute is not just about buying and selling artwork, it is about sharing ideas through the blog; its about getting inspired by works from other artists and art schools; it’s about watching videos and owing your own little gallery.
Here is what Chandini had to say about her entrepreneurial venture in an interview with me.
1. First, a little about your background – education, past work experience, do you have entrepreneurial roots?
I hold a Masters Degree in Art History and have studied in Bangalore Chitra Kala Parishad. When we were in Thailand, I taught Art history at Assumption University for 2 years. I also had the opportunity to learn Jewelry Design and Gemology from GIA (Gemological Institute of America). After we moved back in 1996, I did many freelance projects for Ganjam, CKC and the World Gold Council of India; won several awards and competitions.

I also started a small company called “The Jewelry Workshop” which made silver jewelry. This didn’t last too long other than a couple of exhibitions. I have no marketing skills and hence stopped this. I was keen to get back to art in someway, so I studied contemporary art for 6 months and got back into the art world.

I have no entrepreneurial roots; grew up in a very conservative south Indian home, where we were trained only to be good homemakers and work and business were never stressed upon. I got married to a Marwadi; my husband Neeraj, totally encouraged me to pursue my interests and still helps me with everything that I do.

2. Is this your first entrepreneurial venture? If no, then which were the earlier ones? Are you still involved in them?
After the Jewelry workshop, this is my second. I also did some consultation with HNI clients from Citibank and Duetsch Bank in Art. We did a very successful catalogue with masters works and sold out in 3 days.

3. What did you learn from your earlier ventures?
My earlier venture, even though very small taught me that I needed a lot more gumption and passion to run any business and that you have to work on it everyday and think it everyday.

4. What market segment and industry are you addressing now?
I run a contemporary Indian art portal, which sources fine art painting, sculpture, prints etc from across the country.

5. Artflute.com seems to be have a wonderful business model, where you have collaborated artists, their work and buyers through an online platform, in an otherwise strewn market segment. How did you arrive at this business idea? How did Artflute.com evolve and when was it formed?
Artflute evolved out of a lot of thought and passion. I was upset about the way art was marketed and sold, how artists were monopolized by galleries, and how prices wereso unreasonable. The market was confused and people were buying art in a frenzy thinking it was investment.

This was the reason we came up with Artflute, an unbiased, honest platform for artists and art enthusiasts, where prices were determined by the artists and they are not tied down to showcase their work; at the same time provide explanations to each artwork so the buyer/collector has a better understanding of art.

I also wanted to showcase a large no of works for better choice. A physical space is intimidating for a new buyer, due to lack of knowledge and fear of asking questions he shies away from art. Art can be very enriching and therapeutic and I wanted as many people as possible to buy and enjoy art, at the same time provide an alternate avenue for students to sell thier work. This was another reason why Artflute was born. I realized that most of my classmates had moved on to alternate careers, though they possessed brilliant talent. They were never represented by any gallery and had no financial means to continue to paint. This made me very upset. I wanted to be able to provide some platform for them to sell. I think we loose out on such great talent due to the above reasons.

6. What is your revenue model? Are you profitable now?
We do not charge for the artist to upload his work. If there is a sale , we charge 25% as against 35 to 40% of normal gallery charges.

We are not profitable as yet, but meet our expenses as far as salaries are concerned.

7. Do you see high potential in online market for artwork in India?
Online marketing itself is new and nascent in the country. With art it becomes a little more difficult, as people like to see the artwork before they buy. They are also concerned with the credibility of artworks and people behind the site. This just takes time and a lot of perseverance. There is a huge potential once trust is established.

8. With so many brick-and-mortar art galleries in the market, how are you handling the competition? Don’t you think people would like to see the artwork before buying it online?
There is always competition, and yes a lot of people like to see the artwork. So we do call for it and show it to them with no compulsions to buy. Most often the sale is made.

9. Did you start this venture alone, or with a co-founder?
Artflute is Co-Founded with my husband Neeraj Harlalka, who has a great sense of design and expertise in the online space. And also with Mr. Sanjiv Gupta, Founder of Bodhtree in Hyderabad.

10. What has been your strategy to find a co-founder?
We needed somebody with technical expertise, that’s why the association with Bodhtree.

11. How did you manage all the work of a startup on your own? When did you hire your first employee.
Just the designing of the site till we were online, took us a year! My husband and I have designed every single page, colour and page orientations. While we were still designing; we weren’t really thinking of starting to hire, I used to teach children art at the Spastics society. One day while I was there I met this really smart girl who had just passed her twelth from Spastic Society. She had a problem with speech. We conversed first by sitting next to each other and texting on our mobiles. I hired her immediately. Kalpashree was our first employee 2 years ago. She is still with us and we have trained her further in Internet Marketing. She must be right now one of the best marketing people ever.

12. How have you funded your business (starting from when it was incorporated)?
We started with an initial fund of 5 lakhs, and hence been funding it through sales.

The initial 5 lakhs was our own funds that we deployed. To start paying salaries, we had 2 art interventions - art programs for the artists and collector communities of Bangalore. They were talks by artist Alex Matthew and art critic Santosh Sadanand. The second was a talk by Prof Shivagi Panikar and 3 other art collectives of Bangalore, 1 Shanti Road, Bar 1 and Samuha. The money was used for this purpose. Since then we have managed to run the expenses with orders and sale of paintings.

13. What have been the challenges – finding the business partner, financing, recruiting, selling etc. Which in your experience has been the most difficult challenge to overcome?
Finding a business partner was almost instant, as Mr. Sanjiv Gupta also believed in the idea. Recruiting was also never a challenge, but selling is.

We have worked on building content from the artists side, so have done no marketing of the site. Its almost a chicken and egg, story. Should we market the site or should we concentrate on building content. Hence decided to do the later, we are now ready to actually market the site.

The main challenge is to build trust and that can only come by regular updates and upkeep of the site.

14. You're absolutely right. It's important to first present the content in your business model, as that is what customers will come for. You cannot market your model without content!.
Last question, but very important, a little about your family – how did you manage to strike a balance between the home, kids and the new venture?
Home for me has always been a priority. Since artflute is online I get to do a lot of work from home. My kids Aahika 12 and Aryaman 9 are pretty much glued on to my work and share my experiences and events daily. Artists and artworks have become normal conversations at home. My husband Neeraj is my biggest admirer and also my biggest critic. He guides and helps me with the way forward.

At the same time, we share a common interest in art. We discuss and buy a lot of art together. So work is really a pleasure, and to see artworks every day is therapeutic. While he helps in marketing plans and finance, he respects my decisions on the artists relations and running of the every day business.

Though some times they do get bothered by my absence and travel, I have huge family support. I live with my husband's parents and grandparents. Its never been a problem to leave the kids on immediate work calls.


5 comments:

  1. Congrats Chand! truly inspiring....the artist community esp in B'lore is lucky to have you and Nikki!- Savi

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  2. Way to go, girl!!!!

    Have already suggested your site to friends who enjoy art and like to collect; & also to youngsters/friends who paint, to register... and (who knows!) maybe in due course, sell through Artflute...

    Good luck!
    Divya

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