Tech start-up of the week: ArtNouv

21 Jun 2014

ArtNouv's Kritika Ashok

Our tech start-up of the week is ArtNouv, a Dublin-based e-commerce art site that through a global community of artists gives you art just the way you want it.

Headed by former Accenture executive Kritika Ashok, ArtNouv converts your memories into art by using photographs to make custom handmade paintings from a network of artists all over the world, from Brazil to India.

“ArtNouv is about making art accessible, making it yours,” Ashok explains.

Future Human

“Much like wine, it’s difficult to sometimes know how to invest in art. With reasonably priced commissions, masterpieces reproductions and originals from upcoming artists, we have made your art, your way.”

The market

The target market is a vast one – babies, pets, that moment from a trip you just took, that favourite place for fishing, the sailboat on the sea, as a wedding present, special birthday present or occasions such as Mother’s Day.

“Most of us come across these at least a few times in our lives – now this moment, captured as a hand-painted oil on canvas.”

The online store is already viable, says Ashok. “At an average price of €200 per order (for a 16 inch x 20 inch) painting and 10 orders a day, we would hit the seven-figure mark comfortably.”

The founders

The company has three founders spread globally but Ashok spearheads the business from Ireland.

“All three of us come from a business background. This started soon after all of us had completed our respective MBAs. All three of us have enjoyed starting new things and exploring different opportunities.

“I did my undergrad in maths and computers before moving to Ireland and completed my formal education in Trinity many years later with an MBA.

“Having worked in not-for-profit, corporate, start-up and SME sectors spanning various industries, I seem to have found a common theme in loving strategy and coming up with the tactics to put said strategy to use,” Ashok says.

The beauty of doing business digitally

While the end product is hand-painted, Ashok says the entire process is very digital.

“We are dependent on digital technology for everything we do – making contact with the customers, staying in touch with our artists, mapping our courier deliveries and of course, the original photograph for the painting – that’s usually digital or been made digital by scanning.

“We would love to effect a million lives through our art. This includes ourselves, the artist painting it and on an average, 20 people admiring/commenting/appreciating the artwork.

“Obviously, we would love to be one of those success stories where we get bought out but as organisations out there are either focusing on commissions or focusing on promoting artists, we are not sure who our target acquirer would be.”

Organic growth

According to Ashok, ArtNouv is at an exciting time in its journey.

“I have personally just bought out my co-founders and am going to be focusing on this full-time. My personal focus in building the Irish market – because we lot are the toughest to break – and then taking those learnings to other parts of the world.

“Our biggest challenge is people knowing of our service and how easy it really is. Hopefully, we wouldn’t be needing any investment and can continue building the company organically through sales, sales and more sales!”

Despite the presence of internet, email, Skype and any number of real-time communications technologies, Ashok says running a start-up with a global community of collaborators is a challenge.

“When you have three co-founders in three different geographical locations and all the artists in many other locations, everything is a challenge. Despite having a degree in computers, my coding skills are pretty defunct and so effectively, even though technology is our backbone, we have no in-house expertise in it.

“And then, none of us really knows art, but then again, that’s also our strength as it truly is your art, your way!”

The start-up scene in Ireland – more work than play

Ashok believes Ireland is an excellent place to start a company. “There is huge amounts of help available and the ecosystem in itself is absolutely amazing – resources from the Government and enterprise boards are great, and all but the best bit is how everyone is willing to do whatever they can to help.”

However, her experience of multinationals, non-profits and start-ups has given Ashok a sense of realism about business that shouldn’t be lost on other start-ups.

“We see a lot of people wanting to be a part of the ‘start-up world’- they think it is all about chilling out, dressing casually and having a great time – which it is! But so is Google.

“Start-up world, in reality, often means working crazy hours and very little financial reward for the first while.

“So definitely, focus on the passion – believe in the idea, because otherwise it is absolutely no good. Choose your team wisely, take time to build the right culture and most importantly, be absolutely sure of the co-founders. And finally, ask for help – reach out!”

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years