I’ve been interested in art since I was a little kid. It was always my go-to answer when teachers or “grown-ups” asked what I wanted to be. When traveling with my parents, museums were always a must-do on our vacation itineraries around Europe. In high school, my Mum (a surgeon) and I (who had decided to pursue maths and sciences more heavily in high school) took art lessons every Saturday afternoon together. When I traveled abroad for a year pre-MBA, my photography was something I chose to focus on, and solo rainy afternoon trips to European museums and galleries were my weekly activities. It’s always been a big part of my life, and likewise for many other people around the world.
Art is one of the last markets to truly be modernized. Countless startups have tried, and some have done exceptionally well, but many have not. In an industry that is traditionally made up of static, visual, one-of-a-kind experiences, cracking the digital world has been tough. It’s something I’ve been interested in for a while, and so decided to do a deep dive this past fall.
I put together a couple points in a presentation before I started, and my thesis behind it. In the spirit of open-sourcing, I’ve included some of those slides below.
The process started out in September. Over a couple months, I tried to speak to everyone I possibly could with some knowledge: people working at galleries, at art startups, investors in art-tech, people providing services to the art markets, etc. I arrived at many dead ends — either I didn’t believe in a compelling value proposition, I thought barriers to entry were too low, economics didn’t make sense or customer acquisition was too great. I started off with more traditional online art vendors and marketplaces and found the market saturated. I looked at peripheral services, like digital watermarking and transportation and logistics services, but found that customer adoption might be too difficult.
Over time, and many trials, I came up with some thoughts:
(i) People might have the best intentions of buying art, and may answer as many surveys as possible saying they want to, but because it’s a discretionary purchase (and often expensive) conversion is very low
(ii) People want selection and variety — it’s hard to narrow down an expensive purchase, but much easier to defer the decision
(iii) Millennials care a lot about their homes, the products they use and consume, and how they appear to their friends
It wasn’t until I met the dynamic founders of Meural, Vlad and Jerry, that I found I was on to something. The day I met Vlad and Jerry, I knew they were thinking about the big picture. They had similar thoughts as me, and knew that there was a brand new segment of the market that could be considered that no one was attacking properly. They thought about millennial trends and mobility and the abundance of choice we have in our lives. Unlike some of their competitors I met with, Vlad and Jerry knew that this would be a process of consumer education, which is why they want to give people choice on how they decide to view a new form of art in their lives. They spent several months working out of an artist’s commune so they could get the right feel for the frame; they thought about details.
At our first meeting, Vlad described Meural as the ‘iPod for art and photography’, and mentioned that he studied many successful consumer hardware unicorns and thought about what made them special — including Nest, Beats, and Sonos. They knew it needed to be a product that would sell itself and look ‘special’. As they explain, “it needed a touch of magic”, hence why they included the gesture control right on the frame itself. The original product is a 27” HD frame with a real wooden frame and white mat around the edges. In short, it’s elegant.
Meural opens up a much broader market. Anyone interested in viewing gorgeous, new, fresh or classic art can do so relatively easily and affordably. In providing a changeable viewing experience, the consumer no longer needs to commit to one piece, but rather can use the frame as a way to show a variety of pieces, and simultaneously, discover new art. In doing so, the barrier to entry for the consumer is lowered: for $500, a consumer can have art on their walls that they don’t have to spend years pondering over. New art lovers are appearing — early-tech adopters, design-focused individuals, professionals who don’t know how to decorate their offices otherwise! They’ve seen interest from doctor’s offices, lawyers, large corporations, hotels and more. As hotels innovate, they’ll have the ability to offer guests their choice of room décor, in the form of the art on their walls. Similarly, a corporation can change the look of their offices for free, essentially, as the seasons change.
As investors, the real excitement in Meural comes in the form of their subscription model. There are so many possibilities for people to embrace this new form of consumption! Meural will test the details of their offerings over the coming year, but will likely implement a freemium model. With this, the consumer will always be able to access free art, but they’ll also have the ability to pay a nominal monthly fee for an expanded collection, curated playlists and “radio” stations, and their friends’ picks. Because of this, the company’s LTV increases significantly, as well as stickiness. These curations will also help create a community and enhance user value, and along with that, network effects.
Imagine what happens when you take this model one step further. Picture walking into work one day and discussing a brand new piece both you and your coworker had seen that morning. Now we’ve created a community of appreciators. We’re taking the model that’s worked so well in other industries (music = Spotify, video = Netflix) and transforming people’s static walls into something fluid.
We’re incredibly excited for Meural to keep growing — this is just the tip of the iceberg. With an unbelievable investor base in Francois Bennahmias (the CEO of Audemars Piguet), Elio Leoni-Sceti (former CEO of EMI Music), Barbara Corcoran (of Shark Tank fame) and Bolt (hardware specialists and investors), we are certain that Meural will be on the cutting edge of modernizing the art landscape.
Also, please get in touch with me regarding anything Art-Tech — I’m a big fan!