Art can add character to just about any place, but the traditional methods of acquiring it are outdated. The visual art furnishing market is in need of a reboot, especially as things like co-working spaces gain popularity. The team at Alpha’a set out to change this with a crowdsourced, customizable art platform that takes the place of a gallery.
We sat down with Alpha’s founder, Manuela Seve, to learn more about how Alpha’a came to be, potential social impact, the business model, and more-
for those who don’t know, what is the genesis story of alpha’a?
Alpha’a was created to bring more transparency and information into the arts. My co-founder Renata and I approached this problem due to different reasons but shared the same belief that the art market could be much bigger and more efficient if we used technology to bring new talent to the public.
At the time I worked in finance and was reading Marc Rich’s book, “King of Oil,” and looking at the oil market in the 60s and comparing it to the way the art market still operates (limited number of players calling shots, lack of price transparency, etc.) there were so many similarities that an opportunity to disrupt it was very clear.
How do you plan on allocating funds raised in this round to scale the business?
We have worked hard to build a platform capable of handling scale and automated it so that it is self-serving, but we have been approached by several large companies and we’re taking on massive projects which require staffing in operations and sales; proceeds will be used to build this team to further support our growing customer base.
You mention you are a b2b marketplace. what types of businesses are your main/target customers?
Alpha’a works with clients throughout the whole spectrum of traditional real estate and proptech. From Co-living companies such as Airbnb, Zeus Living, and Envizzo
to traditional hospitality companies such as Hilton, Four Seasons
Commercial, and multi-family real estate companies, such as Related and Beacon,
finally, channel partnerships where we produce white labels for companies such as Gilt, Zola, and Eporta.
Your mission and product have an impressive social impact in a variety of ways, down to simply making art more accessible. can you speak more about this?
Alpha’a offers the quality of a gallery, with the speed of online, high customization and accessible pricing.
This is revolutionary, as the arts traditionally have been a price restrictive market.
But we go a few steps further and a lot of this has to do with our curation. Our platform is open for any artist to submit works, and we have a voting platform where people can vote for their favorites, a completely democratic process.
We also see the arts as a tool for transformation since it is a truly universal language. We partner with many NGOs to open calls around social and environmental causes, for example, ocean conservation, female empowerment and have now been approached for a campaign around healthcare.
These campaigns bring to light new artists and represent visually themes that should be discussed.
Do you have any competition, if so, how do you differentiate?
The art market is still a fairly localized and segmented playing field. There are a few companies that are online but they focus mainly on individuals and sell physical works.
Galleries are expensive and inaccessible, art advisors are a limited source of artwork.
Companies like Artsy work with the expensive art galleries and art advisors as white pages, they don’t provide customizable solutions that are essential in the design process.
On Alpha’a every artwork can be produced in any size or medium.
Companies like society 6 provide affordable solutions which are completely disposable. On Alpha’a every piece of artwork purchased brings with it the image copyright in perpetuity, enhancing and maintaining the value, and the key is technology.
What are the biggest risks associated with your business?
Execution, in my opinion, is the biggest risk associated with any startup, but looking specifically at our market I’d say even though a slow down in real estate development would affect us, it would also create an opportunity to break away from old business models, which are more expensive for the end client. It’s also interesting to note that brick and mortar businesses will be forced to change the way they interact with their clientele and we have built features like digital collections that don’t require physical interactions.
How is your team uniquely positioned to win out in this market?
Our team has the perfect combination of market savvy know-how and outside critical perspective. My family has always been in the visual arts, my father’s an art dealer, my uncle a gallery owner and my mother is an artist, even though my background is in finance I grew up with a critical point of view on how the market organizes itself. My co-founder, Renata, on the other hand, has a master’s from Christie’s ED and has worked in the sector’s most important institutions. Our CTO is experienced in building out products capable of handling scales such as the voice and big brother mobile applications.
What does your business model look like?
Our clients fill out a simple questionnaire, the output is a pre-curated digital collection, they can then select specs (size, finish, etc) and an API will send over high res images to the supplier closest to the client, who will then print, frame and deliver the order.
Our clients also receive a blockchain certificate guaranteeing the provenance and they then own not only the physical piece but the copyright to that image in perpetuity.
We operate as an inverted marketplace paying the artist a royalty on sales, last year we practiced gross margins of 67%.
As you think about the business years down the road, what do you see exit opportunities looking like?
This business was built to go public. The arts are such a big part of people’s lives, that increasing the amount of stakeholders through an IPO would be a natural step. We also see M&A opportunities through giants like Google who have been trying to break into this market for years. Art.com, a poster producer, was recently purchased by Walmart by an amount in the 9 digit realm.
We at KingsCrowd are excited to see where Manuela and her team take the company. Alpha’a is currently raising funds on the Republic portal with 44 days left in the campaign.
About: Olivia Strobl
Olivia comes to KingsCrowd with a background in venture capital and technology. She spent time at Glasswing Ventures, an AI-focused venture fund in Boston, before joining the KingsCrowd team. There she helped develop machine learning algorithms for the opportunity qualification of preseed and seed-stage startup companies. Prior to her time at Glasswing, Olivia worked in a lab studying the neural correlates of attention. She holds a degree in Neuroscience from Wellesley College.