Elevator Pitch: Bluethumb

Elevator Pitch is a regular feature on Lifehacker where we profile startups and new companies and pick their brains for entrepreneurial advice. This week, we’re talking with director George Hartley from Bluethumb.

In 128 words or less, explain your business idea.

Bluethumb is the leading online art platform for Australian visual artists to display and sell their work. Art collectors connect, browse and buy original artwork direct from artists from across Australia at bluethumb.com.au and on our app.

In 2013 we grew from 80 to 500 exhibiting artists, Apple featured our Bluethumb – Art Unearthed app, and art sales grew over 500 percent.

What strategies are you using to grow and finance your idea?

We try and build the best product, something that is so useful to our artists and collectors that they spread the word for us. And to build a useful product we listen to our artists and art buyers. We have a strong focus on useable tech, and aim to consistently improve it.

Our iPhone app, Bluethumb – Art Unearthed, is the first Australian art app where artist can upload works of art and sell them through an app. We released it late last year, and within four weeks of release it was featured by Apple. Now over 20 percent of our artists’ sales are through the app.

We don’t have outside funding, we finance Bluethumb from our earnings — 30 percent commission on sales. This is in stark contrast to the rest of the gallery industry where sales commission can be as high as 70 percent in traditional bricks and mortar galleries.

What’s the biggest challenge facing your business?

Shipping fragile, bulky artworks across the country. We offer free shipping, and as artworks are sold directly by artists, they come straight from the artist’s studio to the buyer. It’s a logistical challenge to start, made even harder by our country’s courier network, which is under-developed.

How do you differentiate your business from your competitors?

Bluethumb’s uniqueness comes from launching Australia’s first art marketplace app, but also because we’re a proudly open-platform site. That is, any artist who wishes to exhibit and sell through us can do so. We use a mixture of our own curation, and our user’s curations to surface the most interesting art. We let our art collectors choose which artworks, and which artists, become popular. Artworks that are viewed and favourited more often are automatically selected for the Popular section of the site.

What’s the best piece of business advice you’ve ever received?

Whatever you want to do, start now. Being proactive is a pretty good way to learn. We’re constantly learning, but actually ‘doing’ things is the best way to learn.

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