Swede success for Artfinder

Swede success for Artfinder

As chief executive of Artfinder, Swedish entrepreneur Jonas Almgren has transformed what started as a small London tech startup into one of the world’s fastest growing marketplaces for art. BQ caught up with him to find out how he made it happen.

After achieving his masters in computer sciences at the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, Jonas Almgren spent 15 years learning the ropes in Silicon Valley.

However it was in New York where he mastered his trade, spending the next eight years helping build leading high end art startups VIP Art Fair and Oneartworld.

After his wife gave birth to their second child, Jonas and his wife decided they wanted to be closer to their family at home in Sweden and decided to give up the American dream to move back to Europe.

Luckily for him, there was a London startup just getting off the ground which had his name written all over it.

“I was in New York and had just decided to move back to Europe and started looking for jobs,” Jonas told BQ. “I was approached by Artfinder chairwoman Sherry Coutu and she convinced me to join the company.”

Artfinder is an online marketplace where art lovers from across the globe can buy affordable authentic art directly from independent artists and galleries.

Having already turned two successful New York art startup’s into fledging businesses, Jonas was the ideal candidate to help bring the company to market.

“It was a continuation of my previous role,” he added, “it was an art startup, but it was very different from the company in New York.

“My previous company focused on high end, expensive art, whereas Artfinder focuses on affordable art, it focuses on art for everyone rather than just for those with a lot of money.

“I felt it was a new and interesting challenge, something that hadn’t yet been done. Having seen the success of similar online marketplaces like Uber and Etsy, I really saw the potential in the business and knew there was a market for affordable art.

“It provided a perfect solution not only for people to find and buy affordable art but it also provided a platform for small artists to gain exposure.”

Where Artfinder stands out from its competitors, is its ability to provide original artwork whilst catering for artists and art lovers of all price ranges. Prices start from under £25 and all artwork is signed by the artist.

And Jonas was keen to stress this, adding: “Since we launched our marketplace in 2013 we have been keen to articulate that Artfinder has more in common with ‘share economy’ businesses such as AirBnB and Etsy than it does with ‘traditional’ art businesses who have moved into the online space.

“We’re proud to only sell one-of-a-kind original art and we’re also proud not to discriminate amongst our artists based on whether or not the art establishment has heard of them.

“We put the relationships that our artists build with our customers first. We are redefining what ‘buying art’ means and the ‘sharing economy’ generation is really responding to that.”

After three years in business, Artfinder is now one of the world’s leading marketplaces for contemporary art boasting 7,500 registered artists from 100 countries and 250,000 pieces of artwork.

The company has grown by 50-100% year-on-year since its launch and now employs 15 people at its Covent Garden head office in Central London.

It is also having a huge impact overseas, with 20% of its customer base now coming from the USA, and Jonas is keen to capitalise on this trend as the company continues growing.

“The US is becoming more and more important to us,” said Jonas. “It’s our fastest growing market and we feel there is real opportunity for the US market to become even larger than our UK market. Buyers in the US are also buying for more money than those here in the UK.

“We’re hoping to open an office in California this year to capitalise on this which will be headed up by one of our employees moving out there to run the office. We will also be employing someone in New York on the East Coast to cater for customers on both sides.

“We have just finished a round of financing and this will help us raise brand awareness in the US and fund this expansion. It’s a really exciting time for the business!”

As a platform providing artists of all kinds with a platform to sell their work, Jonas takes great pride in helping other small businesses break into the sector.

“We quite often get emails from artists telling us how we’ve helped change their lives and it really makes you feel proud of the work we’re doing.

“A perfect example of this is an artist in Lithuania with a studio in their backyard who sold their first artwork to Hong Kong, this would never have been possible without Artfinder. Their excitement about the platform is remarkable.”

Speaking about the future for Artfinder, Jonas said: “I think in two years time our largest market will be the US, it clearly has the most opportunity. It is currently 20% of our sales but we really see this increasing in the coming years. I think we’ll have a whole team based out there.

“Next year we are also hoping to raise capital from a US VC which will show we are serious about the US and it will also allow us to leverage contacts which would be hard without a US VC.”

For further information watch the company’s video ‘Join the Artfinder Revolution’: