January 21, 2020
Manuela Seve is a founder, entrepreneur, triathlete, musician and art lover who is revolutionizing the arts, whilst honoring the profoundly human aspects of collecting. What started as a t shirt competition at an art fair in Brazil has democratized and modernized the art acquisition process through the first crowd sourced art & design platform with over 9,000 artists from around the world. This purpose driven art platform is working across 3 continents, has sold over 1,100 pieces of art in the past 2 years, is the world's biggest inventory free art gallery, and has a clientele from the 6 billion dollar hospitality industry such as Zola, Gilt, and Hilton.
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Make it a prettier place for sure. People that live in prettier spaces are less angry and they cause less drama. And talk about the issues that are in front of us. Don't leave them under the rug, that goes for our personal relationships that goes for the world. That goes, if we just communicate better, maybe there's a better chance of solving something.
I want to talk about where you guys first started in Rio in 2014 with just this little t-shirt initiative. What happened during the art fair that made you say, this really could be a thing?
Sure. So I think that's actually a very interesting point in the company for a couple of different reasons. One. It's when we really touched on, on the, on the point that, you know, there was so much more to be done because right after that t-shirt competition we launched a scholarship initiative with one of the biggest art programs in, in Rio at the time [inaudible] and we expected it to be, you know, competitive. But for the 20 spots that we were opening, we received over 700 applications, which just showed us how much, you know, the arts needed our support at the time and for another reason during that fair I met who is now my cofounder Ramada. She's actually here with me and will join us for a little bit of the conversation. As soon as, you know, w we come a little bit back into the arts and that's when, you know, the company really started to taking, taking steps into becoming a tech company, not just an initiative. Shortly after that we met at older who is now our CTO and he's been with us as well since inception. And we started putting together the guidelines for what is now alpha eight. So that first contact was, was really, really important for us. It kind of like drove us to make this into a full time company, which is, you know, now touching the lives of thousands or millions of people.
Yeah, absolutely. Tell me about a little bit about your childhood. You know, you were immersed in the art world, your father and uncle, founding one of the oldest galleries and your mother being an artist. How did this experience influence you later as an entrepreneur?
So when I was a child it was a little boring because, you know, I wanted to go to Disney world and I kept going to the BOMA, but it, it, you know, and, and I remember I was always like sitting in the chair, I can't stand looking at this Jackson Pollock anymore. But now I'm very thankful because just being immersed in art from an early age made me much more conscious about, you know, just the different movements and how art should be just appreciated and accepted to what it does to you rather than what, you know, you've heard about it. And I got to thinking of that since from a very young age. I remember the first time I saw then goes story is starting nights in person and he was an artist that we also did a play in, in school about just looking at the effect of the paintbrush and how much paint he actually dabbled onto the canvas. I could tell that there was so much feeling in those works and that's what art is for me. It's, you know, it's how it makes you feel.
[Inaudible] What about the experience of working in the financial industry wide? Lean towards that and then come back to art later.
So I rebelled. I was the black sheep. I wanted to, you know, make money, make money for other people. And you know, I love finance, I love economics. I love building on models. Our company is very well thought out in terms of business plan as well. We're one of the few art companies that actually has negative working capital, which means we get paid before we have to actually pay our suppliers. And since we're 100% inventory free, this makes scaling very easy. And this came from my financial experiences, but at the same time the motivation to really start the company also came by looking at commodities. I was reading Mark Rich's bio King of oil and looking at the auto market in the 60s in the art market nowadays, there were just so many similarities and that was around the same time that I met Ranada and we started talking about how we could bring more transparency into this market.
Yeah. And so you guys are basically connecting people and businesses to the visual arts. Tell me about your guys' mission and how the solution is empowering the connection between market and artists.
Absolutely. So we're a B2B marketplace. This is something that came after we launched in 2017. There was a quick vivid and we connect companies to the visual arts. So how alpha essentially works is we license artwork by thousands of artists and we drop ship limited edition prints, which are produced in three continents. Right now we have supply chain in place in North America, South America and Europe. And this really allows us to import and export art without the hassle of logistics, cross-border taxation and really create a globally sourced ours that is always produced locally.
Hmm. And with the marketplace and you know, the blockchain tech that you guys are using, you're really helping to proliferate some of this intellectual property around the world of these artists. So aside from the financial benefits for both you and the artists, why is it important for you to help these artists grow and get their work out there?
Well, I think I actually liked to bring her that in for that one because she is the woman of the artists so she can tell about, you know, how we're actually making a difference in, in their lives, which is something she sees on a daily basis. Hi. So no, we can share this one. I think in the very beginning what we found was that we could accelerate the career of a lot of very talented people. And by being ciders of this world was on the many, many times. It's not about you having this Chios as an artist and like being talented. And it's about your connections and then where am I going to go? And then a lot of the times having the means to be at those places and invested in your career. So by joining alpha, an artist can have the step on the back that is going to be crucial for him or her to continue being an artist and maybe not have to have a side job.
So I could focus. It's close simply in being an artist, like creating, like doing your practice, which is so important. So yeah, I think, yeah. [inaudible] Yeah, exactly. That's exactly what it is. Giving more people a chance, providing opportunities, having these open calls, which really do empower a lot of change as there is so much behind just giving people a chance, a chance. And the arts are traditionally a market which are elitist and selective when they shouldn't be, you know, artists or creatives, they're amazing people and they want to share their voice with the world. Yeah. We have a tagline and alpha that says that art should be a right and not a privilege. And that's both for the creative side and the consumer. So we definitely believe that I, if like an artwork is not going to please everyone, there is definitely an artwork that would place, they think every single person, you know, you can also participate in, shouldn't be too exclusive. Right.
If there seems like a strong drive for you guys to make are available for the consumer as well.
Absolutely. Absolutely. And that's where, you know, our pricing model was built. And I think, you know, there's great examples of big artists that are represented by all four or you know, or produce works by alpha and on their gallery lives they'll sell for several thousand dollars and we work with them in creating additions that are affordable or below $1,000, which is a completely new type of customer for them. But at the same time, this gives the customer an opportunity to break into the market in a way. Right.
Let's talk about some of the things that are really setting you guys apart. So one of the first thing is you guys are a crowd sourcing platform you know, work with artists all around the world. How did you guys first discover which artists to work with in the beginning?
Oh, okay. So we'll usually say that you know, a we the up and coming artists is, is very easy to work with because he's looking for axes and the artists which is further along in their career is also easy to work with because they're looking for new tools and they like to help you know, the initial artists. And I think that that was so true by the tee shirt initiative that we launched where we brought in all of the big artists from Latin America and they donated these works, which then funded scholarships for the young artists. Mid-career has always been a tough segment for us. It's usually where, you know, the artist has had a little bit of success. They've had their first gallery show and they, they're insecure about trying something new about showing their work online, about having prints which are accessible. So that's a segment that I'd say it's the only segment that we don't really do a lot.
And so then the second piece that's really big for you guys is holding no inventory, your print on demand and in, in the country that the customer is basically doing business and you don't have to deal with things like logistics or taxation. This is really huge. So do people really value a print? I like print on demand as much as maybe some of the other mediums is where the older industries might have paintings or whatever that
I think the perfect example is Hospitaller right? Everybody thinks of the lobbies because that's where the unique artwork is. But the bulk of the project is within the rooms and that's where, you know, we place all of the additions. And so it creates a an easy partnership with, with local artists to develop these common areas and local curators. And at the same time it, it creates the potential to maybe show the interior designers vision through or an artist that could be miles away but has a connection with that city. Does that make sense?
Yeah. Yeah. How are you guys using you know, the audience feedback you're using? A lot of analytics for the artists and whatnot. Using the basically technology you get to kind of disrupt and outdate and market.
Well I think the first thing is curation. Absolutely. We, we created a platform which is AI infused. So there's a number of different filters and you know, figs that you can select and the platform will create your own collection of artwork based on a very simple questionnaire. This is extremely innovative, like back in a day to, to find a piece which would fit on the size that you're looking for budget that you're looking for was a real hassle, especially if you go directly to a gallery. One, the pricing is completely unaffordable and two, there's just a limited source of artwork in terms of sizing and, and you know, pricing. And I think the other big is just the speed of fulfillment, which comes from, you know, the way that we've built the supply chain. On, in the olden days, you'd, you'd have to ship a sculpture, let's say from North America to South America. This would be stuck in customs. You'd have to get a crate Bay for it. So the whole process could take maybe three bucks. Now you can have an incredible three D printed sculpture, which can be even, it can even be a unique three D printed sculpture, which, you know, great artists like Frank Stella already dabbling in, which can be produced on demand for that project and delivered in a week. So, you know, everything's changed.
How has it been managing the different distribution channels across different countries?
It's a tech solution. We have an API that basically selects the closest supplier to that end customer a bit then shit sends over the high res image. And we are now developing our, our blockchain platform for certification so that this way, you know, once the client receives his work, no matter where the world it is, there's a QR code on the back. He can scan and come back to his vault, which is a collection of all of the works he's purchased before and access his, his token is essentially his certificate of authenticity. Keep it there or transfer ownership within the click of a button. This way, you know, there's a trust network created that the work of the certificate must have the same owner in order to have any value
[Inaudible] and it with using the blockchain this really helps to basically facilitate some sort of scarcity and uniqueness to each art piece. Are you guys using it in that way?
Absolutely. Since we only produce limited additions you know, each certificate is, is completely assigned to that image number. And we price based on scarcity which beans, the first editions are always going to be less expensive than the last edition.
Well, for our listeners, what is a little bit of advice you would have for early stage startup founders that are basically trying to identify places that they can disrupt in an outdated market such as the art market?
Ah, firstly know the market very, very well. It's not something that comes overnight sometimes, you know, I think there's a lot of sectors in PropTech which are a little crowded but need to be disrupted. I think the best person will always win the person that knows the market in its best. Listen to your clients. I think that's why we built such a great product because it's always changing and it's always iterating according to what we use to deliver the best solution to our client.
[Inaudible] How are you guys collecting the feedback from both, you know, the artists, but then also the businesses that you're serving?
We have, you know, a team that works with us in doing user interviews, client interviews. We have a, a new intern an MBA student, which is helping us organize all of that material and creating a new system to develop these different touch. Boyd's optimize these different touch points, bring them in into a CMS that we built custom to, you know, have feedback, be a constant part of the user journey.
With a marketplace platform. One of the big problems is either kind of playing cat or mouse, which one are you going to build first? The, you know, the artist's side. Having all these people that can provide the art or the customer's side of the businesses. Where did you guys focus in first and building?
I don't want to say this but I kind of want to say it, but at the same time I think we built the boat, the two at the same time obviously that t-shirt initiative that we talked about created critical mass on both sides because we had our first clients and we sold almost $30,000 worth of tee shirts in a week, which just showed, you know, the huge potential there as well. Cause they were all in positions. But we also attracted those 700 artists that, you know, came for the opportunity to be shown. So it's hard to do the two at the same time. And I think if I could give some advice is look for clusters, especially on the talent side because it's a way easier way to, to scale.
Mmm. Yeah. is there any resource book program that has helped you develop better as a founder and leader?
A lean startup that's like the Bible bold. What do you have? Innovator's dilemma. A hard thing of all the hard thing about hard things is a, is a tough one as well, but it's good. Let's see what else. I've read some influence as good as well on the marketing side and take everything with a little bit of a grain of salt. The one thing that take very, very seriously is listen to your customers.
Right, right. Let's talk a little bit about some of your values and things that you do in business. I was reading in the new thing that you wrote that you basically had lost a job in a, are lost out on a job in a private equity firm because of the notion that women cry. And so how have you cultivated your mentality as a female founder to overcome these labels and biases?
Firstly, I do cry a lot and I've been, you know, accepting that we cry is, is the first step and understanding that sometimes you're a better founder because you cry because you accepted feed. And at the moment that, you know, I, I deal with whatever it is that made you cry. It's important to accept that, you know, I'm feeling this for this reason. How can I be better in the future? And I think female founders are more resilient because we take so much from every different side. We've been in so many meetings where the guy sometimes just wants to, you know, assert power or whatever it is that you're forced to build a better business because you come in with facts instead of, you know, dreams. And we've heard this from a number of our investors. Female founders are much more down to earth and much more conservative and they've told me millions of times make your models more aggressive, make your models more aggressive. But I actually, I think it's, it's okay to be more conservative. We live by the under promise over deliver and so far it's been great.
Hmm. And how have you guys been partnering to do the female empowerment initiatives?
So we, we spoke to a group of South East Asian artists a couple of years ago and a female curator as well. Obviously the challenges that women face in India are astronomical. So that was a big part of our journey. There was, you know, getting these voices out. Latin America is another market that even though, you know, there are women seem to have a more active voice. There's a different type of pressure that we face. So, you know, it's a, it's another group of women that we've supported. We've done events with a collective called Group 11, which is a group of female Latin American artists out of Yale. And just creating this to get the stories out, marketing it, speaking about it, and, you know, showing the artwork, which is always very, very strong and powerful.
Hmm. Yeah, that's awesome. You mentioned being shielded, growing up in Brazil and kind of getting stuck in these like web of patterns from, you know, the life that was around you all the time. How did you break free from those? You talked about a little bit about rebelling and what values do you still keep from them?
It was a battle. It was a battle like telling my mom that I was not going to be a housewife was, was a long conversation and I think it lasted baby most of my life. But now she respects me so much more for it, for, you know, having a career for leaving for, you know, making my own position. I wish I could do more in empowering women in Brazil and then giving them more tools. But being in New York is the best place in the world for us to be because there's so much capacity for change and people are always willing to listen and sometimes you need to be outside of your own country to be taken seriously, which is a weird notion, but it's the biggest truth.
[Inaudible] And now how do you kind of connect that back to the home country and you know, kind of being like the warrior that goes out and then comes back and, you know, saves people back there.
We have a lot of Brazilian artists, a lot of resident artists, and I think, you know, they want to work with us because they respect the two of us as you know, leaders as female founders, as people who did a few things in a different way and they want to be associated to us and we want to bring their voices forward. I think the latest thing that we did was an initiative around rainforest conservation where we did an open call and what 50% of the winners were women. Yeah. More or less. More or less. Yeah, 50%. And they were all Brazilian women and we had some of them out here for the show. We had a talk kind of like talking about the issues that we faced and just shining a light on the issue and making sure that the rest of the world knows.
Hmm. Yeah. That's powerful. Let's talk about the relationship between you and Renata. I'm growing together as friends and founders. I even seen that you guys had like a near death cycling experience together. So
I think she has to come back for that one as well. You really did your research well. I really abreast.
Yeah. So I mean, tell me a little bit about how you guys have grown together from, you know, when you first started in the business.
Yeah, I think in my opinion I'm automated as a strong Tim was that we saw each other the very beginning of, as me as a business partners, it wasn't that way. We're best friends and because of that we decided to do a company together. I think like a lot of the times it's staples mistake the way we saw each other, a very complimentary, like an a at the same time with very similar goals. So it was like the excitement and you know, like when you have like that passion, which is quite weird and you'll find that in one person who shares that with you. So that's what they kind of beginning brought us together. And I was living in New York at a time real. And then we didn't know each other too well. Like, and it was that leap of faith that we both had [inaudible] a good failing done.
I it had to work somehow and yeah. And God we did it. Yeah. And the leap of faith that she mentions is the fact that she moved to Rio. She was supposed to spend two lumps and ended up staying two years. And that's how we developed the MDP and how we, you know, became friends and, and had, you know, so many different Lundy moments. They were both only Childs and it's like we both needed each other to gait and like almost as the sisterhood. And I think one of these traumas and things about office with love partnerships, they, the partnership being a, like ours with our third co-founder which is a technical side as well. Like, and also like, we're constantly working with people from outside or bringing like, like it's a team effort. And I think that's the only way to do it. Like when everyone manages or fi identify their best skills like and, and bringing to a detain people who are like better than yourself on other things. And the share, like a common goal,
You know, co-founders is one of the reasons that a lot of startups fail because they aren't on the same page. They aren't using each other's strengths and weaknesses. How do you guys kind of approach that relationship between you two and then the relationships that you partner with other people?
So I think, you know number one, we're very different, like so different in so many different ways. I mean a much more rational person, but at the same time, it's what I was telling you, I cry a lot and have a lot of feelings and very motive, etc. And you know, you are the other head cold hard. No, I think my watch was saying, you know, like people aren't different and even when you think you're similar, you're very, very different. Like you can have twins and they are like complete different people. So I think it's important to acknowledge that and to have that in mind with whatever relationship you would develop in your personal professional life as well. And then really try to work on your communication. Yeah. Cause skills. Yeah. Communication skills. And that's exactly how you can set the different tasks that each one of us need to achieve right now.
Like perfect example is how we build a pitch. For example, usually you know, better at public speaking, but you know, I can't design a PowerPoint for my life. I can do five models in a week and have all of the scenarios out there. But you know, my PowerPoints, if I was to put them together to look like a Frankenstein, you know, we're not as that Anne Mayo's in proposals. She doesn't even let me edit PowerPoints. She sends them to me in PDF, but they look beautiful. Everything that is a, the community's trans NG, they can have verbal communication is much better. I'm horrible with words. But like I think I've always started art like, and like I also like, I like beautiful things. So when you bothers me when you say that you'll call her point that like might be completely right but it looks ugly like art colonies. I might have fallen like a good spot to be. Right. for those that are seeking out a cofounder, how do you kind of navigate those waters and know if the relationship's going to be fruitful like yourself? Forget about just, you know, skills and focus on core goals. I think that's why, you know, our partnership was so successful because we both had that the same, I don't even want to say morals, but you know, we wanted to get to the same place. We had different ideas about the past.
I agree. I think it's like as hard or harder than finding a partner for your life. Like it is a marriage. Like it's the person that, or say they at least like five days a week. Like, like, like the saddlery growing to me and friends as well. So like a lot of like that side is shared too. But like it, it's, it's never black and, and wide. It's never like one or the other. You know, like it's something, it's cost and work like and they're like brighter phases. They darker phases they can, you know, like I think then Up-to-date, like metal Alice had this today it's a marathon and it's not as sprained. So just need to have that in mind. Like you can be resilient cause they, they find someone who likes to run together and in a way, and it's not because there will be hard moments that like everything is lost, you know, like I think they the same way that like it's not like one way or the other.
Like I think they yeah like there are shitty moments there. And what was that like? She hates me. I hate her. Like we hate our job like and we'd be playing, there are more ones when like we're super, super happy with that. Like all of the both as well, you know like, and now just need to prepare it and appreciate the good times. Even better, more celebrate, celebrate the achievements for sure. Art is both kind of in your own rights a something that like you both participate in.
So Manuela, you are also a DJ music as a different kind of art. How does this impact you guys and allow you to express yourself in your business? For me it's, it's amazing. I, I, before I used to think of it like, you know, a triathlon because it was a moment of complete disconnect and music gives me that as well.
It gives me a moment of complete disconnect, which is necessary for you to go back and be a better professional is if you're only thinking of, you know, your professional life 24, seven, you're going to get tired and you're going to run out of good ideas. And I think, you know, other outlets bring that to me. I don't know. What do you think of your yeah, the expeditions. I know I was going to add something about music actually in the very beginning when we were still basing real, we had a, an umbrella which was called out of it. So we throw parties sporadically like we did. And the idea behind it was to bring the community together like in a, like easier, like more of a relaxed manner. So I think like again, going back to that idea that I galleries and being intimidating, they can, they talking, they can experience it.
Experiencing art making a more relaxed way like, and like a lot of interactive works too. Like you know, like I think way here in New York we, we tend to see that a lot like experimental spaces where have big art installations, musicians, they like everything combined. Yeah. Yeah. All of those different creative universities combined. I come from a architecture background and I was always questioning, you know, how beautiful can do design can help better people's lives. So how do you think art in the work that you guys are doing is doing an influence on culture and you know, a positive impact?
Have I tried to work at an ugly space? I knew she was going to say that. I was going to say, well there's a lot of research about, you know, the healing effects of ARDS about how, you know, are really does build community about, you know, house buildings. Just like on the financial side, buildings with stronger art programs have higher return over invested capital. People pay high rents for them? Well, you know, you're an bath background. We worried yesterday inside those and I'm sure that's one of the most expensive buildings in the middle of New York. And it's basically design like it's next door to another building, which could be exactly the same, but the way it was projected to make living in it a much better experience. Yeah. And I think like, like we like our generation, like unless like most so much, like I know they see it as a New York, San Francisco, like all staying, I don't know, like, like people move because of their jobs usually, and it's not their home.
So sometimes they, when you're, you're moving to a white box, like, and that's like, so like, you know, that has nothing to do with their personality. They can like when you're going to go buy some plain vanilla furniture at stores and then how do give character to that space. And I, I think art plays a very important part in doing that. And it's like, if you plan like one, two artworks are for home, that already changes everything. I love waste waking up and looking at my thing. Me too. I actually have a picture from my home town, beautiful picture by an amazing photographer of someone diving in the ocean. It's in front of my bed and I wake up and I feel, do you guys think that art is a commodity or something that is fundamental to people's lives? Fundamental. Absolutely fundamental. It's like the need to have one to have need to have. Can you imagine like walking into a building and having all empty walls? It'd be ridiculous. It'd be, it would feel unfair. Basically that's it. People do not like unfinished things. Life is complicated enough. They want comfort and it has a very strong power to communicate things like the social environmental causes that she was talking before. I know, so like ah. An image is worth a thousand words I think for as like every artwork has that potential to tell a story.
Before I get to my last question, where can everybody find you and get in touch? I'll say dog call a check out our Republic campaign as well and just launched. It's your chance to invest in alpha. So republic.co dash alpha dash gay. And you know, I need some of the best slips of New York DJ duo jokes apart. My last question is how can we push the world to evolve? How can we push the world to evolve, make it a prettier place? Sure. People that live in prettier spaces are less angry and they cause less drama and you know, and talk about the issues that are in front of us. Don't leave them under the rug, you know, and that goes for our personal relationships that goes for the world. That goes, if we just communicate better, maybe there's a better chance of solving something in charge high in clinic.
You know, cause most likely they, they eat shows or like the they hopes and narcissist pouring till that artwork or a shared with a lot of other people. I think like now we have a technological tools like the one where a building like in so many others that how people connecting a can see that I, the pain points are pretty much the same. Nowhere no matter where in the world. Absolutely. Okay. We're all living. We're all living this time. Yeah. Yeah. Well, thank you guys so much for sharing everything. Thank you. It was very deep. I hope you enjoyed it.
Brandon is an entrepreneur, certified professional coach, and podcast host. His aim is to evolve the individual through education, entertainment, and philosophy so together we can ask the world's biggest questions, build businesses to solve them, & live fulfilling lives in the process.
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