We talked to Belinda Ang, founder of ARTO, about connecting art to people and this is what she said about it.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Belinda Ang: Thanks for asking. 2020 started off on a weird note and much of Q1 and Q2 were spent on trying to navigate status changes to the finances and business landscape. I am extremely lucky to be in the company of a very supportive family. The Singapore government schemes have also been very helpful in easing some of these difficulties and that allows me to have the capacity to bring the company forward despite the odds.
Tell us about you, your career, and how you founded ARTO.
Belinda Ang: I am the CEO and founder of ARTO, a social art discovery platform designed to inspire 98% of the world to consume art. I have been an entrepreneur for a great part of my life, a staggering 15 years actually. In that 15 years, I founded a strategic communications agency, which is still running. I had also been a restauranteur and a music label and artist manager. In my 20 years of career, I had spent time in the Events, PR, Film, and Blockchain verticals. I see myself as a people and stories-centric generalist; so while some of the knowledge bases could vary and will need learning and picking up, for me, the focus and skill-sets are quite the same. As for how I came to start ARTO, my current angel investor incepted the original idea in me when he said a simple line, “Because humanity needs art”, which deeply resonates with me. As an art lover, I had always been frustrated by the historical structure of the commercial art market, which had not evolved much since the 1800s. I believe we need better emotional and physical accessibility to art, as no civilization past or present, can progress with sanity without art. The new world my team and I want to create is a world of Disney built on an Alibaba-like ecosystem but for Art. This is a world where everyone can support the art they love in ways that makes sense to their everyday. And ARTO as a platform is but a first step to our big Universe.
How does ARTO innovate?
Belinda Ang: The traditional art market worth 64 billion dollars, is contributed solely by 2% of the world’s population, around the high net-worth and ultra-high net worth. That market is mature, is well developed. But on the other side of the table, how will a world of art consumption look like for the rest of the 98% of the world? So although we are powered by technology, as we integrate the use of AI, Blockchain, and AR into our problem solving and value processes, we are very much focused on people. We are focused on thinking how will that world look like for this 98% of the population. I believe technology is simply a tool for innovation. The innovation we focus on, is built on 3 key areas, 1) Rethinking business models, 2) Rethinking behaviors current and relevant to the community we serve, 3) Marrying and adapting proven models and technology from other verticals into art.
How does the coronavirus pandemic affect your business finances?
Belinda Ang: Because of the pandemic, our angel investor could not fulfill the full agreed investment and so that disrupted our plans quite a bit. Also, since I am not taking a salary at this point from ARTO, my original income from my other company was also disrupted as Clients canceled projects. But we decided to make an informed risk to run on debt given the generous low interest from banks to push our plans forward. I’m blessed I have a team who is willing to brave the storm on simply a common vision and trust.
Did you have to make difficult choices regarding human resources and what are the lessons learned?
Belinda Ang: In my other company, we had to let go of most of our full-time staff. The key lesson, is, of course, cash is king. Haha…
Did you benefit from any government grants, and did that help keep your business afloat?
Belinda Ang: Yes, both as an individual and as a company owner, I think the Singapore government has helped greatly. The low bank rates and deferment of principle helped us buy time for the company to develop. On top of that, it helps pay the bills so I can rest our minds and focus on progress. Singapore government also has other schemes that are useful like the Productivity Solutions Grants, which help offset equipment costs as our workforce moved home. In my capacity as an individual, some of the cash handouts and subsidies on essentials were also helpful in offsetting some daily pressures which allow me to focus on the business.
Your final thoughts?
Belinda Ang: I believe that every crisis is an opportunity to reset and thrive. In this pandemic, there were positive things that happened for us. 1) Artists who were previously skeptical about digitization are now more open to speaking with us. 2) As everyone got locked down, the global community as a whole began to recognize the importance of arts and ignite sufficient interest to accelerate the transformation of the art economy. 3) Although my other company who usually pays the bill was having problems with our business, the hiatus also meant I had a full focus to structure and develop ARTO, which in normal circumstances, I may not have the luxury to do so. As the saying goes, don’t waste a pandemic.
Lastly, we are looking to launch in the next months or so, and I’d love to invite anyone who likes aesthetically beautiful things to sign up for early access at the main website. If you would like to help us as a beta tester or be part of our focus group, feel free to reach out to me directly.
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