First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID19 times?
Michal Szczesny: We’re doing fine, thank you! We’re lucky to be safe and well, and able to work from home.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded or joined Artfinder
Michal Szczesny: I was born in Poland and grew up in a small town in the central region. I received my first computer when I was eight years old, which got me interested in games and even programming. My brother and I used to code in ‘Basic’ together, so by the age of 12, I could touch-type. When the internet became a thing, I became interested in building websites.
I set-up my first business at the age of 16, creating websites for companies and individuals in the region. It was an interesting time because no-one knew what the internet would grow into. During university, I worked full-time as a customer service representative selling ceramic tiles. I loved it! It really helped me learn what great customer service should look like and what’s important to people when they buy. I stayed and progressed at the same company for a number of years, and built their very first website, as well as coding some of their more complex systems.
I moved to London in 2006 and landed my first proper job as a programmer at a great agency called Tangent. I met some fantastic people, including coders, designers and business people, some of whom still mentor me today.
I joined Artfinder in January 2013 as CTO when it was going through some major changes to its business model. In a way, our direction was still being defined and it was great to be a part of that process. Since then, I became COO and then took over as CEO in late 2017.
How does Artfinder innovate?
Michal Szczesny: Artfinder’s mission is to make art affordable, accessible and a viable career for artists. In 2019, we went through the rigorous process of becoming certified as the art world’s first B Corp. That’s an independent certification of our commitment to social and environmental purpose and it is this aim to truly create a world where art benefits everyone that sets us apart. It is this mission that has led us to our current crowdfunding campaign, to offer our community a real opportunity to share in our success as we grow. As a startup, I think we also have innovation, certainly disruption, in our DNA. We’re founded on the belief that the art market needed a shake up, to be more transparent and accessible to more people.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business and how are you coping?
Michal Szczesny: We’ve actually seen incredible growth in the last three months, and have just closed our best quarter ever, with year-on-year growth at 120% vs 2019.
Our sales in mid-March were affected by overall consumer confidence, but this softening lasted just over 1 week, before the trend completely reversed and we saw a major acceleration. This is of course, in part, due to COVID19 and the closure of art fairs and galleries, but we have also made major merchandising changes and continued digital marketing overhaul and expansion (rolled out towards the end of Q1).
Did you have to make difficult choices and what are the lessons learned?
Michal Szczesny: The challenges we’ve faced have been different from those we expected to face, that’s for sure. We prepared (as I’m sure almost every business everywhere did) for a drop in our sales, what that would do to our cash flow, what measures we may need to take and when. What we did not prepare for was 100%+ growth of orders. We’re lucky as a marketplace business that our artists handle shipping and deal directly with customers, but we’ve still seen a 136% increase in tickets to our customer care team, which has meant that we’ve had to scale that team, and other teams really quickly and take on challenges of remotely on boarding new staff members, whilst the current team was still getting used to remote working themselves.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety, how do you project yourself and your company in the future?
Michal Szczesny: It helps a lot that what I do here at Artfinder is based on my personal passions. Running a business that is working very hard to be a genuine force for good is in itself helpful in managing stress levels. But when it comes to it, I do my best to meditate and take regular daily walks. Before the lock down, I had also been regularly floating in a sensory deprivation tank. This is an amazing way to end a week and clear one’s mind and if you have access to such a facility – floating is a scientifically proven method to reduce stress and regenerate the body. I absolutely recommend it!
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Michal Szczesny: Our competitors range from huge marketplaces like Amazon and eBay, to interiors stores like Ikea, to high street art galleries and art fairs. We plan to stay in the game by genuinely helping artists to make a living, delivering on our mission as a B Corp to make art affordable, accessible and a viable career for artists.
Your final thoughts
Michal Szczesny: We’d love you to join us on our mission to create a world where art benefits everyone!
Crowdcube (ongoing campaign) : http://artf.in/aHoSIw