We talked to Robert Norton of Verisart on how to create secure digital certificates for art and collectibles and bind them to detailed provenance records and this is what he had to say about it.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Robert Norton: Sadly, my father was hospitalized earlier this year with COVID and required oxygen during a harrowing week of isolation. The hardest thing was not seeing him, and it made me realize how fragile our lives are and how anything can change from one week to the next. Thankfully he has since made a full recovery, and a month later, we welcomed our second daughter into the world. It’s been difficult for everyone, and I’m just grateful for all my family’s health.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Verisart.
Robert Norton: The founding of Verisart was in 2015 to apply blockchain technology to the physical art and collectibles market. Before Verisart, I was the CEO of Saatchi Online. I restructured and relaunched the service to give unrepresented artists a platform to show and sell their work directly to an international audience. I then went on to co-found Sedition Art, a groundbreaking online platform for collecting digital art.
Having worked at the intersection of art and technology since 2009, I saw a clear need in the art market for better and more secure certification standards. The art world still faces issues with trust and transparency. A few years ago, one of New York’s oldest galleries had to close after it became known they had been selling fake works claimed to be by Rothko. Blockchain technology has the power to hold people accountable, and the distributed ledger technology provides the art world with a decentralized record system that can be verified by anyone.
How does Verisart innovate?
Robert Norton: Verisart was the first company to offer digital blockchain certification for art and collectibles, so we’ve been innovators from the beginning. Our service provides a secure way for artists, galleries, auction houses, and online marketplaces to certify and verify artworks and collectibles in real-time. Each certificate includes the artwork image, information, current owner key, URL, secure QR code, and a unique blockchain address. We aim to increase trust and liquidity in the global art market by bringing transparency and uniformity to identifying artwork and collectibles.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Robert Norton: The restrictions have meant we haven’t been able to work in the office for most of the pandemic, so, like many companies, we’ve been working from home full time. We’re lucky to have grown our team this year, and several new colleagues joined us virtually at first. It’s always a shame not meeting them in person, but all the online communication tools have meant that new joiners still quickly feel part of the team. Our routine of daily morning stand-ups, which we did before the pandemic, has become.
Even more crucial as we’ve moved to remote working as it has meant everyone is always in the loop and we’ve stayed connected.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Robert Norton: Building a team-first mentality is critical to ensuring the success of any start-up. It means identifying strong team players early on and investing in shared processes we all adhere. It’s easy to blame others when things go wrong, but what’s most important is to set targets and schedule regular check-ins, so people feel listened to and clear about the direction even as it changes. Clear communication saves time and builds trust. When things aren’t working, try to fix them, but most of all, don’t get stuck, even if that means making tough decisions. Start-ups are not for the faint of heart, so the best lesson is to push on despite the challenges and be bold.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety?
Robert Norton: Make time for yourself, whether it’s exercise or recreation, or meditation.
Find what works best for you and encourage others on your team to do the same.
Don’t let your relationships with your friends and family fall apart in your rush to hit your milestones and business objectives.
Healthy businesses need healthy leaders, and sometimes the best thing to do is take time to observe what’s stressing you out and gain a fresh perspective to recharge and progress.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Robert Norton: We were the first platform to offer blockchain certification for artworks, and since we started, other competitors have come into this space. The strength of our service comes from the fact we are both technology and customer-focused. We use innovative technology, but our design and product teams ensure that customers can seamlessly and efficiently make use of it.
Your final thoughts?
Robert Norton: Always be curious. Never think you know it all. Always learn from others and look for inspiration. You never know where you might find it, and sometimes the best ideas might at first seem like the most casual observation. Learning to trust yourself fully, and your instincts will empower you to move fast and take chances. Don’t worry about failing as it’s often part of the process, however painful that might be.