Book An Artist- Making Street Art Accessible
Book An Artist is an online marketplace platform allowing people to easily connect with, and commission street artists. It makes accessible the underground, yet authentic and locally relevant world of street art. Brands are starting to recognise the advertising impact this can have on social media, and this is driving greater interest in this art form.
Book An Artist's unique approach is to bridge the communication gap between these free-spirited artists and interested clients. Its platform turns these artists into ‘qualified’ or trustworthy counterparties for clients to contract with. The artist is now able to communicate directly with the client, resulting in greater transparency and better outcomes.
When I first met founder Gaurav Kawar, I was struck by his affinity with the street artist community and a desire to create a platform which will enable these artists to build a dependable income stream from doing what they love. He has a corporate background in finance and strategy, which allows him to bridge the 2 worlds of corporates and artists.
With limited resources, the platform has commissioned $800,000 in projects to date and grew 300% in 2020 despite COVID and no marketing budget increase. This rapid initial traction speaks to a real pain-point being addressed and large addressable market to grow into.
A mural in Geelong by artist Damien for the Salvation Army, featuring the founders alongside the word ‘HOPE.’
Street Art and Gucci?!
What comes to mind when you think of street art? Early expressions of street art were the work of gangs in the 1920s and 1930s in New York. Since then, it has always had an anti-establishment feel to it. Why then would prestigious brands like Gucci be using it as a way to advertise their brand?
Digital advertising has become ubiquitous over the past 10 years, and it is getting harder for brands to stand out. Bulldog Drummond describes street art as combining socio-political causes with striking visual art. I.e. it is highly relevant socially. It is not uncommon for passers-by to stop and watch this art being created. They are also likely to photograph this and share it on social media. This kind of grassroots awareness is attractive to brands and corporates.
However, given its anti-establishment history, it is hard to make a living as a street artist. This is partly because most people think street art is in the public domain and can be replicated without permission from the artist. Additionally, these artists are in it for the love of their art and often lack the skills or network to market their services to customers and leading brands or the administrative skills to manage leads, payment etc. As founder Gaurav aptly puts it, even the famous Michelangelo, who painted the beautiful frescoes on the Sistine Chapel ceiling, would struggle to get a job today. Could you imagine him trying to manage an Instagram social media campaign?!
Brands may also find it challenging to find the right street artist given street art's informal nature. A corporate brand manager rarely has the same social media network as these artists and has no easy way of finding the right artist whom he or she can trust. Imagine a marketing manager having to fulfil the standard procurement requirements for quality assurance, contracting, insurance etc. with these artists!
The Book An Artist Story
Ideally, what the clients and artists need is a platform to bridge these 2 worlds. This is where Book an Artist comes in. Book An Artist is a platform connecting clients to street artists. It was founded by Gaurav Kawar in late 2018. Gaurav has finance and strategy backgrounds, including valuable turn-around experience during his time with UK clothing brand Jack Wills.
Gaurav got the idea for Book An Artist while travelling with friends in Cuba. Cuba was experiencing a growing street art movement. Street art was illegal in Cuba, but an emerging group of artists was providing an alternative to the usual political slogans. In many ways, this captured the underground feel of street art and strong connection with the local community.
During their trip, Gaurav and his friends visited the Mural de la Prehostoria. This is one of the world’s largest outdoor paintings originally done in the 1960s to mark Fidel Castro’s revolution. It has mixed reviews at best. One of Gaurav’s friends commented that surely there are street artists today who could do a better job.
Mural de la Prehostoria in Cuba depicting the evolution from pre-history to humans. Scope for improvement?
Intrigued by this thought, Gaurav returned to London where he lived in Brixton, an area known for its street art. Speaking to numerous street artists there, he realised that despite these artists’ passion and talent, they struggled to find enough work to make a living out of street art. The issue was that these street artists did not have the marketing or administrative skills to communicate with clients.
Seeing an opportunity, he set up a marketplace platform to connect street artists with corporate clients and private individuals. Artists put up their profiles on the platform, and clients can select and connect with artists who best suit their project requirements.
Gaurav’s Unique Approach
I first met Gaurav at the 2019 Startup Grind APAC Conference in Melbourne. I was struck by how in-touch he was with both the artists' requirements and the clients. His unique approach is to build a technology platform which bridges the communication gap between the artists and clients.
This involved educating the artists to speak the same language as people interested in their work. Artists construct their profile pages to include key information for clients such as specialisation, previous works and pricing.
An artist’s profile page with key information and the ability for the people to contact the artist
Additionally, Book An Artist provides their artists with additional value-added tools such as lead management, deposit-taking and payments.
Lead management platform for artists to manage conversations with people
The result is that the artist is transformed from a free-spirited creator to a ‘qualified’ supplier with whom the person is confident to contract with. The artist can now converse directly with the client, which leads to greater transparency and better outcomes.
The other benefit is better economics from a scalable technology platform, particularly for projects under $50,000. Gaurav charges his artists a 10-20% commission for connecting the artist to the client as well as for the lead management administrative tools. This compares to 30-40% commission charged by the creative agencies whom the artists would otherwise be dependent on to act as intermediaries.
Gaurav saw strong interest from the street artists, quickly accumulating a backlog of applicants to his platform. This spoke to a real pain-point being experienced by these artists. Despite this, he has taken a considered approach to onboarding these artists to ensure that the number of artists on the platform matched demand to enable a healthy marketplace. I.e. artists, once onboarded, do not have to wait long to get jobs.
Book An Artist has commissioned around $800,000 of artwork to date in both Australia and the UK. Most of Book An Artist's corporate customers were obtained online or via referral. This includes leveraging off the artist's own networks. Notable customers include Netflix, WeWork, Jimmy Choo and Rebel Sports, to name a few.
Book An Artist is reaching important liquidity milestones such as projects booked per day and returning corporate customers (Rebel Sports and Netflix). As a result, growth benefits from a flywheel effect with more corporate bookings driving more artist onboardings, which drive more corporate bookings etc. This can be seen in the 300% growth achieved in 2020 despite the impact of COVID and no increase in the marketing budget.
Book An Artist’s Gross Market Value of projects booked on the platform
The Opportunity Ahead
The growth this year has benefited from participation in an accelerator program by Skalata Ventures. The capital and mentorship from the program enabled the development of artist administrative features which reduced the friction of contracting with clients.
Skalata is leading the current capital raising round, which will fund increased product development and marketing. Growth is expected to accelerate from the nearly $220,000 achieved in the 3 months to December 2020 to $300,000 a month by December 2021.
They have a long runway ahead of them with murals alone being a $4.4 billion market. Other potential markets include digitally printed wallpaper ($3.6 billion) and online art ($5.9 billion).
While their growth may attract competitors, Gaurav is continuously incorporating customer feedback into the platform's product development, allowing the platform to build on its first-mover advantage.
I have previously written about the growth in the creator or passion economy and the increasing ability to monetise an authentic relationship with their audience. Despite reflecting the grassroots, socially relevant emotion of their local communities in their art, street artists have yet to ride this trend. This is due to a communication gap between people and these free-spirited artists. By bridging these 2 worlds, Book An Artist is the vehicle these artists need, as demonstrated by the traction to date.