Irish Women In Business: Kritika Ashok, Owner of myartgallery.ie 3 years ago

Irish Women In Business: Kritika Ashok, Owner of myartgallery.ie

In the latest in our Irish Women in Business series of editorials, we're talking to Kritika Ashok of myartgallery.ie.

Kritika set up myartgallery in April 2015, and the start-up has already seen huge success in making art buying accessible to all people.

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The myartgallery.ie team sell original art, as well as hand painted reproductions and commissions to the art community and interested buyers in Ireland.

We spoke to Kritika about starting-up in Ireland, the marks of her success and her vision of making art pieces accessible to any buyer anywhere.

What motivated you to start up the business?

The idea came up over breakfast with two friends in 2012 when we realised art and wine are so similar- people know what they like but not what's necessarily a good investment and there was a gap that upcoming artists could take advantage of. We want to make art accessible and affordable to all, giving them the option to get commissioned anything they want at all. We are focusing on people who want gallery like paintings and can't afford them or the ones who want to go to the likes of Merrion Square to buy from the artists on the day but don't actually get there or people who go to Ikea and buy a print for a "bit of colour on the wall".

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Have you always had a background in art or was this a new venture for you?

I have a background of working in other start-ups, corporate and not for profit but never art. Art came about from my own need and thus, I stumbled on a market. From being quoted £1000 for a painting in 2008 to getting it for just under €200 in 2012... it took a while figuring out how to get the painting I wanted at a price I could justify spending on it. I still have no formal education in art and am constantly learning as I go along but I think that works to the company's advantage as our buyers may not necessarily be very educated in art either.

How did you decide on the concept of MyArtGallery?

We started off as artnouv back in India and due to a certain hiccup in 2014, I bought out my partners and brought the business to Ireland. I have been working full-time in it since July 2014 and realised I needed to adapt the concept a little more for it to work in Ireland. We launched incredibleireland.com in January 2015, focusing on paintings of Ireland for tourists and expats and myartgallery.ie went live in April 2015. myartgallery.ie is currently looking to be the new way people buy art and eventually hopes to be the obvious stepping stone for upcoming artists who have just graduated or are just starting to sell their work. We want artists to be able to make a living through their talent.

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How did you decide to grow your business?

We are focusing on key markets for now and trying to build partnerships in those areas or connecting directly with the customers the best we can. This is our biggest challenge. However we are always discovering new markets too, for example, our funky art does really well in Austria, Germany and India.

People from France and Germany love getting vision boards and quotes painted. Our biggest market in terms of commissions is for memorial paintings but due to sensitivity, we haven't advertised our services. The gifting market for wedding presents, anniversary presents and new home buyers is huge, as well as pet paintings and baby paintings all proving to be big markets for us.

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Amazingly, people don't go for as much original art as we thought they would as the pricing for our commissions is such good value that our customers love getting exactly what they want hand painted. Deciding to work in the business full-time a year ago has been very helpful in growing the market so far, and I have been focusing on trying something new constantly.

What has been your biggest barrier in starting out in business on your own?

The biggest barriers are the practical aspects of life, or so I feel!

- Lack of steady income- when you go full time on your own business, not getting a full salary that one is used to can be quite tricky! This isn't my first business but it is the first time I have taken time to build it from scratch without being able to support myself through a salary and it's definitely very tricky.

- Lack of team- when working alone or with a team, it is difficult when one doesn't have a team of directors to use as sounding boards and drive the company in the direction one wants to focus on it. This is the first time I have been in business as a sole director and I am very lucky to have a great team of advisors but I am the only one thinking of it constantly, dreaming of it during sleep and waking up thinking of new ideas for the business.

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- Building a new market- as there is no definite market that I am trying to enter, there is a huge amount of education that needs to be done and I somehow imagined copying what worked in India would have worked here. Adapting lessons has been a toughie, especially in meeting the targets I had set for the company. Getting PR can sometimes be tricky but without massive amounts of resources, it is very difficult to get out there as much as we would like to.

- Lack of resources- working with a small team means no matter what, there is always more to do and a lot of things get left behind undone, unfortunately or put on the long finger for way too long!

What is your mark of success for MyArtGallery?

Our vision is to make art affordable and accessible. The day people think of us as the place where they come for art is the day we know we have done something right! From a tangible perspective, we are looking at affecting 1 million people from our art and presume each painting touches about 25 people including the artist, the buyer, us, the person who gets the gift, the people who see the painting, that basically means 40,000 paintings sold.

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What is the best thing about being your own boss?

The best bit is there are no rules about duvet days, fixed timings, holidays etc and I can work whenever I want, be it 4am or kicking off at noon! Conversely, I have a terrible boss when I am sick or hungover!! It's great to have the freedom to just know I can work on my own timeline and manage my own time and I have the motivation to do so to keep up with all my work.

Have you had many mentors? What has been their greatest advice/ words of guidance?

I have been exceptionally lucky having some amazing people guide me through this journey - I certainly couldn't have achieved half the amount I have without the advisors. Some of them have helped me identify my focus, some have helped pep me up when it has all seemed like doom & gloom, some have helped me reach to the market I want to connect with and some have just been great sounding boards!

I highly recommend having at least one mentor if not a few and picking them in areas where one isn't as strong so they can help fill the blind spots in the business plan. Their greatest advice has been to focus on the cash flow and focus on the lucrative markets and remain ethical. The last one is huge- it is tempting to take the easy route at times but they have always reminded me of the values I want to build the company on and led me away from temptation each time.

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What's been your greatest moment since starting out?

There have been a few different ones which have always made me realise I am exceptionally luck to be doing what I am doing

- At an event, I was introducing myself within three weeks of having launched the website and as I was giving the name of my company, the person said they had heard of us and knew what we offer and were going to be placing an order soon!

- An artist bought a painting off us once instead of painting it themselves- definitely not a market we would have ever thought of catering to

- An order from a hotel chain for 200 paintings- yeah, that was huge!

- An avid art collector ordering a commissioned painting from our site- huge testament

- Making a sale within 24 hours of going live without having run a single advertisement

It's truly difficult to choose from those as each of them is a different measure of success and it is a great reminder that we are definitely on the right path.

Would you have changed anything you did in starting up MyArtGallery?

Perhaps I would have gone with the part time adage of building a business while having a steady income but I think the fire of giving myself a deadline and a focus to do this in a certain time period and reach certain goals has been a fantastic challenge and a fabulous journey. I might have studied the Irish market better as well but I suppose nothing beats baptism by fire!