We begin our series of highlighting and promoting Latina & Latino Entrepreneurs from Silicon Valley and those who want to come to Silicon Valley so that you can learn via their stories how they are making Silicon Valley click with each of their contributions. We start with Wear That Art, a Half Moon Bay company, that has built a niche market in the Fine Art and t-shirt industry. We were able to get in touch with Maria Jose Mendillo founder of this rapidly growing online business and conducted this question and answer session. What inspired you to come up with this idea? What problem are you trying to solve? While traveling through Europe we found many places where new young artists were showing their creations outside traditional Museums. We thought that the generations to come, the WEB Generations, those that were born and are growing up with the WEB, want to “interact” with the art. Many think that this means we need to create Art that is interactive. We believe that just by wearing ART, in limited Editions, from known and new artists is a way to express oneself in terms of ART and a way to interact with ART. Amsterdam was our AHA! Moment… we sat and started drawing how it could work, what we will do, what could be the points that will create something that will become a movement in the future? Wear That ART was born!! What’s your business model and how do you plan to monetize? The model is very simple. We had to build a way to attain original ART and then be able to print this ART in limited numbered editions to give it the exclusivity. Since we are an e-commerce site, we monetize from the get go. We don’t use our inventory to promote ourselves (no free product ever comes from us). We do marketing by promoting our ARTISTS, then associate them to our brand as the “cool place” to find not just garments (T-shirts, Tote bags, Aprons, etc.) but also to appreciate very cool creations. From the beginning we had very large amounts of traffic to our site that we didn’t understand. We did not understand why they were not buying so we did some research and found that they were actually using our site as a gallery to visit and appreciate ART. Second, we decided that our products will all be 100% cotton and all manufactured in the US, where we can control the quality. Lastly, we have a sourcing system that prints on demand only so that our cost of raw materials is kept very low. This allows us to not only keep very little inventory but also allows us to make sure that each product is totally unique (even if it is a numbered copy of the original). We have a lot of pure Digital Artists that do not create in any physical medium. Artists take a good piece of the profit, but we are able to operate scale at a very good margin, from one at a time, we are doing pretty good. Our difference is that we have currently more than 3,000 unique creations and we can deliver any amount of them (limited to no more than 200 copies of each) in less than 48 hours. When a customer buys one of our ARTs on a garment, they know exactly what number is it and that there will be no more than 200 of each. That makes each piece totally unique. How are you different from your competition? There is not really any other company that reproduces numbered limited editions of ART in garments. Typically the companies that specialize in printing limited ART editions do that in paper or Canvas… Creations in Garment are limited to T-Shirts or some other pieces and companies want to do this in large scale on very limited number of original creations ( it is a matter of keeping your inventory at the right level, economic success is in managing the finished product, since we don’t have that issue we can do much better). That said, of course traditional companies like Society6, ART.com, are more likely to see us as competition. Where do you see your business in one (to three) year(s)? We are growing at a very fast pace which requires us to keep bringing new artists to the scene. We are attracting many known Artists like Monica Warhol, along with up and coming new young artists. We keep scouting for new valued artists around the world. As of today we have artists from more than 25 countries. Sales has been the challenge, in trying to explain to the Artists why this is different and that we respect them and their work. We look to share a good piece of the sales with them and at the same time promote them in many ways. We do marketing and exposure for them to build their presence. We do not bring their art in a cheap way to market. We follow a formula meant to enhance the value of their work. Currently our site represents the majority of our sales. We just launched another outlet at Amazon.com and the response has been much better than expected (even after the challenge of working with them as a small entrepreneur has proven to be so tough that it crossed our minds to give up but we didn’t and we finally mastered their formula now!!) Part of our mid term plans include the launch of our expositions in key cities around the world. We have been in conversations with great people that have different ways of thinking about how ART has to be exposed to the public, how to make it interactive, etc. and we are excited to be considered one of those points to that stage. Who are your socios (business partners, co-founders, etc)? We are a private corporation, self funded. Have you received any investments? From whom? For how much? Not yet, we are working on what will be our first round pre-series A for mid 2014. We have had conversations with several VC’s and Private Equity funds and some non-profit organizations that now have “entrepreneur programs” who have expressed interest in our model. What is your biggest challenge? The biggest challenge is to be able to understand the change in ART appreciation and keep the pace with what consumers are willing to accept and move to. Another big challenge is that our site functionality has to be unique and working with developers in the US tends to be too expensive, and working with developers outside our country tends to pose a challenge when you need unique features that have to be built. You need to understand what you are building and how to express that vision especially with developers outside of the USA. What advice would you provide to other emerging Latino tech entrepreneurs? Listen to the end user, the consumer, not just your friends and family. There is no easy way! Being an entrepreneur requires a lot of sacrifices that you do without even thinking about it. Network! Social Media! Use social media to learn and talk to your consumers. If you can close your eyes and see it, you can do it. Have fun while doing all the heavy work. You can find her online store via the link attached! http://www.wearthatart.com
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