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New York startup Artsy has been fairly quiet about its growth since launching a year ago. The company always had a few question marks around its premise. After taking two years and $7 million in venture capital to catalog the world’s artwork, could a startup that launched out of a Princeton dorm room really convince the old-school art world to move online?

It could, as it turns out. It was slow-going signing galleries on at first. But now, with no marketing, Artsy now gets 25 new applications per week from galleries wishing to join the platform. Nine months ago that was just five galleries per week. The company has a waiting list of almost 700 galleries that want in. “It would be fair to say that these guys were extremely resistant to tech and change, and we experienced in the early days with how difficult it was pitching them,” says Carter Cleveland, Artsy’s founder and CEO. “But now they’re clearly talking among themselves.”

Artsy’s platform, which allows users to scroll through works of art sorted by curated collections, sends qualified leads of art collectors to the galleries. If the site is successful in sending just three or four qualified leads that wind up buying a work of art from a gallery, it’s worth it for them, says Cleveland. I said it when the site launched:

Artsy brings an opaque, relationship-driven industry online. There’s a business in there somewhere. Probably.

After building the tech, Artsy seems to have found the business. Cleveland wasn’t able to share all the details of Artsy’s monetization plans, but for now, galleries pay an “honor system” commission of between 1 percent and six percent for leads that convert.

Artsy is careful to qualify all of its leads, so that if an art enthusiast expresses interest in a piece that is out of his or her price range, an Artsy rep can use the interest as a chance to educate the prospect on the art, why it costs what it does, and what is available in appropriate price ranges. That means the startup only connects galleries with collectors who are most likely to buy a piece of art.

So far, Artsy has made 2,700 introductions of collectors to galleries.

Three weeks ago, Artsy introduced its first iPhone app. In that time, the app amassed 90,000 downloads, including 20,000 new accounts. (Artsy has 175,000 total members.) Engagement on the app has been higher than on its website — users have viewed more than than 40 million works of art on the app and they view five times as many works on the app versus Artsy.net.

Today the company launched an update to the app which “refines and polishes” its design and performance, says Cleveland. The company is “very much not done yet,” he says, noting that there are many potential avenues in which to apply Artsy’s growing database of the world’s art.

  1. Artsy’s mission is to make all the world’s art accessible to anyone with an Internet connection. We are an online platform for discovering, learning about, and collecting art. Our growing collection comprises 125,000+ artworks by 25,000+ artists from leading art fairs, galleries, museums, and art institutions. Artsy provides one of the largest collections of contemporary art available online.

    Powered by The Art Genome Project—a way of providing pathways for discovery for experts and non-experts alike—Artsy hopes to foster new generations of art lovers, museum-goers, collectors, and patrons. We are honored to partner with 1,500+ leading galleries, as well as 200+ museums and institutional partners from around the globe.

    See Artsy's 2013 Year in Review: http://2013.artsy.net

    1. Naval Ravikant
      Past Investor
    2. Dave Morin
      Past Investor