20x200 lives: Affordable art site to gearing up for reboot
20x200, a website that sells affordable prints, is poised to return after suspending its operations earlier this year. Founder Jen Bekman will return to the company, after buying out investors who disagreed with her plans for the company's future.
In February, the company laid off its staff and announced it would temporarily shut down, putting up a landing page and assuring followers on Twitter that it was “not gone, just resting.”
As we reported at the time, the suspension was a result of a battle with investors. Bekman wanted to focus 20x200 exclusively on artists, and her investors wanted to expand the types of inventory sold and grow the company unsustainably. 20x200 was founded in 2007 and had raised $2.8 million from True Ventures, Founder Collective and AOL Ventures as well as angel investors. It had sold a reported 200,000 prints to 70,000 customers.
Today, in an email to customers, staffer Carrie Strine wrote that the "very serious complications that threatened the future of the company" are now resolved. The site has replaced its landing page with a "Reboot List" for users to sign up to get "early word on the big relaunch."
From the email:
We are very sorry for the frustrations you’ve endured, for our belated communication, and for the delay in fulfilling your order. Truly, we can’t apologize enough. What’s taken so long? 20x200 went offline in January, due to some very serious complications that threatened the future of the company. During this turbulent time, we were not at liberty to communicate with our collectors, so we could not respond to any queries. While it took much longer than we expected, our founder Jen Bekman was determined to resolve these issues and restore the business, particularly for collectors like you who were left in artless limbo as a result.
But the past, as they say, is now finally and thankfully behind us. We are ready to move forward, and with the support of our incredible artists and key vendor partners we are thrilled to be able to offer Art for Everyone once more. You can (and should!) expect a return to the high standards of care and communication we’ve always been known for. We’ve worked hard to get the details right, and we promise you’ll receive prompt and personalized attention from here on out. Bekman, who declined to comment for this story, went into more detail in an email blast to artists sent over the summer. She noted that the majority ownership of 20x200 had been returned to her, and the investors she had disagreements with were no longer shareholders.
The investors' withdrawal of support back in January was a sudden, unexpected departure from a different plan that was already well underway, and it left the company in a grave financial position. At that time, many people advised—some urged, in fact—that I walk away from what they considered to be an utterly intractable situation. There are lots of reasons why I didn't, but mostly it was the deep sense of commitment I have to all of you that made me decide to stay on + try to see it through to some kind of fair resolution. That commitment —paired with the unwavering support of so many friends, colleagues + advisers along the way—has also kept me going throughout the formidable challenges we've faced over the past several months.
Part of my commitment to you involves making good on the past, however we can, as soon as we can. After four months of no income and legal bills like you wouldn't believe, it's going to take us some time to rebuild, but trust me: we will get there. The biggest, most lasting part of that commitment, however, is to ensure our sustainable future. The rebooted 20x200 will be more like it was back in the early days, remaining focused on its big Art for Everyone idea, but doing it at a pace + scale that ensures we're able to stick around for many years to come. The email hinted at plans for the relaunch, which include "a Kickstarter-ish crowdfunding" approach. A person familiar with the company said current plans are not solid yet, but the company will begin shipping orders from before the shutdown within a few weeks, and roll out to friends and family after that.
The new version of the site will maintain the same focus on artists and prints, but it will start out smaller. Going forward, the person says, 20x200 will be "fueled by profits, not financing."