An art lover, the daughter of a gallery owner. Growing up, Raphaëlle was always surrounded by art. She became interested in meshing both art and tech after her dad bought her a computer at age 5.
Although it wasnt until a few years ago that she became interested in entrepreneurship and startups and after leaving university with no degree, working as a secretary for a large Private Equity Firm. She decided to take the plung, quit her job and focus on Artspotter full time.
Hi Raphaëlle, How are you doing, great to have you on YHP?
Hi, thanks for getting in touch.
Could you quickly give us some background information about yourself? Tell me about yourself growing up?
I was born in London, where I’ve lived most of my life, but I’ve also travelled quite a bit too as my dad’s job meant we were often relocated. So I’ve lived across most of the world including Indonesia, Belgium and the States. I really wanted to be a fashion designer when I was growing up but I’m hopeless at drawing so by the time I had to choose what to do at University, I was a bit lost. I ended up studying and failing Architecture and I think it wasn’t until I was 25 that I realised that I wanted to do my own thing.
How did you get into business? Were you exposed to entrepreneurship as a child?
My family have always pushed the boundaries and challenged the norm but I didn’t really get entrepreneurship or what a startup was until a couple of years ago. I was at an event, talking to various people and was really surprised to find out that you could actually get people to “give” you money to go realise your dream!
Who was your inspiration growing up and why?
My grandmother has been a huge influence on my life. She was definitely not one who took NO as an answer and always had a positive outlook. I remember her telling me about a day at school when she was asked what she wanted to do, she told the headmistress she wanted to be a Doctor, to which the headmistress replied “You mean a nurse”. My grandmother promptly replied, “ No, I mean a doctor”. She was true independent woman!
What was the inspiration behind ArtSpotter? How did the idea come about?
My mother owns a gallery which she set up in the house, so I grew up with art around me from a young age and was very involved with helping out. It was really from my hands on experience of the daily running of the gallery that I realised there was an opportunity to do something. I’ve always been into tech (my dad bought me my first computer when I was 5) but I also felt that it was important that the tech should be taking over the experience of seeing art.
I also know that a lot of galleries around the world which aren’t listed on maps and I thought well why isn’t there an app where I can tell people, “Hey there’s this really cool space that no one knows about and you should go see it.” Just noting it on Facebook or Twitter didn’t seem to be the right platform.
So tell me what ArtSpotter does in full? What are you trying to solve?
ArtSpotter has a couple of faces. Ultimately it’s an iPhone app, an interactive art map where users can discover and engage with exhibitions all over the world. We’ve got a huge database (over 10,000 venues listed in over 35 countries) and with the ability for people to add more, we think we’re the largest art map out there.
The other side of it is for the venues. As people use the app we can see what they’re Spotting, Sharing, Visiting and we can help the galleries to better understand their audience. Basically it’s a bit like Google Analytics but for venues. At the moment, galleries are expecting people to write their email address or postcode in a book on the front desk, or they spend thousands on surveys which interrupts the visitors experience. With ArtSpotter, it’s just a part of the experience but we get a set of data that we can then help to understand and benefit from.
What were you doing before you founded ArtSpotter?
I don’t have a degree so looking for a job made my choices quite limited. I was lucky to get something pretty much straight away at a Structural Engineers when I left university and I learnt a lot there but I never felt settled so after 6 years there I just left and thought I’d temp to work out my direction. I ended up working as a secretary for a large Private Equity Firm where I did start to get feel for investments (though they’re much bigger than the startup world) and eventually I took the plunge and decided I wanted to go it alone.
What was your biggest challenge during the starting up phase?
I think the first step is always hard. I didn’t have any savings (having just paid off university debt) and I was leaving a job that paid me quite well to not do very much. I knew I was taking a risk because I didn’t have any experience in starting a business but it just felt right. I’ve experienced a lot of lows and cried a lot because it feels like the world’s against you most of the time but the highs are higher than I’ve ever experienced and they get you through the bad time.
How were you able to get traction for the business in the first couple of months?
Actually the early days were quite slow. It was only an idea but as I spoke to people they all thought it was a good one. I’m not technical either so I couldn’t just go and build it overnight. Plus I didn’t know this industry or who was in it. I’ve had a lot of help a long the way for which I’m grateful and now that we actually have something live, we’re seeing it grow daily just by people coming across the site or through some of the events we’re working with.
Raising money is always such a hot topic when starting a business, How have you been able to fund the business?
Begged, borrowed and stole. Well until our first round came in... Hehe.
Actually the first year I only spent £1000 getting the basic API, site and iPhone prototype together. That was enough to get us onto an accelerator programme and convince a developer to come up to Newcastle with me (not my first choice of city to live in). The best part of that particular accelerator was the fact they gave successful businesses a large convertible note at the end to keep the momentum going. It’s meant I’ve now been able to hire a CTO and get on with building our full alpha product.
What are the most crucial things you have done to grow your business?
Give up my job. I think you need to be 100% into doing this or you’ll never be taken as seriously and it’ll probably take a long time to really get going. I also think it takes time to get a good team together. I’ve had to move on from different teams that weren’t working out and it’s tough but you’ve got to do what’s best for the business.
Would you say the business has changed from the first initial idea?
Not really actually. I have a very strong idea of what this is about and how it works. I think the long term vision will always remain the same but of course we’re open to changing our strategy if need be.
What would you say has been the highlight of your entrepreneurial journey so far?
Getting money! Well it’s definitely allowed us to be taken seriously and actually having other people believe in you enough to hand over some cash is a very humbling feeling. Of course then you get a whole load of other pressures to deliver. So I think my other highlight was when the first app went live in the AppStore... I bought cupcakes for everyone in the office!
What can we be expecting from ArtSpotter in 2012?
We’ve got a lot of awesome plans over the next few months, but I think our biggest news is that our next update will see quite a big change in the app and site . I can’t say more for now, but we’re really excited.
Overall we’ve got a lot of elements we want to develop that will be working around the user’s experience and enjoyment of the app and of course we want to be growing in-house too, so hopefully it won’t be long till the office is full.
What three pieces of advice would you offer entrepreneurs starting out today?
1) No funding doesn’t mean you can’t get started. While it’s definitely easier with some money in the bank, sometimes testing an idea before you go spending it all, means you can work out what will work.
2) Don’t give up. Starting your own business is hard work and the hardest part people say is, “everything”.
3) Surround yourself with smart people. Giving advice out is easy and not all ideas are brilliant but having a group people you can turn to for advice when you’re stuck is invaluable.