State of the Art Marketplace: Emma Lang

SOTA Marketplace is an e-commerce website that's aiming to reshape the art world - by reducing commission costs and giving both artist and collector an affordable, digital gallery space.

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Written and reviewed by:
Helena Young

Name of founder(s): Emma Lang
Age(s) of the founder(s): 24
Location: London
Date launched: February 2021
Number of employees: 1

What does your business do?

State of the Art Marketplace works to democratise the art space by allowing artists and collectors to market and sell their art in an easy-to-use, accessible, affordable platform that takes competitively low commission compared to other online galleries. SOTA Marketplace was established to bring together the needs of artists, collectors and buyers, by providing a central platform for an accessible and circular art environment.

Where did the idea for your business come from?

As a freelance artist, I was maddened that there was no solely art-oriented marketplace with access to all, which I could use to sell my affordable art. As a consumer, I was frustrated because I was not able to easily source affordable, individual, and authentic pieces to decorate my home. As an individual, I have inherited and collected artworks that I have wanted to sell, but have had no site to sell them on. Therefore, State of the Art Marketplace was established to bring together the needs of all of the above and provide a central platform for an accessible and circular art environment.

How did you know there was a market for it?

I spent a lot of time talking to artists and soon realized their huge frustration towards the inequality and opaqueness of the art industry, which I too shared. Not only this, there are thousands of undiscovered artists who are overlooked by traditional art galleries, whether physical or digital. My aim is to represent their work in a fair and just way. I also spoke to many different groups of potential art consumers. Most of the individuals didn’t know where to begin their purchasing journey but were always looking for pieces and so I knew there was a consumer appetite for the platform.

What were you doing before launching your business?

I was, and still am, working for a business development firm called Adoreum, which is a fantastic environment to develop my entrepreneurial skills

Have you always dreamed of starting a business?

Yes definitely! Ever since I can remember.

How did you finance your business?

To date I have bootstrapped the business however, I aim to start my first round of fundraising before the end of the year.

Explain your business model and how you make money.

The business has been built to empower individuals so we do not have sign-up fees, monthly contracts, listing fees, or an exclusivity demand. Sellers can sign up for free and make an unlimited number of listings, and we only take a 6% commission fee upon purchase. We feel that this incredibly low commission model will make strides towards democratising the arts. Additionally, we have a strict pricing limit of £650 to ensure we are targeting the “Affordable Art” market. I also have a consultancy service whereby I advise individuals and businesses on buying art pieces dependent on their tastes and design objectives.

What are the main challenges you have faced? And how did you overcome them?

The main problems I have faced involve technology. As soon as I managed my expectations and accepted that the platform wasn’t always going to run smoothly, I became a lot more relaxed. Learning that everything can be remedied is one of my main philosophies and has helped me through very frustrating technical blocks.

What has your experience been of starting a business during a pandemic?

I really enjoyed the time I had in lockdown to focus on launching the business. That time allowed me to realise my dream, research technology solutions and launch the business in a very short space of time. There were downsides of course – it was quite a lonely process, and I couldn’t increase brand awareness through networking. However, I think the total reliance on digital technology enabled me to build a relatively strong online presence which I can now build upon.

Describe your first breakthrough.

Creating, building and launching the business with 50 artists onboard in a three-week period.

How has Brexit impacted your business? Do you think it will in the future?

Yes, it has. When trying to choose a payment gateway, to my frustration, the gateway that most benefited my business model was not taking on UK clients due to Brexit when I launched the business. However, they have just opened to the UK market, which is great news.

What advice would you give to other aspiring business owners?

To expect the unexpected and to push yourself through every self-doubting thought. Sometimes, you are your main obstacle!

What is one resolution you have for your business this year?

To complete my first successful round of funding.

How do you see your business developing in the next three years?

I would love to grow SOTA to become the global go-to curated marketplace for affordable art. However, in the next three years I would like to sophisticate the technology whilst expanding and establishing the brand across the UK. Ideal developments will involve new hires and multiple nationwide exhibitions.

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Written by:
Helena Young
Helena is Lead Writer at Startups. As resident people and premises expert, she's an authority on topics such as business energy, office and coworking spaces, and project management software. With a background in PR and marketing, Helena also manages the Startups 100 Index and is passionate about giving early-stage startups a platform to boost their brands. From interviewing Wetherspoon's boss Tim Martin to spotting data-led working from home trends, her insight has been featured by major trade publications including the ICAEW, and news outlets like the BBC, ITV News, Daily Express, and HuffPost UK.

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