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With slowly everything moving online, now it’s Art’s turn. Physical Art Galleries are hard to maintain and the commissions extracted are huge., an Australian Startup helps art collectors find fine pieces of art online. Their Mobile App has become a huge hit and has been featured under Apple App Store under “best new apps”  within 4 weeks of launch.  We talk to the Bluethumb team to understand more about their startup, challenges and near future plans.

 Story behind the Startup

Bluethumb’s owners, brothers George and Edward Hartley, bought the site in late 2011, pretty much because they love art and an online art marketplace was a great concept that hadn’t really taken off in Australia yet. As former artists and current collectors, they saw a gap in the market to form an online gallery focused on selling original art directly from artists to art lovers.

Edward Hartley has worked in finance and wine distribution, but always wanted to run a business that reflected his love of art. George Hartley is an app developer with a marketing background, and is passionate about great design. In 2013, they brought their sister Rose Hartley in to curate the website and blog, and manage events and PR. Rose has a background in copywriting and creative writing.

The site has been going since 2009 and was re-launched in 2012 by the Hartley brothers. The Bluethumb app was released in November 2013, and within four weeks of launch Apple’s App Store featured the Bluethumb app on their home page under “best new apps”. Subsequently it had over 7,000 downloads and now almost 50% of sales come via the app. Sales of artwork doubled in 2012 after the re-launch and doubled again in 2013. At the moment, the team re-invests 100% of the profits back into the business to keep growing it.

How does the platform and the App work?

It’s a fairly simple business model. Like a physical gallery, Bluethumb takes a commission on each piece of artwork that is sold, though at 30% their commission is lower than traditional galleries, which often take up to 50%. The artists upload photographs of their work themselves, filling out a professional profile and describing the artwork. The customer can view and buy the art online and pay via credit card or Paypal–or via the app they can buy with a tap of their finger.

Each piece of artwork sold is packed by the artist, but the team organizes the courier to pick it up from the artist and deliver it to the buyer. If the buyer changes their mind, they have seven days to return the artwork, and the team covers the cost of return shipping, so there are no risks involved for the buyer.

Competitors, Challenges  and Funding Status

“For now, a major chunk of our artists are emerging artists selling their work at quite affordable price points, but there’s huge potential for growth in the market for online purchases of artwork by established artists, once collectors get used to the idea of buying art online”, says George Hartley.

George Hartley and Edward Hartley,

George Hartley and Edward Hartley,

Major competitors for Bluethumb are Saatchi and Amazon Art, both of which are international (Bluethumb currently only sells Australian art). The visual arts and crafts market in Australia alone is worth over $1 billion, and has currently over $2.6 million worth of art listed for sale on the site.

“The best thing that happened for us in terms of marketing was being featured by Apple – and we had no control over that, we had no idea it was going to happen, it just turned out that they really liked our app and featured us. So our best advice would be to design a simple, beautiful, functional app in order to find buyers.”, says Edward Hartley.

The team quotes that dealing with couriers is a constant challenge. Specialized art couriers are expensive and the usual couriers are not always reliable. “We want to give our customers the very best service and buying experience, so when couriers are late or simply don’t turn up it’s frustrating. We may end up launching Bluethumb Couriers just to fix the problem!”, quips George.

The startup is currently focused on growing their base of art collectors and artists, and may look at launching internationally late this year or next year if  they source some outside funding. The team also looks at launching Android and iPad versions of the app on priority.


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