Popular belief dictates that you have to be sophisticated in some way to visit art galleries and exhibitions, which prevents much of the population from engaging with art and artists.
Vaishnavi Murali noted this during his MBA years at the Indian School of Business (ISB) as well as the need for a relaxed and more accessible way of bringing art to the mainstream.
“A beginner who doesn’t know too much would need a little help and pricing is a hotly debated topic. So you don’t want to walk into a gallery and start at minus one,” she says His history.
This led her to startas a platform to facilitate access to art online in 2015. The entrepreneur earned $80,000 in the first 10 months. Today, Vaishnavi continues to leverage technology to ensure a seamless artwork viewing and purchasing experience.
She says Eikowa has now become the first platform to introduce blockchain technology for provenance in art in India. He went beyond catering to B2C buyers online and ventured into B2B business as well.
Vaishnavi, a 30 Under 30 personality on Forbes Asia, is a self-proclaimed art enthusiast. At 18, she took up painting saris and sold them for about a year. She says entrepreneurship has always been on her mind since then and the MBA years brought her closer to art.
“There were a lot of interesting works of art on campus and I wondered where we were going to buy them because it was not easy to find art and artists at the time. As I dug deeper, I saw how the process is and found that it’s actually quite difficult to interact with many galleries and understand the art,” she says.
In 2015, says Vaishnavi, it made sense to launch Eikowa because the customers looking to buy art were changing.
According to her, while most art galleries were restricted to metros like Bengaluru, Mumbai and Delhi, many people in Tier II and III cities as well as the Indian diaspora in the United States, Singapore and London want buy Indian art, but don’t have access to it.
However, noting that some customers prefer to touch and smell paintings and other art forms before purchasing, Eikowa has arranged tours to different cities.
Fusion of technology and art
In 2019, Eikowa introduced an augmented reality (AR) feature on the website that allows a customer to see how a painting would fit on their walls in real time. Users just have to take a photo of their wall, upload it to the website and see the result.
Vaishnavi says the art market is plagued with many fakes and authenticity is key when people spend a lot. Eikowa solves the problem by incorporating blockchain technology to ensure this for artists and buyers on Eikowa.
Although there have been many cases of tampered paints as well as certifications, she says block chain technology provides a extra layer of protection with a unique Secure Hash Algorithm (SHA) code behind a painting. “If the SHA code doesn’t match, then you have an authenticity problem,” she says.
The business model
Currently, Eikowa features paintings, screen prints and sculptures by over 80 artists, including MF Hussain, Jatin Das, Raja Ravi Verma and Manish Sharma, among others. While the platform makes suggestions if certain works seem under or overpriced, artists take the final call on pricing.
At the same time, the platform does not reveal all of its collections online. Vaishnavi, who personally handles all purchase offers on the platform, shows certain artworks according to the customer’s choice and taste.
While Eikowa earns a commission from the sale of each artwork, its other source of income is B2B partnerships.
He started working with different five-star hotels through a B2B partnership where Eikowa would do their spaces or offer consultation for the same. He has curated and executed artworks for clients like Hilton in Goa, ITC in Guntur and Bhubaneswar, ITC Ahmedabad which is due to open soon, and ITC Chennai which is currently under renovation.
Working on a dual business model has helped Eikowa through uncertain times. In the post-demonetization period, people rarely bought art for personal use, and B2B services helped Eikowa grow.
Similarly, as businesses cut costs during the pandemic, Eikowa had few B2B transactions, but demand from B2C customers increased.
Eikowa shares art and technology market space with other players like MyIndianArt and Gallerist. Vaishnavi says,
“Art is a rather small market, but the potential for growth is huge and you have to make it practical by speaking the customer’s language.”
The entrepreneur believes technology can do it.