Thomas Griffin, CEO and founder of ArtSquare has a passion for art. Having begun his entrepreneurial career in Silicon Valley, he has transplanted his company to Memphis. As a member in the Seed Hatchery Accelerator at Start Co. Thomas’ goal is to revolutionize and transform the art e-commerce business through his online art portfolio manager.
Q: Tell me about yourself.
A: My name is Thomas Griffin. I am the CEO and founder of ArtSquare. I grew up just outside of Austin, Texas. I went to Abilene Christian University and got a bachelor’s degree in business marketing. Then I moved out to Silicon Valley for a couple of years to work in tech and startups before relocating to Nashville, where I lived for two and a half years before moving to Memphis.
Q: What inspired you to become an entrepreneur?
A: When I was a little kid I would always tinker in my stepdad’s shop. I would take things apart, put them back together to understand how all the pieces worked. I always wanted to be an inventor. It was in college that I realized that my interest in inventing didn’t necessarily have to be tangible products – it could be software. It was putting one foot in front of the other and realizing which fields or industries were most ripe for my interests and skills.
Q: What led you to create ArtSquare?
A: My senior year of college I was buying art from China to resell in the US. Eventually, I began partnering with artists at my university to sell their art to alumni without me making the investment of purchasing the art outright. As I was solving those problems I stumbled upon more systemic challenges that are innate within the existing industry. We first started providing professional photography services for artists – as the art world shifts online, there is more reliance on having digital assets that reflect your physical inventory. I spent a year and a half doing that and it was a very difficult problem to solve. We started to look at additional ways to deliver value. This led us to the integration services that we are currently focused on.
Q: How did you end up in the Seed Hatchery Accelerator at Start Co?
A: I had raised some money from investors in Texas with the idea to work in the art market. The team has always been remote. We hired a developer out of Silicon Valley and he subsequently moved to Prague. I was watching this migration of talent outside of Silicon Valley superimposed on a remote first culture. That made me realize we could save a ton of money and still have access to the same amount of resources by living outside of Silicon Valley. I got the mindshare, thought leadership, and the connections that I had wanted to have and made the decision to mitigate against a lot of the high amount of burn startups experience out there.
Q: How has the accelerator experience provided ArtSquare with a competitive edge?
A: The value of the accelerator to me has been the genuine network. Many times, people are enthusiastic to mention introductions they can make on your behalf and those don’t necessarily materialize. Being in Memphis, within an accelerator where everyone has a vested interest in our success, there is proactivity in making those introductions and connections. I have an armada of intelligent, well-connected people that take steps to connect me to people I should be connected to. That delivers a serious competitive advantage over what I would be able to do myself.
Q: How does your team work through difficulties or problems?
A: My favorite thing about our team is that we are resilient. Along the way, there have been massive mountains of challenges. We’ve always been good at being optimistic about the potential upside, being creative, problem-solving, and covering our overhead. There is a collaborative spirit to the problem-solving. Collectively, we have respect for maintaining enthusiasm. There is a shared culture around it that helps make problems seem less intimidating.
Q: Where do you see ArtSquare in a year?
A: It’s my hope that we have integration partners with dozens, if not hundreds of different platforms. We are beginning to collect data that allows us a novel insight into the industry. I hope we can leverage that insight to help bring stability to artists in their careers. I think it is possible to make recommendations upon the industry itself based on what we have been paying attention to.
Q: What advice would you offer to an aspiring entrepreneur?
A: Get over the illusion of entrepreneurship. Yes, there are parts that are glamorous, but it is far more important to understand who you are and know what you want and what makes you come alive. Build a business around yourself in that way. The strongest signal in terms of success and sustainability for an entrepreneur is if [your idea] aligns with something people want to see created in the world. Far too often that’s not the case.
Q: I have a fun question now: Would you rather fight 100 duck-sized horses or one horse-sized duck?
A: One horse-sized duck. I couldn’t anticipate that it would be overly agile. I would be able to out maneuver it and slowly wear it out – a war of attrition.
Thomas Griffin is CEO and Founder of ArtSquare, an online art portfolio manager.