Focus on the big picture, not the noise. When you are an owner of a business, you open yourself up to a lot of situations. Try not to take things personally if they don’t go your way, and track back to your goals and mission. You’re allowed to make mistakes and pitfalls as you build your business. Don’t give up!
As a part of our series about women who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Alix Greenberg, the founder & CEO of ArtSugar.
With an M.A. from Christie’s and a BFA from Cornell, Alix Greenberg pivoted from a traditional art career working at Skarstedt Gallery and with Peter Tunney, to turn her side business Portraits for Good into a full-time effort with ArtSugar. Featuring a curated selection of exclusive art prints, entertaining essentials, and home decor by the most coveted artists on Instagram, ArtSugar provides a novel and accessible online marketplace for millennials and Gen Z to buy the eye-catching art they spot on social media — and beyond. ArtSugar donates proceeds from every purchase to notable charities, including The Trevor Project, Moms for Moms and GYRL WONDER.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
I had an 8 year career in the fine art world in New York before launching ArtSugar in 2017. With an MA from Christie’s and a BFA from Cornell, I began my professional career at Christie’s and held positions with artist Peter Tunney and at Skarstedt Gallery before founding ArtSugar. While I was working at the art galleries and museums, I realized there wasn’t a great platform for artists who were growing their businesses on Instagram. I launched ArtSugar to give them an optimized platform to sell their work and connect with a broader audience. ArtSugar donates proceeds from every purchase to notable charities.
I started a smaller version of ArtSugar when I was still working in a museum; it was called Portraits for Good. I had a few artists on the platform. People could submit pictures of themselves, and I would paint portraits based on them. I sold my first piece while working at the museum, and someone wanted to offer me money. I felt like I couldn’t possibly take it without giving back to an important cause. The first charity I worked with was Code Purple Now; they are an advocacy platform for pancreatic cancer. I got involved with them because my grandmother passed away from the disease. I then realized you only live once — I no longer wanted a 9–5 job, and so I launched ArtSugar.
Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?
ArtSugar is creating an entry art collecting platform for on-the-pulse shoppers looking for fun and trendy art & decor that isn’t something you would find in a big-box chain, such as a “Live, Laugh, Love” art piece. It’s also not part of the intimidating fine art world that can be very expensive. We are disrupting the art space because we’re providing an accessible platform for really eye-catching art prints and home decor.
We focus on artists that are building out a platform on Instagram. Art galleries and retailers typically focus on artists who have a more traditional art background. We are working with artists who might not have taken traditional paths to becoming artists and may have other professions as well.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I’ll share what I have learned from fundraising since I launched my business. I initially bootstrapped my business and focused on revenue without getting funding. When I first sought funding, a lot of VCs told me my numbers weren’t good enough. I felt like I shot myself in the foot because I had an idea and wanted to create a dream situation where they could envision a future with me. However, if you don’t have appealing numbers, most VCs are not interested. I didn’t raise for the first three years of fundraising. Once my numbers got higher, I realized I was ready to receive funding.
My business grew a lot during the pandemic, and I needed funding to keep up with the growth of the business. I started looking for a VC and met Carrie Colbert. I pitched Carrie and her VC firm, Curate Capital. We immediately got along; we have similar interests, and she understood what I was trying to do. We talked for 9 months before I secured the funding. It is definitely a process that you have to have patience for.
I intentionally did not want a ton of money from the outset; I wanted to go slow and steady because I hadn’t spent a ton of money on my business. Having funding is a learning curve for me. Now that ArtSugar secured the 500K dollars seed round from Curate Capital, I will work to raise a Series A, and more rounds as I see fit.
We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?
Since starting my company, I have met so many amazing women through my entrepreneurial networks and a few have become mentors for me. One is Gwen Whiting. She is the co-founder of The Laundress and just sold her company. She built The Laundress from the ground up without taking any financing for over a decade. She is really intelligent and helps me whenever I have a question.
In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?
A company’s disruption of any industry is fruitful if its mission betters the lives of its customers. If founders are just out to make money, benefit themselves, or pursue fame, karma will probably affect them negatively, and the company may not succeed. For a company to last and be profitable, it has to truly focus on the customer’s wellbeing first.
Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.
1. Focus on the big picture, not the noise. When you are an owner of a business, you open yourself up to a lot of situations. Try not to take things personally if they don’t go your way, and track back to your goals and mission. You’re allowed to make mistakes and pitfalls as you build your business. Don’t give up!
2. Say “yes” to meeting new people, even if you don’t want to. For example, if your business needs capital to grow, you should keep pitching, networking in your industry, and reaching out to prospective contacts on LinkedIn and even Instagram! I met our investor Carrie via Instagram DM. It’s important to persevere and say yes to the meetings and calls even if they don’t seem fitting at first.
3. Don’t get caught up in the weeds. I am a perfectionist and can get consumed with the minor details of deliverables. Prioritize your to-do list and learn when a task is done. If you obsess over minor details while doing tasks, you may find it difficult to adhere to your deadlines.
We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?
One of my short-term goals for ArtSugar is to add a second-tier shopping experience for more expensive original pieces, which would be ideal for those who have been shopping with us for a few years and want to graduate to the next art collector level. We would have a drop-ship model where customers purchase, and the purchase order goes to the artist, and then the artist packs up and ships the piece. I also want to focus on building out our in-house product line.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by ‘women disruptors’ that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?
Women face discrimination in all areas of business, from being paid less to being passed over for promotions. Some men might get threatened from a woman disrupting an industry and being successful. It’s an unfortunate reality. Hopefully, gender and racial discrimination will lessen over time. Movements such as Black Lives Matter have helped spotlight the inequality and bias in our society.
Do you have a book/podcast/talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us?
It’s kind of dated, but a book I’ve benefited from is called Rich Dad Poor Dad. It is about a kid growing up whose dad is a doctor paid at a scheduled time and makes good money. The dad wants his kid to have a similar experience with getting paid well, having health insurance, etc. The kid’s friend’s dad has a much bigger house and not a classic job. His hands are in a lot of things, and they have a lot more wealth. The lesson he learned from this other dad is to focus on the big picture, not just when the next paycheck is, and to open yourself up to more opportunities.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I came from an opaque art world that isn’t so accessible. The general mission of ArtSugar is that art is for everyone — it is approachable. Art should make you happy, and ArtSugar aims to make elevated, uplifting art that everyone can enjoy.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Take chances, make mistakes. That’s how you grow. Pain nourishes your courage. You have to fail in order to practice being brave.” ―Mary Tyler Moore
That quote says it all — starting my own company wasn’t easy. I made mistakes along the way, but I’ve learned from them. In turn, ArtSugar achieved big milestones recently, such as raising the seed round and experiencing impressive growth with an 80% increase in year-over-year revenue since March 2020.
How can our readers follow you online?
@artsugar.co on Instagram!
This was very inspiring and informative. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this interview!