Sit back and relax. Close your eyes, even. Imagine the most relaxing ambient playlist on Spotify you can think of. Now imagine the room being decorated in artwork to exactly match that playlist. The experience you have just imagined is one being created and curated by Loupe.
Founder Dot Bustelo — a former Apple software marketer and current electronic music producer — wanted to provide a unique platform to bridge the gap between artists and possible customers. “How can visual artists – painters and photographers – get their art out into the world? Why aren’t we applying the same technology of music streaming to visual art— metadata tagging, caching of content and authentic curation?”
Loupe is an e-commerce art platform that aims to let users live with their artwork for a bit before they buy. By curating playlists to go with several in-app galleries with custom filters, users can test the feel of the art in the room they want.
Here, Bustelo shares how her work at Apple influenced the creation of Loupe, her recent successes (including a one-year anniversary and nomination for the Metro Atlanta Chamber’s Global Impact Award in Innovation), and why Atlanta is a great city to build her company.
How has your background helped in this endeavor?
Working at Apple Corporate was a lesson in an unquestionable culture of excellence. There was no clock running until it was done right, you were always at work. The company I worked for previously that Apple acquired, Emagic, set an even more extraordinary bar. It was a utopian culture where everyone on the U.S. and Germany teams passionately worked together (no exaggeration), bringing to market game-changing creative technology for the creation of music.
Funding or bootstrapped?
I bootstrapped the app launch on Apple TV (frightening), then raised an angel round that has kept the company going this year through launching our marketplace and web streaming. We are now actively raising a seed round of $1M to continue expanding delivery platforms, marketplace revenue and customer acquisition.
What problem are you solving in the market?
There has been a cultural shift. 90M+ people pay to stream music in the U.S., yet the visual accompaniment for their TVs is limited. Streaming technology has been applied to discovering music, but not to the visual arts on any platform that has become a household name. Meanwhile, the online art market is growing at 19% a year yet remains only 6% of the global art market. It’s projected to reach $6B by 2019 and there’s no customer loyalty to any of these click-n-scroll e-commerce art sites.
When I’m feeling angry, restless or honest, I’d say we are solving a problem of cultural noise. Today’s oversaturation of creative content is strong-arming us to build the best possible antennae and filters to the perpetual bombardment of digital content.
What is your revenue model?
Loupe has a multi-tiered revenue model. It began with introducing the online art marketplace of fine art print sales this past summer. The user can pause the streaming art experience to make a purchase. Original art sales launch end of January, likely by the time this goes live.
A sponsored Guest-Curated Channel Program launched in January for museums, galleries, art festivals and other art-centric businesses. Subscription revenue will be introduced in hospitality (B2B) and in the home (B2C) for exclusive content when we reach the designated threshold in traffic, likely by 2018.
How did you come up with the idea for Loupe?
It was a convergence of ideas. When I worked at Apple, my role was to travel around the country introducing the music software Logic Pro to world touring bands, DJs and producers, and I do produce chill-out electronic music myself. I’d turn on old 1940s movies with Lana Turner or classic sci-fi like Total Recall, no sound, for visual stimulation and ambiance. I would notice how relaxed it made guests I had never met before when they entered my studio.
Being immersed in the music industry, I starting thinking about what is there for the 120+ million people to do with their 4K 60” Smart TVs while they stream music?
A little bit of industry research became mind-blowing inspiration to build the connected marketplace. Online art sales may be late to e-commerce but it’s booming now, especially with a new demographic of art buyers who have never purchased artwork from a gallery.
How does Atlanta and/or the southeast weave into your story? Why did you choose to base Loupe here?
Our story weaves tightly with Atlanta. I was based in Manhattan while I was at Apple, and traveled often around the country to different cities. It always struck me that the people I met in Atlanta seemed to enjoy their lives here. They were driven professionals and entrepreneurs, who made time for me when I visited, and took me to the best places for lunch. It’s almost cliché to say this about people in Atlanta, but they extend themselves for you here and there is an undeniable creative undercurrent.
What have been your biggest successes thus far?
We launched exclusively on Apple TV last December and were featured next to Sotheby’s, Burberry, Christian Dior TV and the Home Shopping Network, which contributed to reaching #1 Lifestyle App in over 30 countries. Our analytics of user sessions and retention are certainly tangible successes. But, I’d have to say working out a solid partnership with Karrie — easily one of the most extraordinary people I met while living in New York City— and building a clever, tuned-in, cool team here in Atlanta who I trust to expand the Loupe vision is a rush.
Best “AHA” moment?
The summer of 2015 before we launched, we had a few investors committed to investing in a public web beta. Somehow they fell off right around when the Apple announced the new Apple TV platform. I was beside myself with confusion. The technology solution was in front of us and we had no money.
I sat down for coffee at Octane in Atlanta Tech Village with one of my advisors, Daryl Lu, who looked me in the eye and said, “If you really believe in it, you should put your own money in it.” I had a small amount of savings, which I never intended to spend. I knew the idea of Loupe was so good that I shouldn’t have to, but I decided Daryl was right. I wrote a check to the developers at Dragon Army here in Atlanta, then kicked ass for two months building the app in time for the holiday launch. After we got featured on Apple TV, new investors appeared to keep the company going.
Who are your competitors (if any) and why do you stand out?
There a number of online art market competitors such as saatchiart.com, artnet.com, and artsy.net, yet no clear leader. None give users a way to live with the art in their home before purchasing. We enable our users to experience art in an engaging fashion for discovery by streaming with a connected marketplace. According to online art analysts, the average length session on these sites is ten minutes. Analytics already indicate Loupe users average 2 hr, 20 minutes a session. These sites are characterized by no customer loyalty and are first gen click-and-scroll e-commerce websites.
None of our competitors approached an art marketplace as a customizable streaming experience, with now 19 channels of curated art (and new ones coming soon!) that is both exhilarating and tranquil to leave on for literally hours in your home.
What else are you planning for the year ahead? Any major launches?
As far as additional delivery platforms, we are being very strategic. Apple TV was such an ideal platform as it is well-aligned with our brand. There are also some exciting changes to the interface coming very soon to allow greater customization of the experience. For example, we are now introducing Stream by Color, which will be a lot of fun for the home décor market — e.g. people looking for blue-ish art for their bedroom. Beyond that, the art content keeps getting better and more global. No matter how many features or delivery platforms we add, the centerpiece of Loupe’s brand will be the edge, the sophistication and freshness of the artists we include. Every time you look over to Loupe on the big screen in your home, your eyes and soul should be in a state of wonder.