By Tamara Pupic
How Valerie Konde balanced business know-how and art expertise to launch Collectionair.
As many ex-Rocket Internet employees, Valerie Konde went on to build her own successful business, Collectionair, a curated marketplace for fine art from emerging markets, including the Middle East and Africa.
Konde started her career in investment banking in the US back in 2006, before moving to the digital sphere at Rocket Internet and Google in the Middle East and Africa.
With an entrepreneurial spirit, and an MBA from Insead, she decided to make the contemporary art scene an inclusive and user-friendly space by creating an online platform to link curators, artists and collectors.
Collectionair was among the start-ups launched in the first cycle of Flat6labs Abu Dhabi’s accelerator programme in 2015.
It functions as a collective of curators who, on a weekly basis, provide users with a new online exhibition from which they can acquire art in just one click.
All the curators Collectionair works with are recommended by their board of advisors, which includes top art world professionals, such as the former director of the Pompidou Centre in Paris, the curator of the Louis Vuitton Foundation, or the director of the Saatchi Gallery.
“The number one challenge I faced was the high costs and complexity linked to the administrative side of setting up a business,” says Konde about challenges she faced at an early stage of her business. “It is still lengthy, expensive and not always straight-forward to register a business in the UAE, open a bank account, receive basic legal advice, apply for residence visas, and so on. In my case, TwoFour54 has been a great help.
“Another challenge I faced was finding the right talent for Collectionair locally. Recruiting in the UAE for a start-up is not easy and once you manage to find a great fit, it is hard to convince highly-qualified people to join a start-up structure when they receive great offers from top multinationals every day.”
In 2015, the global art market was valued at $63.8 billion, falling seven percent year-on-year from its previous high of $68.2 billion in 2014, according to the TEFAF Art Market Report 2016 by Dublin-based research and consulting firm Arts Economics.
In spite of the market recording its first decline since 2011, the report further stated that sales of art online, as a fast-growing section of the art market, reached $4.7 billion, up seven percent year-on-year, accounting for seven percent of all global art and antiques sales by value.
This unique market positioning of Konde’s start-up was recognised by TwoFour54 Abu Dhabi and Dash Ventures, an early stage venture capital firm in Jordan, the start-up’s seed stage investors.
Since launching its beta version in 2016, Collectionair has accessed more than 5,000 artworks, hosted 45 exhibitions online, collaborated with more than 60 top curators, and showcased 275 artists on the platform, which is “already way bigger than the majority of medium-sized art galleries,” Konde explains.
Next year, she says, the team will focus on scaling up its marketing activities to increase its visibility in key markets, including the UK, and growing its secondary market activities through its “rent” and “swap” features.
Furthermore, the team has created a network of small art centre across Africa and the Middle East, in order to help them stimulate small-scale artistic activities by non-traditional art players, such as refugees and the rural youth.
“We are looking to take part in their programmes and donate a portion of our proceeds to help develop these activities,” says Konde.