The Netflix of the Art World

Last Updated Oct 28, 2011 6:49 PM EDT

There's an old adage in the startup world, "go with what you know." Meaning: Start a company in your field of expertise.

While Artsicle.com co-founders Alexis Tryon and Scott Carleton aren't artists, they have strong feelings about what it's like to be an art collector when you have a limited budget to spend on art.

In 2009, Alexis took her first bonus check from her first job out of college and tried to buy a piece of art she had admired from a gallery.

"I was so excited. I was finally going to invest in art, but instead of welcoming me, the gallery told me to make an appointment to come back another time."

Alexis quickly surmised that her $1,000 wasn't significant enough to them to give her their full attention. After talking to some friends, she realized this was a common experience. "Galleries aren't set up to sell to people like me. They are interested in the high-end market," she explains. She filed this information away in the back of her mind.

Two years later, when Alexis and Scott were ready to start their own Internet company, the art world was what called to them. After one false start creating an online art gallery, they turned to art rentals. "We realized that new collectors may not want to immediately drop $1,000 for a piece of art, but they would be happy to pay $25 to $50 a month to have something beautiful on their walls," says Carleton. And so, Artsicle was born.

Artsicle is a marketplace that connects artists directly to consumers--and gives collectors a chance to "test" a piece before buying. The founders did some research and discovered that while the Art Market in general is in the tens of billions, the Wall Décor market (geared to poster art, mirrors and other wall hangings) they are targeting is hardly small potatoes: "It's a $10 billion market," says Alexis.

Since the re-designed site launched in March, the founders have taken the concept further. They now have 150 customers paying rental fees for art each month, and there are more where those came from. The founders report that there are 200,000 artists working in the United States and there may be as many art collectors, who don't yet know how to reach that art.

"There are only 6,000 galleries in the US, so a lot of art doesn't get seen by all those people like us who would love to have it on our walls," says Carleton.

With some luck, a lot of hard work and good execution, Artsicle may just be onto something big. Here are some clever tricks Artsicle has used to reach out to potential customers:

Most startups have to chase down investors. Not the case with Artsicle. After they relaunched with their Rent-Art-to-Buy model in March, 2011, they received a wave of good press â€" and investors came knocking. "We wanted to wait till we had a significant number of customers before we took in investment," says Alexis. Her end goal: get a better valuation for the company. After waiting a few months, she and her co-founder Scott Carleton just raised a seed round of $400,000 from eight angels, including savvy investors such as Dave McClure, who runs 500Startups.com, Mike Edwards, and Great Oaks Venture Capital. Here's how Alexis managed the fund-raising process:

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    Laurel Touby is the founder of mediabistro, the largest media community website in the US. Touby is an Internet pioneer, who started her company in 1996, took it to profitability, grew it to millions in sales, and sold it in 2007 for $23 million. She currently is an investor in and advisor to small Internet companies.

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