Pioneer Interview with Robin Greenwood, Founder of Verni

me (1)Verni founder, Robin Greenwood, realised that there’s a treasure trove of art pieces locked away in artists’ studios and basements unseen by the public. Artists, talented as they are, need help making their presence known to prospective buyers. And that’s what Robin set out to do-create a location-based platform that allows artists to connect with buyers. Artists are able to post their studio information and a preview of their portfolio, and buyers are given the opportunity to discover the next Warhol or van Gogh for their collection.
Describe Verni to someone who has not used it before.

Verni is a platform that enables us to discover nearby artists, and to request to visit them with the click of a button. The concept of a studio visit has been around a long time, and has offered art collectors a great way to appreciate the artwork, see it up close, and build a relationship with the artist. However, this interaction has been limited to a very small group of people. Verni opens this up, and enables every artist to transform their space into a showroom for anyone to request a visit.

Talk us through the moment that you saw the need for a platform like Verni.
There were many moments that came together slowly. Personally, I always wanted to become a painter. However my impression of an artist’s life scared me too much as a younger guy. My impressions were based on the extremely hierarchal nature of the art market and that only a handful of people make it. Later in art school, I saw a lot of talent that nobody else was seeing, and I always thought that was a waste. After working as a designer and animator for many years, I came to realize how important the artist profession is. I was beginning to feel that my role as a designer was replaceable, simply by the nature of the business. Everything I was doing was based on someone else’s vision. In comparison, artists build something they believe in, and that’s remarkable. I became a huge fan of open studio festivals, but annoyed that I kept missing them. They are usually scheduled for one weekend per year, often overlapping with each other. These are some of many thoughts that came together, that motived me enough to quit my job, and stir things up.
What are some of the pain points of the art industry that Verni wishes to solve?

The artwork of millions of artists simply aren’t being seen.

There are only a few options for an artist to find exposure, all of which have their own restrictions. Artists are quickly confronted with the hierarchal and political nature of the market. For example, despite making up the majority of MFA degrees, women are only represented 30% by galleries, minorities even less around 12%. A mixture of the speculative nature of the market, where many collect art not because they like it, but for a higher return, plus the wild west nature of the market, one without any regulation, creates an indifferent attitude for the ones not in it. This is culturally a scary thought, when you make people stop caring.
Galleries are inefficient, and expensive. Many are pressured to only exhibit works of certain artists that fit specific collectors needs. If a gallery represents 10 artists, then the works of nine of those artists are in storage most of the year, simply due to limited space. Most add an additional 50% to the artwork sale in order to cover their expenses. This added cost restricts the size of people who can afford it.
Artists also feel misrepresented with their online options, which force them to compress their sometimes larger than life and interactive works into small thumbnail images. Art has many layers of information that only becomes visible when seen up close. Verni enables collectors to partake in this experience, and be confident and proud of their decisions to collect.
Mollie Hosmer-Dillard
Verni Profile:
What are some of the challenges in bringing Verni to life and how did you overcome them?
I’ve come to believe that challenges aren’t ever really checked off the list, but just overshadowed by greater challenges. This can still feel like a success to me. I’m probably facing the third big challenge now.
The first was technical. Prior to starting Verni, I had no technical experience. Thanks to a huge community of teachers online, and the help of one or two friends, I was able to teach myself the fundamentals of programming and web development. The learning curve was relative to my fear level (afraid to break the code). Learning how to control my fear made a huge difference. Now I can say that what used to take one week to build takes half a day. I wouldn’t call myself a programmer, but I do feel more comfortable building this product into something that can really make a difference.
The second challenge was/is marketplace’s chicken and egg problem. I decided to get the artists (the sellers) on board first, simply because I could identify them easier, and knew what channels to use to connect with them. That process ended up being more difficult than I thought. I had to convince artists that there is a new path they can take to get exposure, just as powerful as the gallery route they’ve always been told was the only way. They also had to believe in the vision of Verni without seeing the instant value of it, since there were no buyers yet.
There was no magic to getting artist onboard, but just a lot of hard work and tenacity. Over time, I was able to use the quality of content created by artists on Verni, as a selling tool to acquire new artists. I also learned, how simply creating profiles for artists alleviated the friction that stood in the way of giving it a try.
Despite these two challenges remaining, I’m switching my attention to the next challenge: acquiring collectors. Having transparent and easy access to the art world makes any secret sauce less relevant. Most collectors have built their collections based on their network, and exclusive access. This means the attention needs to be shifted towards emerging collectors, collectors that are passionate about art for what it is, and excited to discover new ways to collect. Even for collectors focused on investment, getting in early in an artist’s career can be a good thing.

How can an artist’s profile be featured on Verni?

The filtering happens geographically and democratically. Besides searching artist profiles by distance, users can also search by popularity. This score is a result of visits and likes. Hence the public decides what should be seen. Lastly, making a studio visit requires a little more effort from both artists and visitors than simply posting or liking something online. I strongly believe that this process automatically filters out users that don’t take their art or their presentation seriously.


Victoria Selbach
Verni Profile:

How do you envision the buying and selling of art to change in the future? What’s your dream for Verni?
Verni‘s goal is to have the entire buying and selling of art happen directly through the artist, right in the artist studio. Imagine turning every artist space into its own showroom/gallery.
Verni is an alternative to many sites that sell artwork online. To spend X amount of dollars on art, there needs to be trust, and what better way to build that trust than by meeting the artists directly.
In my opinion technology should be used to connect the dots, and not limit the experience.
Who do you draw inspiration from? What are they doing differently?
I’m a big fan of Benjamin Franklin. After reading Walter Isaacson’s biography of him, I was really impressed by his exponentially growing curiosity for things, and his ability to shift his methods and practice without losing his beliefs. He wasn’t a trained expert in one specific area, but had enough interest and drive to just do it, and to do great things.
Verni by the numbers:
400+ artist studio profiles
1000 users
New York, Berlin, Chicago, Seattle, Los Angeles, Denver, Philadelphia, London, Paris, Tel Aviv and few others

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