E-Commerce Meets Art in Southeast Asia

On any given day you’ll probably find Samuel Faith hacking away with his team who are residents at Work Saigon. They recently launched Project ArtShack, a site for buying art from artists in Southeast Asia.

YO CHOOWA — Air Squadron
YO CHOOWA — Air Squadron
Hi Samuel, can you start by telling us about the goal of Project ArtShack?

Essentially, we aim to bring a spotlight to artworks and artists from Southeast Asia. This part of the world doesn’t get enough attention when it comes to art. When it comes to Asian art, most know China and Hong Kong, but not Southeast Asian countries.

So we started this company. And currently, we work with emerging and mid-career artists from here and other neighboring countries to sell their works (both physical and digital) as high quality art prints.

The Boy Who Flew In a Boat
Are you and your partner’s backgrounds in design or in code?

Neither! My background is marketing and tech (which explains my rudimentary coding knowledge), and my partner is in finance, mainly mergers & acquisitions. We both don’t have a background in art, but collectively, pretty decent experience in running things.

So where’d you guys get your design for the site?

I bought the theme, and customised it myself.

Why didn’t you use a designer?

Bootstrapping. Plus we wanted to iterate a version that we can work with immediately rather than to have to wait for a designer to make something that might not work down the road.

shape shifters
So I’m trying to convince people that they should spend money on design and your message to them is: you don’t need to?

(Laughing) No! Totally not. Good design is always critical in everything but there are always different ways to get good design. We just didn’t start with hiring someone to do it, but that doesn’t equate to “you don’t need good design”.

How much of the aesthetics of your site was there from the template vs how much did you need to modify or create?

It was heavily modified… about 35% – 40% from the template, I would say. It was a decision we didn’t regret since we had other constraints when we started out, but it also came with other costs. Now we have to spend a lot of time (which equals $$$ anyway) in making it work the way we want. If we had gone from custom route since the start, then down the road, it would have been better.

Rok Nanas
How much of the functionally and user experience was in the template, how much did you have to create from scratch?

Functionality-wise, I’m using what the template has already built-in as a base, on top of the functions provided by eCommerce platform we are using. There are things I still had to create from scratch, or use additional platforms to add functionalities. Not a lot of heavy modification are there in terms of functionality from the template. But a lot of functionality from the base WooCommerce codes has been modified.

Have you done any user testing?

Yup, current version is the 9th iteration. We used UserTesting.com initially. And tools like CrazyEgg and InspectLet allow us to see how users interact with the site. We have conversion goals and we test the new iterations against those goals. The changes were not always big though.

IVAN REVERENTE — Rediscovery of the Self
IVAN REVERENTE — Rediscovery of the Self
How about in-person testing? like recording eye tracking or facial expressions or simply observing a user as they try to navigate the site?

Hmm, UserTesting.com was used for that purpose. No eye tracking or facial expression, but they were narrating throughout. Saw several issues with first 3 iterations that way. And no, in-person testing, we haven’t done it yet.

How do you find your artists?

Initially, we used Behance and also tapped into our networks to get in touch with fine art schools in each countries too. Right now, our artists come from referrals through current artists who are with us, also from fine art uni/schools.

Is there a limit to how many can participate? How are you different from Deviant Art where people can also buy prints?

No, there is not a limit, but we aren’t a marketplace platform like Etsy or DeviantArt either. The approach is more hand-picked, a lot more gallery-like.

Who is the curator?

We are working with a couple art historians from the UK, and we have an intern from NAFA helping us with that too.

What market are you primarily serving?

US and Canada, for now.

Is your last name really Faith?

Yup, from my dad’s side. I have a Burmese name too, but then it’s a complicated history.

LE NGOC HUNG — Man in The Wall
LE NGOC HUNG — Man in The Wall
What’s your business model?

We sell art prints, currently unframed but in a couple weeks time we’re going to offer framing options. Artists get 40% from the prints, and if we work with original paintings, they get 80%.

Paying monthly to the artists. No bricks and mortars store, only eCommerce. We handle all the logistics from printing to shipping.

KAMIN JAROENSUK — The Mind Journal #15
KAMIN JAROENSUK — The Mind Journal #15
You’re working from Saigon but your company is registered in Singapore, why is that?

Saigon is a good place to for operation teams as a base. But definitely not to incorporate and run things from here.

Singapore is light-years ahead when it comes to accessibility, transparency, and convenience for startups. The cost there to incorporate a company is very affordable. But operation costs can kill a bootstrapping startup. Saigon wins in that aspect.

At any given time, I would incorporate in Singapore, for both legal protections we receive and other perks the government gives to new companies. But then in Saigon, operation costs are tremendously lower.

What about HK?

HK used to be good for startups. But after Beijing’s recent moves, I am not too sure anymore. In the long run, I would trust the Singapore government over the Beijing-based future government of Hong Kong.

What’s next for you guys?

We are going strong with PR in each Southeast Asian countries, and working with influencers and bloggers in US/Canada home decor and lifestyle fields. Planning to expand into Europe by end of this year or early next year.

We are also starting a blog series that will talk about art culture and movements from Southeast Asia which will be penned down by an art historian from Association of Art Historians, UK.

If you guys ever want to write an article for dxMag…

Oh sure do! We would love to!

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