Art And Tech: Odd Couple?
It’s an odd shift for the highly secretive, highly confidential, high stakes art world, which has eschewed technology until very recently. “The main effect that is driving this business is the adoption of and comfort with technology,” Pevzner told me in an interview for this blog, speaking of collector behavior in the 21st century. “Not too long ago you couldn’t easily take a picture of art without permission (in a museum, for example). Now, with Instagram and smartphones and all that, things have changed. The laws haven’t changed, but society’s ideas have changed – what used to be taboo has now become more commonplace.”
Collectrium is available to individual collectors – of which The European Fine Art Fair Art (TEFAF) Report claims there are 450,000 in the world – at rates between $90 and $450 a month. But his real clients are the companies that provide services to collectors: insurance companies, art storage companies, framers, etc. It’s a B2B transaction: these companies are in essence the distribution channel, in turn offering the platform to their customers at a price of their choosing – or as a free add-on to other services.
“If we were to try to reach customers individually, it would take us forever, and it would be a hard door to open. Channel marketing is the best way to achieve success of scale,” he adds – good advice to any company leader looking to scale-up. “And if a trusted provider offers them Collectrium, the collector is more likely to pay attention.”
Benefits to the B2B clients are obvious: insurers are happy when their clients have a clear inventory and relevant market data of their belongings (Collectrium has just signed an agreement with AXA Art). Shipping companies can refer to precise documents enumerating goods being transferred, and so on.
“The product is co-branded,” he continues, “and so it has to offer something for the client. “ One client –Christie’s – liked the product so much that after 18 months of using it with their own clients, it bought the company last year for an undisclosed amount. “Christie’s came to realize that their clients were not just buying and selling art, they were also caring for it. So now they can cover the entire lifecycle of a work of art. And the growth for us has been tremendous: we have at least doubled in growth every year. Christie’s has been an amazing accelerator.”
But collector privacy and security is still a collector’s top concern and one that both Christie’s and Collectrium take seriously, “We have an iron-clad legal agreement between us that no one can access Collectrium data without the specific agreement and consent of the collector –for example, for shipping specific pieces,” Pevzner warns.
He is still in place as Collectrium CEO, as there is still work to be done on the platform to fulfill his dream of being the no. 1 player in the art collection management market. To this end, the site is updated twice a month with new features – primarily of technical enhancements, created by Collectrium’s team of 36 engineers working in offices in New York, London, Hong Kong, and Barcelona.
Barcelona? “I found some of the best talent there some four years ago,” he says. “And secondary cities are easier to deal with and easier places to find stable talent than the top-tier tech cities like London New York or San Francisco. Besides, the World Mobile Congress is in Barcelona, which is like the Consumer Electronics Show,” he claims. Barcelona is also where he met his wife. The couple has a young son and lives in Manhattan.
Pevzner himself was born in St Petersburg, Russia (then Leningrad) and was one of the thousands of college graduates who, in the wake of the collapse of Communism, had the freedom and the means to study abroad. Pevzner himself went to MIT and obtained a degree in physics. His tech specialty is computer security. His passion for art comes from having lived close to the Hermitage Museum –Catherine the Great’s repository of her vast collection on the banks of the Neva River, where he spent hours every week. Taken together, the travel and education and love of art create his gut feeling for the business.
Go With Your Gut
“As I get older, and more experienced as an entrepreneur,” he says, “gut feeling is more and more important for me. You have to have a gut feeling for the market or you get slapped around by the waves.”
And what’s next for him once his Collectrium goals are reached? “I have ideas all the time,” he says. “But I also have an acute feeling that ideas have a limited shelf life, and timing is everything. You can’t be too far ahead of the times or you die, and you can’t be too far behind or you get eaten for lunch. Many of my ideas will be out of date by the time I get around to them.”
But Pevzner seems like the sort of guy will be able to replace those dated ideas with plenty of others.