Next Life: From High Finance to High Art
Manish Vora had wanted to be an entrepreneur ever since he attended Yale University during the dot-com boom. "I never dreamed of being an investment banker," he says. Then the tech bubble burst, and Wall Street beckoned. For two years, Vora, 30, labored over power and energy deals at Citigroup (C) in New York before joining Monness, Crespi, Hardt & Co., an equity research firm in Manhattan. His job as head of research had him logging 60-hour weeks, not counting time spent on corporate entertaining.
While escorting his high-net-worth clients to art fairs and openings, Vora realized there wasn't a good Web resource for collectors to track pieces or aggregate sale and auction data. That got him thinking "of creating a tech company that made art more successful online." In 2007 he and a Web designer, Dylan Fareed, invested a combined $10,000 and launched Artlog, a website that provides collectors with comprehensive global listings of pieces, gallery and museum events, and recent sales. When Vora gave notice at the research firm in January 2008, Neil Crespi, his boss, decided to invest in the startup. "I like the way he thinks," says Crespi, who initially let Vora operate Artlog out of the firm's office.
Without taking salaries, the co-founders focused on marketing. In June 2008 they hosted a party with New York's New Museum during which 29 galleries signed up to list sales and exhibitions on the site. This fall the company—which charges for events—formed an association with American Express (AXP) to provide advisory services for select cardholders. While Artlog doesn't take commissions from the sale of pieces listed on its site, Vora plans to start charging a $150 monthly fee for art professionals to take advantage of certain analytic functions. In the meantime, more than 4,000 galleries and museums list on the site.
Now based out of an office on Manhattan's Park Avenue South, Artlog has 13 paid employees— including its founders—and hopes to break even by early 2011. "As Artlog becomes an increasingly valuable tool for collectors," says Ben Sontheimer, an investor and chief executive officer of New York hedge fund Vault Partners, "the fragmented secondary art market will be a lucrative area."
Curating a Business
— Days per month that Vora spends gallery-hopping around New York City: 10
— Monthly page views on Artlog, a digital hub for real-time information on art events and sales: 300,000
— The salary hit Vora took after leaving finance to start his online art venture: 90%
— Total attendees at Artlog's off-line events, such as gallery openings and art fair parties: 10,000