Frustrated Student Artists Can Meet Amateur Art Buyers on Folyo

5/19/14Follow @XconomyDET

After Victoria Bujny spent last summer interning at Google, she wanted to celebrate the end of her tenure there by purchasing a piece of original artwork.

“I went to a gallery, but I felt out of place and uncomfortable,” Bujny says. “I wondered if it’s not at a gallery, where do people get art?”

Bujny went online, but again felt like a stranger. Finally, she gave up and went to the store and bought a cheap print. A few months later, while working as a market analyst for The Hatch, a business incubator run by students in East Lansing, she met Michigan State University student and graphic designer Ashley Brimley.

“She was working on a huge oil painting, and I said I wanted it,” Bujny explains. “She said she had no idea what to charge, so she’d give it to me for $50.”

From this somewhat awkward exchange came a business idea: A store where MSU art students could sell their work for a fair price. Bujny and Brimley entered a Startup Weekend competition last fall seeking to scale their idea, and Folyo was born.

Today, Folyo is an e-commerce website tailored to student artists. Bujny says most artists don’t know how to price, market, package, or ship their work, which leads to missed money-making opportunities. Folyo guides student artists through the process of starting their online shop, with an option to price pieces using a calculator. “The goal is for student artists to become entrepreneurs themselves,” Bujny says. “And the buyers have the chance to get cheap art.”

Artists must have a university email address to sell work on Folyo, but anybody can create a buyer’s account on the site, which allows them to search artwork by color, medium, or price. There’s also a social aspect to Folyo: buyers and artists can create profiles to communicate with one another, while buyers can also upload pictures of art they already have in their homes and chat with other buyers about their acquisitions.

“The interaction is really what makes it an interesting experience,” Bujny says. “We really want to democratize art and bring everyone on board. Anybody who is interested in art—we want them on our site.”

Folyo has already attracted the support of the Grand Rapids,MI-based Start Garden, which made an initial investment of $5,000 in the company last month. Bujny says she was thrilled to link up with Start Garden, which is run by Rick DeVos, the same man behind the massive annual ArtPrize contest in Grand Rapids.

Bujny was also recently in Silicon Valley pitching Folyo to investors there. The initial feedback, she says, was positive. “Lots of them are art collectors,” she notes.

Folyo plans two revenue streams: charging artists a listing fee of 25 cents per month per piece, and adding a 20 percent fee to the price of the artwork. To help artists figure out what to charge, the Folyo calculator takes into account hours worked, medium, and years of experience. There are also plans to include an artist’s online rating in the equation, once the platform is better established.

For now, Folyo’s co-founders are continuing to work on growing their business, with the official beta test for the site beginning this week.

“Art students don’t have time to make their own websites,” Bujny says. “We want them to stop putting those amazing art pieces in their mom’s basement and start selling them. We’re excited to show the world what Michigan has in terms of talent, and shake up both the buying and selling of art.”

Sarah Schmid is the editor of Xconomy Detroit. You can reach her at 313-570-9823 or sschmid@xconomy.com. Follow @XconomyDET

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