While most 60-years-olds are planning to spend rest of their lives playing golf, visiting family or holidaying around the world, the concept of retirement seems unknown to this Polish entrepreneur on a mission to revolutionise the world of art with tech and building a unicorn at the age of 65! Meet Marek Zabicki – founder & CTO of Krakow-based startup, Arteïa.
#OMGKRK’s Marketing & Communications Manager, Kriti Spinoff, had the opportunity to meet with him and talk about his startup journey at Arteia’s Krakow office.
Marek Zabicki has Ph. D. in control & optimization of decentralized systems and more than three decade’s experience in developing complex information retrieval systems, modeling financial derivatives and developing art management platforms.
After a short period of academic career at the Polish Academy of Science, he moved into a startup world and across the time participated or himself launched eight technology startups, among the others he was CTO of CEDROM, the company that developed French first CD-ROM, CTO of the GL Trade, world leader in the financial software. He was the founder of LexMedia and Neurosoft, the company behind Musnet and GCOLL/2 art management systems. During the last 3 years, Marek is focused on applying blockchain, smart contracts and crypto-economics to diverse real-life problems. He is currently a co-founder and the CTO of the Arteïa SA.
What is Arteïa all about and what are its main goals?
Arteïa is a startup dedicated to the art world. We are cultural and art enthusiasts. Working on tools and technology that not only help the clients and other art enthusiasts, but also the creators and artists. The art market is very centralized – too much power lies in the hands of too few people.
We would like to bring art from the common people to the common people. One of the main problems we would like to tackle is the asymmetry of information. People with power or money seem to withhold all the information, and because of this, there is a lot of manipulation of data.
“It is shocking that technology hasn’t quite changed the 60 billion dollar market in the last 400 years. You’d be surprised to know how many art professionals use basic tools like spreadsheet to manage multi million dollar art collections.”
How does this benefit the artists?
There are many artists in the world, and unfortunately, only the famous ones have access to intermediaries that will promote and boost their art. There are many talented artists hidden in developing countries with immense talent but a lack of exposure. With our startup we aim to help the common artist lacking means of exposure, to gain the attention that they truly deserve. Furthermore, most countries have a law, that the artist will receive a part of the sum of money which is paid every time someone buys their artwork. With this startup, we aim to keep a track of the artwork and with each transaction, check if the artist is getting paid the due amount for their work. Also, most of the artists use very manual and basic ways to document their data. They desperately need better tools to manage their data, and this can be done with the help of Arteïa. Furthermore, they can be helped with cataloging their work and making an inventory of the products which they used on the piece, etc.
“We are aiming to create a platform for collectors and artists. A kind of social network for art enthusiasts as well as artists.”
At the moment for Arteïa, who are the key targets?
The key target is aggregators, we already have our main collectors, and we would like to expand to the aggregators. One of the main issues presently, is the calculation of the catalog. So if you have your catalog and your calculations ready, it will help you in the long run. The tax office will take a long time to do so themselves, for instance, it took up to 17 years once! We are also planning to make a market where the artists are connected directly to the art enthusiasts and there aren’t any middle-men disturbing the process.
What are you working on presently?
An ongoing project which will make its initial reveal by the end of this year is the catalog. This is some sort of branding to prove the authenticity of your art. These are certified volumes which are blockchain-based so that hackers cannot interfere and spoil the authenticity or validity.
“Its always hard to qualify who is worthy of being called an artist and who isn’t. There are multiple people graduating from art schools and having degrees in fine art. They are qualified as artists, but we should not forget those who do not have formal training but an abundance of skill! We have to create a platform for artists to gain exposure.’’
We know that you have associated with multiple start-ups, could you tell us a bit more about your background?
I was always a tech guy. After finishing my studies at AGH- based in Krakow, I did my masters and immediately started my Ph.D. After this, I worked at the Institute of Chemical Industry for 2 years. In my personal life, I had gotten married and was looking to increase my income – my monthly salary at that time was only 50 dollars in the communist Poland.
During my 2 years there, I was sent to France and a wonderful opportunity knocked at my door. I was met with a Frenchman by chance, and after noticing my interest in the fast information world, he provided me the chance to work with him. He invited me to work on a fast data extraction program from a single access disk over the weekend. After successfully finishing the project, he paid me around 500 dollars and also offered me a position at his startup. I had informed him about my situation and how I needed to go back to Krakow and arrange for a work visa. Within 6 months, he wrote to me saying he had arranged for everything, and that’s how I became a CTO in the first startup I was linked with.
After lots of winding journeys that included working for a company in Wall Street that had a billion dollor exit, I was led to Arteïa through one of my jobs. My encounter with ArtTech spans over decades! In the 80s, I lead a team of developers to make a CD-ROM with a personalised virtual guide based on an expert system and over 300 impressionist artworks from the Musee d’Orsay, Paris. Since then, I have worked with many well-known museums and big players in the art world such as Centre Pompidou, MOCAK, Videomuseum, Fondation Ullens, Jeu de Paume, Napoleon Foundation etc
Around 2001 was when I first came up with the idea of starting Arteïa but it took quite a few years to actualise it. During these years, I met with lots of big and large-scale art collectors with a genuine interest and love for art. When I was acquainted with 6 or 7 big collectors, the thought of starting Arteïa was very imminent.
In 2016, I was participated in a conference in Dublin and presented the idea of Arteïa. After that, I was approached by many people who were like-minded and interested in the idea. We participated in 2 incubators too – one of them being KPMG’s Fintech incubator.
“I raised my required seed fund of 450,000 euros in just 4 hours. I had my first investor meeting at 10am and by 1pm, I was fully funded!”
How did you raise the seed fund for Arteia?
Thanks to my long career holding leadership positions in various tech startups, I have a lot of contacts, one of whom set me up 32 meetings in London. However, after having dozens of unsuccessful meetings with potential investors in London, I felt disappointed until it was until my friend (and now CEO of Arteia), Philippe Gellman, suggested that I meet with people who are truly interested in the world of art.
He arranged 10 meetings for me in Brussels. My first meeting was with a very influential family, who are involved in Champagne, and own multi-million-dollar art collection. They liked my idea and promsied to back me with 300,000 euros. My second meeting was with Olivier Marian (now Arteia’s CSO), a tech entreprenuer and son of a famous art collector. He only had 5 minutes to spare for our meeting. I pitched whatever I could in those 5 minutes and he said ‘yes’ after he was impressed with how search works on our platform. He invested 150,000 euros! I was only after a seed fund of 450,000 euros so my target was achieved! I didn’t even have to meet the other investors.
Later, other enterprenuers and investors funded the company, including the CEO of founder of Toluna, Frédéric-Charles Petit, taking our total to 3 million so far!
“In the beginning, I was quite conscious of my age so in one of the startup conferences, I hired a young professional to pitch Arteia. She did a find job but people had to turn their heads to me (I was at the back of the room) each time they had a question as only I could answer all the technical questions. At the end of the conference, people asked me why I didn’t present my own startup. Since that day I realized that people don’t care about my age but my knowlege. Now, I pitch Arteia myself at all events and meeting — all around the world. I calculated that I have taken 200 flights this year! Harvard Business Review recently featured me in their cover story about mature founders. ”
With Arteïa growing rapidly, how many offices do you have? And how do you manage your time between them?
Our base office is in Brussels with around 5 people. One office in London consisting of 2 teammates and one in Switzerland too, but presently it is dormant. And finally one in Krakow and one in Paris. I am based, along with my family, in Paris, so that is where I spend most of my time, but I travel frequently to Krakow and also to Brussels and London from time to time. If I calculate, I have to say I have approximately 195 flights this year. But because of my love for this job, it doesn’t seem like a huge ordeal for me, I enjoy it. I also take a liking to present our ideas. I never shy away from it. My partners have a liking to art however they aren’t familiar with the technological aspects of the startup. With my technological background, I know in-depth of what happens in our startup and my love for art gives me the drive to present. When talking to the audience you have to cater to both the categories- art enthusiasts and techies interested in learning about the process, making my skillset ideal for presenting the topic.
“CTO is a man who has enough knowledge in technology as well as knowledge about what’s happening in the market to help the company and its future. A CTO should know how to utilize this technology in a way that allows your company to have a competitive advantage as compared to your adversaries.”
What are your plans for the future?
Recently we devised Artificial Intelligence, which helps you optimize your catalog. Here you will be allowed to take a photo of your artwork, and the application will help you identify what it is. We are designing a prototype of this. With the help of our recent recruitment- a Ph.D student who has a passion for art too, this prototype is being launched. We also wish to create some kind of price index for art. Art is priceless, however, there needs to be classification and evaluation. Using AI we will build a system for building such indexes.
And why stop at just art, as we expand, we hope to expand to other scopes of culture too, maybe music or other forms of art. The sky is the limit!
“Our team of data scientists and machine learning engineers in Krakow is developing sophisticated tools which will one day be able to suggest artwork for you by simply seeing a picture of your room clicked from your mobile phone’’
We would like to use this opportunity to thank Mr.Marek Zabicki to let us in on his personal experiences and his thoughts. Thank you for giving us your time. And we wish Arteïa, the best of luck for all its future endeavors. If you are inspired by Arteia’s story and would like to join their team to change the world of art with tech, heads to their linkedin page and apply now!