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Bernadine Bröker, CEO, Vastari: Yeah, so we work for a new startup that’s called Vastari, and it’s an online networking platform for people who own art to get in touch with museums, specifically for exhibitions. So if you have a painting in your house that’s relevant to a museum, there’s no way currently for you to network with these curators, and we’ve built the platform where that can happen.
Rebecca: So, is there anything you’ve had to change about your personality or yourself becoming an entrepreneur?
Bernadine: I think specifically for me, I’m very much a people person who always wants to please others, and wants to do things that others want. But when you’re running a business, you really have to think about what the best thing is for the business itself, rather than what other people are telling you. Every decision you make, you can probably get 8 different opinions on how you should do it, and if you keep asking, you’ll keep getting responses, so you cud be stuck there forever wondering whether you should do it or not. And at the end of the day, you’re the one with the idea. You’re the one with the knowledge and the industry knowledge to go forward, so you have become more self assured and say “This is what I think, and I’m right.” I sometimes had trouble doing that before. And it’s about keeping that momentum going and doing something and then learning and then changing, which is kind of that agile development setup, where you’re constantly trying out new things and making sure that maybe one thing does work, maybe one thing doesn’t, but you’re moving forward, not hesitating. I think that’s definitely something that’s changed.
Angela: I think in my case.. Bernadine’s the one who developed the idea… I joined a bit later. I think what’s changed for me, not exactly changed, I have to be completely honest with every single person I speak to. I can’t lie to them and say I have an MA in Art History because I don’t. People really appreciate that.
Rebecca: How did you get a team? I think when you have a startup a lot of people ask themselves, well I don’t have anything, how do I get people to come along with me.
We focused on getting a bit of a global approach because it’s a worldwide network. We didn’t want to focus just on Europe or the UK. We wanted to focus around the world. So we have Marta who’s Polish but speaks Japanese and Chinese, so she’s working a lot with the Asian art market. Then we have Francheska who’s Italian, Angela who’s from Ecuador, and our developers are also from all around the world. So we basically have really gotten an international team.
Rebecca: does it bring up issues that you’re all so different on the team.
Rebecca: do you have a funny story about that?
Bernadine: Well, the Europeans seem to be less used to drinking tap water. We think it’s quite exciting.
Angela Roldán, Head of Client Development and Press in the Americas, Vastari: We have this funny story that the European girls don’t like tap water, only bottled water. We’re from South America and the Caribbean, we can’t drink water at home. We drink all the tap water we can.
Rebecca: It’s exciting.
Angela: We’re so excited to open the tap and be able to drink it.
Rebecca: I wanted to ask, being in a startup, there are a lot of ups and downs. Has there been a time when you’ve had some strong emotions?
Bernadine: Yeah, I think every week is a different feeling. You don’t know when you wake up in the morning how you’re going to feel that day. But a couple of weeks ago, it might have been a month ago, we had the biggest press exposure we’d had so far, so we had hundreds of people visiting the site. And we’d never had more than 20 people simultaneously using the website. And we hadn’t tested that, because we thought it would be fine. And all of a sudden you get these problems occurring, and it’s like the last moment you want to have this problem on the website, when you’re having this exposure.
Angela: Google Analytics. Error. Error. Error.
Bernadine: So we spent the whole day trying to make sure that everyone was happy and it ended up allright and figured everything out. But that was definitely the day that we working the most fast-paced we’d ever had to. Fixing things on the spot, uploading new fixes immediately instead of deploying them at midnight. So it was pretty intense.
Rebecca: I don’t think there’s a name for that emotion, but I do think that’s a common emotion in startups. The simultaneous emotion of being incredibly excited that something is working and mortified that it’s not..
Rebecca: Can you tell me about something that was an amazing success or an amazing flop that was unexpected? Again, we try many things, sometimes you think it won’t work but it does. So tell about a surprising, either surprising success or surprising flop.
Bernadine: I’d say what has really surprised us is we took PR in our own hands. We thought at first we should outsource it and then we decided that we would do it ourselves and send the message, and that has been a great success. We’ve had so much positive feedback from the United States, from Asia, from Italy, from everywhere. People love that we’re telling the story ourselves and that we’re going forward. So that’s really worked.
Angela: They love how personal it is. We personally contact the collectors and traders. A lot of them know us already by first name, through emails.
Rebecca: Well, you’ve touched on this a couple of times. I don’t think you know you’ve touched on this, but what you’ve touched on is authenticity. I don’t have an MBA. Being the person who contacts the journalists other than some professional PR agent. So can you say a little bit more about that, about being authentic? Because that seems to be at the core of what you’re doing.
Angela: Yeah, I think that people really appreciate that, going back to that. I know a collector who said, “I like you, I like the project. I really appreciate that you’re not trying to convince me that you are an expert on this or know about Renaissance art. You’re just straightforward.” That worked for us. You just have to … it’s way easier to be yourself.
Bernadine: Yeah! That’s a good summing it up.
Rebecca: If you had one extra hour today, what would you do with it?
Angela: I’d go to the office and take her out because she’s always there. I think we’d have some relaxing time. And try to get that out of our minds.
Bernadine: Maybe disconnect from all technology for an hour.
Angela: That would be good
Bernadine: that would be amazing.
Angela: But hard.
Bernadine: But difficult. If we could have an hour a day where we could just disconnect from the world, and ignore anything from the website and it would have no repercussions. That would be a very important gift.
Bernadine: I think definitely when you’re working in the art world, you’re told to be professional and have a very knowledgeable approach, which we do have. We do know what we’re doing. But we don’t act like we’re the only experts around. Because of course there are more people who know everything.
Angela: and we ask for help
Bernadine: yeah. If you ask for help, you’ll get to better conclusions than if you are stubborn and just keep going.
Rebecca: So don’t be pretentious would be it.
Rebecca: I don’t want to say that people in the art world are pretentious, I have no idea, but people in the startup world are pretentious, so I would know. But I thnk we all have that, it’s a defense mechanism to say, you know, I know what I’m doing here, even when you don’t, and it’s really telling that you can say “oh, we don’t have to say ‘I know what I’m doing here’”.
Rebecca: When we know, we say, and when we don’t know, we also say.
Bernadine: Yeah. And luckily we do know what we’re doing, some of the time.