art creative economy entrepreneurship

Q+A with Julie Taylor founder of online art gallery Guns & Rain

We kick off the mzansipreneur Q+A series with Julie Taylor of Guns & Rain, an online art gallery. To outsiders, the art world can come across as stuffy and intimidating. We were curious to learn how Guns & Rain brings art appreciation and collection into the digital realm.

Q: Please tell us about your business.

Julie: Guns & Rain is a curated online gallery of contemporary fine art from southern Africa.  It harnesses the power of the web to help raise the local and international profiles of African visual artists, especially young emerging artists.

In the next five years, seven out of ten of the world’s fastest growing economies are expected to be in Africa, and contemporary African art is increasingly recognised internationally as an investment opportunity.  Equally, Guns & Rain is about helping artists get fair prices for their work and supporting sustainable careers.

You can order your art online and have it delivered anywhere in the world. If you don’t find what you’re looking for online, we’ll help you do an ‘offline’ custom search.

Q: Where do you source the artworks?

Julie: The artists are all currently from southern Africa, including South Africa, Zimbabwe, Namibia and Botswana, and the platform is set to expand to additional countries in 2015.

Q: Please tell us about your journey as an entrepreneur. Have you always wanted to become self-employed? What inspired you to become self-employed?

Julie: I’d never thought about being an entrepreneur until fairly recently.  I’m an anthropologist by training, and most recently I ran Google’s communications for Africa. That said, I’ve always enjoyed being independent and forging my own direction, so maybe it was just a matter of time.

Q: Do you employ other people?

Julie: Not yet.

Q: What are the major challenges that you face in your business?

Julie: Selling art is very different from selling a pair of shoes, an accessory, or even software, because buying art involves nuanced, subjective and emotional decision-making.  In the US, a recent survey found that people think that buying art is more scary than buying a car.  Another challenge is how to best use the virtual online environment to sell a highly tactile good.

Q: Do you compete with any major corporates (or state institutions). If so, what has the experience of competing with “giants” taught you?

Julie: No. I’d like it if they’d buy some of my art though.

Q: Do you compete with products or services from other countries? If so, how is your product differentiated from these imports?

There are now dozens of online art platforms.  But despite a recent explosion of international interest in African contemporary art in the offline world, African artists are still hugely under-represented online. Guns & Rain fills the gap for an accessible, affordable, thoughtful, intelligent representation  and curation of this art.  The demand for online art will only grow as people’s comfort levels with digital channels increase.

Q: Do you export your products or services to other countries? If so, what have you learnt from the experience of competing internationally?

Julie: My target market is international, so I have been thinking international from day one.  In addition to understanding the logistics and challenges of shipping, the right kind of networking and online communication is critical.

Papa Shikongeni, 'Behold'. Source: Gins & Rain.
Papa Shikongeni, ‘Behold’. Source: Gins & Rain.

Q: What has been your funniest moment in business?

Julie: Visiting an enormous cardboard factory and depot in downtown Joburg for packaging materials, and placing one of the smallest orders they’ve probably ever received.

Q: Are you looking to raise finance in the next six months?

Julie: Maybe.

Q: Where do you see your business in 5 years’ time?

Julie: As the global leading boutique site for African contemporary art, sporting a handful of significant partnerships with cutting-edge organisations in the international online art space.

Q: Anything else you would like to share with our audience?

Julie: Follow Guns & Rain on Twitter, Instagram, Google+, LinkedIn and Facebook, for your regular fix of African contemporary art.  Stay tuned for some innovative offline events in early 2015.

– mzansipreneur

Main image: Themba Khumalo ‘Opposite Direction One Goal’. Source: Guns & Rain.

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