A conversation with a talented friend who could not sell her art lead to the launch of MONT8, the online marketplace for artists and art lovers in the Middle East, earlier this September. Omar Odeh and Bilal Kasih could not accept the fact that despite the rise of e-business, the Arab world had not yet made use of it to discover its hidden talents, and therefore decided to do it themselves. MONT8 is a platform that meets artists and buyers halfway, allowing artists to showcase their work, and buyers to browse freely, pick and customise their choices, and have them delivered.
We were pleased to speak to Omar Odeh and Bilal Kasih about their start-up.
How did it all begin?
Omar: We were inspired by our talented artist, designer and architect friends who’ve been producing amazing art, but don’t get the chance to showcase their artwork in galleries or on websites. When our friend, Sawsan, had a few of her art pieces ready to be showcased, we went around a number of galleries in Dubai to sell them. The process seemed to be very complicated for a beginner. Galleries required long procedures, and were looking for established artists who fit certain criteria, including experience and previous exhibitions. She wasn’t the only one struggling, the Middle East is full of talents like her. A search through the internet and among your friends would show the amount of unnoticed talents that need a platform to present them to the world. So we thought of providing this platform and making it accessible to thousands of talents in this situation.
We worked hard on the website. The set up took some time but we wanted the best user experience for art buyers, enthusiasts and artists. We ended up with this version of the website and, of course, development is a continuous process. We’ll always make sure that the website evolves to suit the needs of its users effectively.
What kind of support did you get as you were starting up?
Bilal: Financially, nothing at all. The business is self-funded by Omar and me. We’re following a start up concept called bootstrapping; we use existing resources to fund the business, and whatever comes out of it is invested back in the business. So we do our best to save up every possible Dirham and invest in MONT8.
When it comes to moral support, we support each other. There are days when I would be discouraged, and Omar motivates me and vice versa. That is what’s great about working with a partner.
Omar: And friends. Our friends were very supportive. Our talented friends who needed, and deserved such a platform are what inspired us and this is one kind of support.
What challenges did you face as founders?
Omar: We were first faced with technical issues. We needed a web developer who would understand our needs since neither of us had this technical background, and this was difficult.
Bilal: Honestly, we were ready to self-fund since the beginning. There are challenges that we face everyday but that’s part of the learning curve of starting your own business. Whether it’s about our industry, business, operations, marketing, sales, Omar and I learn something new everyday.
At the same time, both my background and his come in handy every now and then.
Technically, we had to learn how to deal with web developers. Our aim since day one was to find a technical team member who would add innovative value and keep communication flowing between the business end and technological end of the company. We have eventually locked down that new team member who we’re always bothering!
Another challenge- which is also a blessing in disguise, is the fact that we are self-funded and bootstrapping. It forces us to find logical, effective and efficient solutions for the business.
What is your vision for MONT8?
Bilal: To create a platform for artists, designers and photographers in the Middle East, whether amateur or professional, to create their own online brands on our website.
Where do you see art entrepreneurship in the Middle East heading?
Omar: Art is booming in the Middle East, but online art is still maturing. The art scene is growing largely in the region- but our vision is to create a different scene. We want people to adapt to a new concept, which is that art is not just a framed painting on the wall but anything around you, and it can be generated by independent artists.
It’s people who create the value of our business- artists and buyers. Very few business models can enjoy this.
Bilal: We want to be pioneers in this industry. Competitors will arise one day but we will always make sure to do things the right way and keep our strong personal relationships with the artists. This is very essential to our business as it provides us with feedback and suggestions on how to improve the portal.
As Omar said; our aim is to redefine the concept of art- it’s much broader than a Picasso painting on the wall. It can be on all products- ranging from traditional art prints and framed canvases to commercial use. It all goes back to enabling artists to create their own brands, free of charge.
The next time you think of art as something that can only be brought from the West, or that is only for the elite, head to MONT8 to enjoy the variety, the flexibility, and the affordability of the offerings of local talents.
If you’re an artist, head to MONT8 to present yourself to the world, get creative with your artwork, submit it, and name your price. They will handle the rest.