Paintings, one of the oldest forms of human expression, have always captured the human imagination. We’ve displayed this art proudly and been interested in the symbolic meaning involved. But in today’s world, with each painting costing thousands of dollars (sometimes more), you can sometimes only afford one piece and if you ever get sick of it…too bad. Meural is completely changing the mural and art canvas’ of yesterday making a digital art canvas that alternates between high quality paintings you want to show off.
Today, we touch base with CEO and Founder Vlad Vukicevic about the latest funding and how the art world is changing through the use of technology.
Who were your investors and how much did you raise?
We raised $2.5M in Seed funding, which was led by Corigin Ventures with additional participation from Barbara Corcoran Venture Partners, as well as angel investors Francois Bennahmias (CEO of Audimars Piguet) and Elio Leoni Sceti (former CEO of EMI, and current board of directors member at AB InBev) among others.
Tell us about your product or service.
Founded in August, 2014, Meural is a next generation digital canvas that’s changing the way people discover and display art in their homes. Elegantly designed and encased in a beautifully handcrafted maple wooden frame, Meural’s LCD matte display seamlessly blends craftsmanship, culture and circuitry to stream a customizable lifelike art experience to peoples’ personal spaces.
The device comes equipped with an intuitive gesture control feature that lets users instantly swap artwork sourced from a carefully curated library of fine art and photography from a wealth of different galleries and museums across the globe.
We sold out of its first batch of frames to early adopters shortly after going on sale in Fall, 2015.
What inspired you to start the company?
As art lovers ourselves, we saw an opportunity to create a product that exists at the intersection of art and technology – using the latter as a channel for the former. We set out on a mission to break down barriers and democratize the discovery of art through our product. We learned that there’s a large population out there that doesn’t have access, funds, or know-how to dive into the world of fine art, and so decided that we’d be the equalizing factor to facilitate that. Our product was created to bring the experience and appreciation of art in its entirety to people’s homes while ultimately showing them the power of a medium meant to mentally stimulate and educate.
How is it different?
Unlike other digital art technology in the space (and there aren’t many!), we’ve maintained a focus on carefully curating the fine art/photography experience for our users, choosing to focus on providing a window into that particular world and subsequently giving users a reason to see value in the content we provide. While other brands hone in on a new age approach to streaming imagery, Meural was created to elevate the experience through education (via our content platform) and become a visual centerpiece in the home.
Additionally the hardware within our frames was specifically built to evoke the intricacies of paintings and mimic the real thing through a texture-rich display. We’ve also incorporated a gesture control feature that allows users to swap content currently uploaded to their frames with a quick swipe of their hands.
What market you are targeting and how big is it?
Our audience is the sort of consumer that has an inherent desire in exploring the world of art/photography – collecting, learning, etc. – but may not have the access, funds, or know-how to even begin. We’re here to balance the scales for those that feel alienated by the space and give them an avenue for cost-effective exploration and easy acquisition of content.
Conversely, we also actively target content creators by giving them a platform to upload and publish their own works on a sharable platform that can be showcased globally, thus empowering artists to achieve exposure through nontraditional channels, and ultimately, on their own terms.
What’s your business model?
Currently, we sell three designs of the Meural frame: Black ($495), White ($495), and Lightbox ($595). Users gain access to our entire collection through purchase of the frame.
Over the next year, we will continue to source and license artwork and photography. As we approach premium providers and enter exclusive agreements, our collection will be much more robust and comprehensive. We will launch a recurring revenue service for access to the premium content.
We chatted with you back in February, what’s different now?
We’re on the verge of rolling out our next batch of frames, Meural v1.5, so to speak. They’re expected to ship next month!
What was the funding process like?
The funding process was a great learning experience. We got a lot of constructive feedback, and bits that kept coming up we’ve absorbed and adapted to how we build our business.
Our early investors made great introductions for us. Also, our involvement in Plug & Play’s IoT Accelerator Program also got us great meetings.
January was a difficult month with the technology sector equity market taking a major dip.
What are the biggest challenges that you faced while raising capital?
The biggest challenges were:
- Explaining that the business required hardware (there’s strong bias towards software with VC’s)
- Convincing investors that gross margin in hardware is stage dependent: the volume of units, and where the underlying technology is in its product life cycle
- On a more tactical level: establishing a cadence with interested investors to maintain momentum
- On a human level: maintaining enthusiasm while being adaptive while pitching
What factors about your business led your investors to write the check?
The key factors were that we are experienced, dedicated, and passionate team; we have a great product; a clear and understandable business model; and finally a market that’s large and undisrupted.
What are the milestones you plan to achieve in the next six months?
Beyond shipping our new model, our milestones are set towards the collection, the product, and creating content.
Our goal for collection is to double the over the next six months. We will diversify the collection with dozens of active, contemporary artists. We will also launch exclusive partnerships with art providers.
We will launch a supplementary product for our new models. Our goal is also launch three new features on our website and mobile app, all of which foster discovery, expression, and curation.
We will also continue to create content that adds value and insight relating to our space: art and technology.
What advice can you offer companies in New York that do not have a fresh injection of capital in the bank?
Create value. There’s no point sitting in a room and worrying about capital. The best thing to do is to proactively seek to add value: with customers, potential investors, companies in related segments, or fellow entrepreneurs.
Things usually come full circle. By creating value for others, you will naturally feel more motivated and positive. That will reflect in how your business is run, how you see it, and how you pitch.
Where do you see the company going now over the near term?
Over the near term, we will become synonymous with this space and become the leader in it.
What’s your favorite rooftop bar in NYC to unwind?
Le Bain, on the top of The Standard hotel.