If you are looking to decorate your home with artwork, a quick search will yield dozens of beautiful works from stemming through the Renaissance, Baroque, and Modern periods. Why settle a few expensive purchases when you can use a smart, digital solution. Meural is a digital art frame that is indistinguishable from an authentic canvas, giving you the power to cycle through your favorite paintings depending on your mood. You can choose to showcase your own photos or classic works of art and the Meural platform displays rich, vividly textured and realistic representations. Created by the founders of RocketHub, the Meural is looking to reframe the discussion around smart art.
AlleyWatch spoke with founder and CEO Vladimir Vukicevic and discussed the most recent round of funding for the company.
Who were your investors and how much did you raise?
We raised $5 million in Series A funding. The round was led by Corigin Ventures (who also led our $3M Seed Round in spring 2016), with participation from NETGEAR, Resolute Venture Partners, and angel investors including Elio Leoni Sceti and Eric Ries.
Tell us about your product or service.
The Meural Canvas is a gesture-controlled smart art frame designed to display art and photography in a way that closely mimics the look and feel of an original painting or print. We’ve carefully crafted the hardware, the software, the firmware, and the content platform that powers the frame to create an experience akin to bringing a museum or gallery into your home. We call this combined, patent-pending effect TrueArt technology. Our goal is to make visual art a part of people’s daily lives, and bring the joy of art discovery into their homes.
I studied economics and philosophy at NYU, and had always been interested in the intersection between art, business, and technology. After a brief stint in management consulting, I left the corporate world to found RocketHub—an early crowdfunding startup that helped creatives across various industries raise money to actualize their creative visions. In my conversations with these various creators, I noticed that artist—unlike the writers, filmmakers, and musicians using our platform—lacked a dynamic platform to share their work with the world. This led to the original concept for the Meural Canvas.
How is it different?
Our product is the only gesture-controlled art frame on the market. The world of smart art frames remains very small, and we are distinguished among that group by our gesture feature, our TrueArt technology, and, crucially, our large and constantly-growing art library, which includes legally licensed works from leading museums and artists.
What market you are targeting and how big is it?
There are over a trillion walls in North America alone where people hang art and photography. We are building a suite of products and services that will make these walls more artistic, more dynamic, more personal, and thus more valuable.
What’s your business model?
We generate revenue by selling the Meural Canvas (for $595 or $695). In addition, we offer the Meural Membership subscription (for $4.95 per month or $39.95 for the whole year) to empower our customers with Meural’s growing library of artwork.
We fairly compensate all the artists and art organizations that are a part of the Meural platform – thus we are building a whole new economic opportunity for art makers and art lovers around the world.
You are expanding to a number of retail stores by the end of the year. Would you please tell us about how those partnerships came to fruition?
The Meural Canvas is a visually beautiful and eye-catching product that brings customers into stores. We began testing retail channels in late 2016 with b8ta in Palo Alto, and found that people love to experience and buy the Meural products in person.
What was the funding process like?
The hardware startup world has experienced numerous big successes (Nest, Ring, Peloton, etc.) and failures (Pebble, Doppler, Juicero, etc.) over the past few years. This makes for a complex funding environment filled with strong investor views on all ends of the spectrum.
What are the biggest challenges that you faced while raising capital?
Conveying the magnitude of our opportunity and the category-building nature of Meural took some extra effort.
What factors about your business led your investors to write the check?
The fact that Meural produces a beautiful line of connected hardware products and has a content platform that powers this hardware makes Meural a very compelling investment. In a way, we are like Sonos and Spotify combined, but for visual culture.
What are the milestones you plan to achieve in the next six months?
We recently launched the next generation of the Meural Canvas and associated artwork platform. So a successful holiday season that brings Meural to a wider audience directly via our website and via our 100+ retail locations is the most important milestone over the next six months.
What advice can you offer companies in New York that do not have a fresh injection of capital in the bank?
New York is full of talented individuals looking to participate in the entrepreneurial journey. By constantly networking and socializing our idea, company, and team, we have been able to build Meural through periods of very little capital. A good idea, openness about sharing equity, and ceaseless hustling go a long way.
Where do you see the company going now over the near term?
We are not going to get on those trillion walls over night. So we will need to introduce different iterations, price-points, and service packages to facilitate this mainstream growth.
Where is your favorite fall destination in the city?
There is a pedestrian overpass at Columbia University that connects the campus over Amsterdam Avenue. From here you can see both uptown and downtown for many blocks. It’s like our own little uptown High Line that is both detached and integrated with the surrounding environment.
This is my favorite spot for any season.