Columbia Entrepreneurs: Artery Creates Unique Cultural Experiences
Artery co-founders Salimah Ebrahim and Vladic Ravich envision a more connected world. Yet, as technology improves, it often feels like we become less connected from each other—and meaningful cultural and social experiences feel harder and harder to find. They built Artery as a platform for what they call the next frontier of the sharing economy: culture.
Artery is one of five Columbia University-affiliated startups selected to present at the 4th Annual Columbia Startup Demo Night in San Francisco on September 20, 2018. We chatted with Vladic and Salimah via email recently to learn what that means, and how Artery is helping enable more connected experiences through its tech platform.
CVC: In just a few words, what is Artery?
Vladic Ravich: Artery is a platform for the sharing economy’s next frontier: culture.
While we’re all more connected than ever through our devices, we’re increasingly isolated from each other in real life. Artery allows everyone to use their homes, backyards, storefronts and other non traditional spaces for more than just accommodation. The platform enables peer to peer (P2P) creation of intimate cultural experiences in these privates spaces.
Artery connects performers (musicians, authors, dancers, comedians, chefs, filmmakers) with the people who want to host them in their own spaces (living rooms, backyards, storefronts).
Artery is a scalable way to unlock private spaces for shared experiences. We’re making liquid a global network of spaces and hosts that leverage their space by hosting a 60–90 minute performance and sharing ticket sales with the artist.
While demand for intimate performances is as old as culture itself, Artery’s technology allows a much broader set of people to act on the same impulses that have created salons, house concerts, dinners, and readings in every town and city in the world. The forces driving this new sector include millions of people already seeing themselves as hosts on Airbnb, the demand for authentic experiences has never never been higher — 72% of millennials say they would like to increase their spending on experiences over material possessions and artists are increasingly becoming entrepreneurs (ie. Kickstarter, Patreon) — there are already over 8,000 artists on Artery.
Using Artery, you will be able to open the app anywhere in the world and attend an opera in a local living room or an author reading in someone’s backyard. Attend, host or perform authentic experiences that bring people together and pay the people who make it possible.
What were your first steps once deciding to take on the challenges of starting a company together?
We made an MVP. It was a facebook app that put a little extra tab in someone’s profile with the simple question: “What would you like [their Name] to do?” and you could select if it was a show request, a commission, or a few other things. This was a valuable experiment, and it turned into a few pop-up performances for our friends.
As we continued to iterate, the biggest insight we gained was that creative work exists very differently as content online, vs as an experience in real life. Seeing the performance, being in the same room, the magic comes from that intimacy. So we stripped away everything else and that’s where Artery came from.
The early days also taught us how to work effectively together. When you have so much on your plate, it’s essential to know there’s someone just as committed as you are working alongside you. That mutual trust has made everything possible.
What was the initial inspiration for Artery?
We started with a big idea we had both mulled over from our time as foreign correspondents: imagine that the way you discover a new culture doesn’t begin by going to a venue, but by walking into someone’s home.
We’ve both connected to people through cultural experiences in homes in every city or town we’ve lived in. As journalists, we’ve seen and reported on the passionate communities that form around these bonds.
Culture happens outside of official venues — for every performer on the stage of a major production on a theatre stage, there are thousands of equally talented artists without good options for showcasing their abilities. And without the right friends, you’re only invited to connect with live classical music across an orchestra pit.
We built Artery to bring intimate cultural experiences to more people and connect a new audience to the ones already happening.
We know firsthand the power of platforms like Couchsurfing and Meetup to make connection easier and more relevant than was ever possible. Going beyond your immediate social network is always a little scary, but these tools — when properly calibrated — can expand your circle of trust and opportunity. They also provide a springboard for people to jump into new communities and cultures because of a shared passion.
That’s exactly what makes an Artery showcase so exciting — you step outside your cultural bubble for an hour and you leave having shared a powerful experience together.
Who can participate? Is Artery curated?
At its core, Artery is decentralized, meaning anyone can collaborate with someone else without us being involved. Many existing communities use Artery and they curate based on their needs, but the main curation comes from the tech.
There are many criteria that go into the personalized suggestions. For example, a host’s profile tells us the sound level they’re comfortable with, the genres, the capacity and so on. We also know what your friends have attended, what your cohort liked and so on.
Because of this, we can personalize experiences in a way that wouldn’t be possible without the social trust features that the sharing economy relies on. Do you specifically love opera or writers or rooftops? Want to step out of your cultural bubble? Are you looking for a great date or just something nearby? These are the curation questions we’re tackling.
We were deliberate about using the graph database from the very beginning to power our relevance engine, so we can personalize suggestions, without the kind of technical overhead that would have been necessary in the past.
Can share a bit about your background and what lead you to where you are right now?
Salimah Ebrahim: I was born in Kenya, grew up in Canada and having lived in New York for years my whole life has been about across crossing thresholds…literally and figuratively. Descending from generations of entrepreneurs, I grew up with the themes echoed in the stories of so many immigrant families: of unexpected journeys across borders, hard work and hope. The heroes in my life moved across contexts with an inherent trust in the decency and goodness of their neighbors. This has empowered my own belief that these thresholds were meant to be crossed and that on the other side of every door there lies the potential for generosity.
It’s a belief that has been reinforced over and over again in my work — both as a story-teller (I’ve lived and worked across the Middle East, Africa and the US as a journalist, covering culture, the White House, global politics, environmental security, the war in Iraq etc) and as community builder.
When I was in high school I co-founded an environmental organization, the Spirit Bear Youth Coalition, to protect BC’s endangered Spirit Bear by safeguarding its habitat and creating a 250,000 ha wilderness conservancy in the Great Bear Rainforest. Over a decade, the Coalition grew from two members in a basement to a network of over 6 million members in over 64 counties. For that work, I was honored by the World Economic Forum as a Young Global Leader.
All of these experiences have landed me on this latest adventure, building Artery, and have proven that dynamic, resilient communities emerge when you find ways to unlock trust and empower people to self-organize.
There is nothing more powerful than culture — our art, music, writing, performance, dance, films, food — to connect us. We see each other through what we create.
Vladic Ravich: I’ve always been an entrepreneur and has started a multiple small businesses — ranging from bike sharing to land surveying — to enable my journalism work. I’ve written, photographed, and produced both film and audio documentaries in Mexico, Russia, Turkey, and the South Caucasus. Nothing has been as valuable as conversations I’ve had with locals in their kitchens and porches.
I’m an immigrant from Russia and I’ve grown up surrounded by a tech-minded family. My father, brother and cousins all work in tech, so that mindset has always been second nature. For example, I earned extra money in high school building out computers for friends. Even as my own career focused on storytelling, I always took computer science classes: I remember building out a database aggregator about labor conditions for a political science class about Human Rights in Latin American. I think that combination led me to Artery.
As you encounter challenges and hurdles in your process, how do you work together to answer them?
One of the most important things to balance is focus vs scale. If you’re building a marketplace there are a lot of challenges and you need to be clear about your identity and values, and who you’re serving. Our current focus is culture and we are growing community that is passionate about intimate performances.
Yet, we can clearly see how the problem Artery solves can apply to all sorts of communities beyond culture:
Wellness, food and even political organizing happen in private spaces, and our platform supports these verticals. People are already using Artery for collaboration in each of those areas.
Ultimately, the tool we’re building allows people to self organize in private spaces, facilitating connection and intimacy. But how wide do you go, how fast do you scale beyond that first community? Ebay’s expansion comes to mind — specially as they widened their scope beyond auctioning only collectibles even though their first community was so dedicated to that vertical.
Ultimately, we try and learn from the lessons of other marketplaces and work through this with input from our community, team, advisors, investors, and so on. We talk to the people using Artery, run numbers, experiment, let conversation get heated and let them cool. It’s easier to move forward with purpose and trust, when everyone feels heard and motivations are transparent company and community wide.
Where can we learn more about Artery?
We recently began a partnership with the largest real estate developer in Toronto, The Daniels Group, to pre-purchase Artery memberships for their developments. It was on the cover of the Toronto Star Homes section last weekend. We’ve also been profiled by the Wall Street Journal and the Times of London.
Thank you, Salimah and Vladic!
To meet the Artery team, plus other innovative startups, come to the 4th Annual CVC Demo Night in San Francisco and the 8th Annual CVC Demo Night in New York. They’re the biggest event for Columbia entrepreneurs on either Coast.
— Irene Malatesta is a writer, marketer, and CVC West board member. You can find her @irenekaoru.