You’re familiar with Artsonia, but have you ever wondered about the story behind the company? For example, how on Earth did they come up with the amazing idea of an online student art museum in the first place? How do they package up and send out thousands and thousands of personalized keepsakes each year? Magical elves? What about finding time to innovate ways to make art teachers’ jobs even easier? To answer your burning questions, I visited with Jim Meyers, Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Artsonia. I’m sure you’ll find the answers to some of the above questions quite surprising. For example, did you know Artsonia only has about a dozen constant employees? It’s true! Let’s start at the beginning…
What was the inspiration for Artsonia?
The other two founders and myself worked at a computer consulting company within the area of eCommerce. While we all enjoyed our jobs, working in a large corporate setting did not provide the fulfillment we were seeking. Therefore, when Kishore Swaminathan (Eric’s and my boss at the time) approached us with this idea he had for an online art museum, inspired by a no-walls business model like Amazon.com, we jumped at the chance to create the company.
We considered and fell in love with the social good that something like this could achieve. From kids gaining pride and self-esteem for being published, to kids learning about other countries and cultures though art, to the emotional value of storing and archiving artwork, we couldn’t find any downsides! And in a moment of insanity, we decided to quit our stable, well paying jobs and start Artsonia!
What were your initial challenges in getting Artsonia started?
During our first year, we had over 25,000 pieces of art uploaded to our site. The question then became, how could we continue to grow and continue to provide this amazing free service to art teachers? After finding out that corporate sponsors and banner ads were not for us, we decided to start the keepsake side of our business. This came with its own challenges, as Kishore had to go back to his old job while Eric had to take on a second full-time job.
With the other two founders supporting me, I stayed behind and worked by myself for almost two years. I was making all the products myself, shipping them, answering emails, phones, and more! There were a few silly mishaps, like forgetting to remove the protective film on the coasters, but we were learning from experience! The story does have a happy ending though, as we’ve grown significantly over the past 14 years and now employ nearly a dozen people and have over 6 million pieces of artwork submitted to our website each school year!
Describe an average day in the Artsonia world. What does a typical day for employees look like?
There are no typical days at Artsonia! We have three separate departments here. We have our production team, which consists of seven employees, that ensure all products are made and shipped out accurately and on time. We also use temporary workers at busier times of the year (like the winter holidays and Mother’s Day / Father’s Day). Next, we have our customer service team of four employees, which work with our existing teachers to help them and answer any questions they may have. Last, we have the founders and developers who make sure the Artsonia site works well and designs and builds new features and enhancements.
Are there times of the year that are busier than others?
YES! We do almost one-third of our annual sales during the three weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas, so during that timeframe, it is a madhouse! We are very busy around the end of the school year with Mother’s Day and Father’s Day sales as well. In addition, our customer service team is extremely busy at the start of a school year, as teachers are able to upload their rosters to us directly.
With so many orders coming in, when do you find time to innovate new products or features?
When schools are out over the summer, we have a chance to regroup and evaluate how we performed and what we can do better to improve our service to teachers and improve our product line of merchandise.
How do art teachers play a role in determining the direction of the website?
Throughout its history, art teachers have played a major role in shaping Artsonia. In a lot of ways, we treat the teachers as our bosses. We keep them happy and continually improve our tools and features, and that inevitably leads to growth and exposure for Artsonia. Some people say happy wife, happy life; we like to say happy teachers, happy website! If you happen to be going to the NAEA national convention, stop on by and see us. We love hearing about your Artsonia experiences!
What makes Artsonia unique?
Our commitment to quality and our technology expertise are two things that make us unique. We have insanely high standards for the quality of our products. When you call, we make sure you get to talk to one of our highly trained Customer Service Representatives right away instead of slogging through menu options. Our website and mobil apps are reliable and bug free. Artsonia has an extreme commitment to providing the best experience possible for all of its customers.
What features do you wish every art teacher knew about?
We wish every art teacher would simply upload a few pieces to try us out. We hear stories daily about how Artsonia completely changed art programs, and how teachers can’t imagine teaching art without it.
We’re excited about the new Artsonia app! Can you tell us more about it?
We recently launched our newest feature Classroom Mode, which allows students to take uploading, editing, and artist statements into their own hands! We also now have an Android app. Before these latest advancements, our users would have to keep track of things with their digital cameras and notebooks. It’s safe to say, the app saves teachers a ton of time! It took us about two years to develop our iPhone and iPad app, and about 50% of our users now use it to expedite the upload process.
What has been the most surprising thing about creating Artsonia? What has been the most fun?
The most surprising thing is being in the manufacturing business of custom keepsakes. When we were younger, the possibility never even crossed our minds! Making keepsakes didn’t initially match with our educational background as electrical engineering majors. We never really knew what we were doing until one day we woke up and somehow had become experts in the manufacturing business. It just goes to show you that hard work, passion, and persistence can take you a long way.
I would say the most fun thing about being involved in Artsonia is the relationships we have built along the way. When the business was small, there were individual art teachers that energized us, encouraged us, and guided us along the way. Art teachers truly are a special group of people, without our relationships with YOU, Artsonia wouldn’t be what it is today.
I hope you enjoyed getting a glimpse into one of Art Ed’s most innovative and exciting companies. Hopefully you learned something new and were inspired to be part of this amazing movement of celebrating and sharing student artwork! Thanks once again to CEO Jim Meyers for sharing his wealth of knowledge and letting us in on some Artsonia secrets!
What questions do you still have about Artsonia’s history?
What surprised you most about this story?
Magazine articles and podcasts are opinions of professional education contributors and do not necessarily represent the position of the Art of Education University (AOEU) or its academic offerings. Contributors use terms in the way they are most often talked about in the scope of their educational experiences.