The fine art world has a slightly dusty image, spurred on by art, and art fans, that might belong to a different age. But many might be surprised that this extends to the logistical processes that support it as well. Paris-based Convelio, however, has completed a $35 million Series B funding round to help them change all that. The company claims it to be the largest ever investment in an arts logistics business.
Most people, if struck by the urge to paint a picture, would think nothing of getting paper and paint delivered the next day by Amazon or even a robot. But for those that might have spent millions on a painting, it can take between two and five days just to get a shipping quote.
Convelio’s proprietary algorithms mean arts and antique customers can get an instant quote. And the company will take care of everything, including customs, insurance, and real-time tracking, at up to 46% less cost than industry standards.
UK-Swiss venture capital firm Forestay led the round and was joined by the European Investment Fund, Mundi Ventures and existing investors Acton and Global Founders Capital.
The art market is a huge, but so far largely untapped, sector for tech. And Convelio’s arrival has already had a big impact. Marieke Christmann, Senior Principal at Forestay noted this, saying, “Convelio is disrupting a huge industry that’s competitive, demanding but inherently slow to change. The speed at which this team is winning business away from competitors in what’s traditionally been a close-knit community of auction houses, galleries, and shippers is hugely impressive.”
Changing a market
Convelio founder, Edouard Gouin, has a background in more traditional e-commerce. However, he had an interest in fine art and noticed that things worked differently in that space, and what little innovation there was, was introduced slowly.
“It comes down to demographics,” he told TFN. “Buying art is something that requires means. Historically, therefore, older generations have been the primary buyers of artworks. But of course, these older generations didn’t grow up with the likes of Amazon; they are often nervous to buy a unique item online, particularly one at a high price-point.”
It was there that he saw the opportunity. Fine art did not have the same levels of convenience or transparency that almost every other e-commerce transaction could offer. Gouin identified several factors driving this change, the demographics of the market and the pandemic among them.
Buyers of every age are increasingly raising their expectations, wondering why the levels of service they get elsewhere aren’t available. And, more generally, the fine art market itself is getting younger.
“Younger, more tech-savvy generations of buyers are entering the market and are expecting an online-first experience,” says Gouin. They want to be able to discover artworks online as easily as they browse the web for a pair of shoes.”
And the pandemic has changed the way people work in fine art, just as it has in every other industry. “For a long time, fine art essentially only catered to an audience who preferred to see an artwork for themselves ‘offline’ before buying it,” explained Gouin. “We are very confident that the transition that sped up during the pandemic will only accelerate further in the coming years.”
A welcome disruption
Fine art’s more traditional approaches do not, however, seem to have hindered Convelio. Buyers and auctions houses — Convelio counts both Sotheby’s and Christie’s among their clients — have readily embraced Convelio’s service.
The result has been incredible growth since it launched in 2017. They have achieved 98% year-on-year growth, and now employ 200 people in Paris, London, and New York. Last year saw particularly strong growth, shipping 14,000 items worth nearly $300 million. And that was reflected in their business’s growth. Two-thirds of their staff were hired in the last year, and they saw revenue grow by two-and-a-half times.
Their funding will be used to continue their expansion, particularly in the US market, where they already have a significant foothold. They have a big head start over their more traditional competitors, putting them in a prime position to exploit a huge market. The time-critical, high-value goods logistics market is valued at $1.6 trillion, according to Gouin. He is, however, focusing Convelio on fine-art shipping, a smaller market, but still a $4 billion opportunity.
Gouin is confident that Convelio’s offer will soon be attracting a large share of that opportunity. “The vast majority of revenue generated sits with traditional, low-tech incumbents. Our competitive edge has always been on building the best experience for our clients by leveraging technology,” he says. And he’s confident in Convelio’s potential, “We have more than a head-start, so we are going to continue to focus on shipping more, and faster, to deliver the ultimate fine-art shipping experience.”