Sihlesenkosi Majola is co-founder and managing director of Wezart, a digital marketplace for African art. It was created to help local African Artists sell their contemporary works to the rest of the world.
Founded in 2016, the South African based platform also helps artists test the worth of their works directly with collectors and customers, rather than with curators. Majola said the aim of the platform is to help artists who capture the new age identity of Africa prosper from their creativity.
Artists can simply get their artworks on the platform by registering. This registration gives them access to their own dashboards, where photos of their works can be uploaded, scanned for similarity with other works on the web, and priced based on their rarity or uniqueness. Using an algorithm, Wezart sets a base price for every artwork that is displayed but customers are allowed to determine the value of the work. Once a purchase is made, the artist gets an email notification, a courier is sent to pick up the artwork and ship to the buyers’ address or specified drop off point. Wezart gets a 20 percent commission on every sale.
According to Majola, Wezart was financed out of pocket as investors and most startup competitions that were participated didn’t think the platform was novel enough. “… because we were seen as just an ordinary e-commerce store, we did not get any outside funding. This prompted us to fund and build the platform ourselves,” he told How We Made it in Africa.
But should the platform get a huge investment, it would be directed at marketing. “We realise that without a proper marketing strategy, we cannot grow our company to where we want it to go, and therefore we have dedicated our time to developing marketing strategies that are online and offline,” Majola said. For instance, a million dollar investment would be used to host exhibitions across the country including an online auction.
Besides funding, Wezart also faces the challenge of operating in a closed market where high-value art collectors are guarded by gallery owners as gatekeepers.
Initially, the platform started out as a marketplace for art and fashion. The intent was for fashion to be a crowd puller but it soon began to take over the major part of the business. Last year, Majola and his team decided to take out fashion and focus exclusively on what Wezart was originally created for – art.
“That narrowed our focus to what was important and what we understood better,” he said.
Although, the platform struggled with developing a clear marketing strategy and working business model at the start, after many instances of trial and error, Majola says having a proper PR campaign has proven to be the most successful form of marketing with a greater return on investment for Wezart. “Our customers are very niche and this creates a very small pool of clients to reach[via social media]. Having a good PR campaign targeting specific magazines and blogs has helped us grow our user base of artists by 20 percent month-on-month,” he said.
The plan is for Wezart to grow and expand to major Western countries with booming art markets, like the United Kingdom, Australia, and the United States in the near future.