Q&A: A picture paints a thousand words

This week we chat Scott Ko, founder of a social on a mission to turn cities into galleries supporting local artists. Scott’s venture, ColourSpace, curates a selection of fresh artwork for offices – delivering, installing and changing them every three months – with art sourced from local emerging artists, who share in the revenue.

ISB: What was the inspiration behind the concept of ColourSpace?

SK: I used to work in a typical corporate office. One day, I noticed that the business was paying for someone to change the fake flowers in reception once a month. When I asked if the art could be changed, the answers were that it was too hard, too expensive, etc.

Around this time, I was also speaking to artist friends, who decried how expensive and difficult it can be to get their artwork out. Consequently, there are stacks of artwork just sitting in storage.That was my a-ha moment. What if I could connect the two?

ISB: And please tell us briefly how the enterprise works in a practical sense.

SK: It’s pretty straightforward – we provide art “as a service”. That means for our clients, we first get an understanding of what type of workplace environment they want to create, along with how many pieces they want to display. Every three months we then curate, deliver, and hang new artworks to refresh the workplace, all of which is sourced from local emerging artists.

We charge a flat $50 per piece per month. Artists receive 25 per cent of the fee, and their art is also displayed for sale. In other words, we’re paying artists to get their art out on display!

ISB: What was the biggest challenge you faced in getting the enterprise off the ground?

SK: The biggest challenge was understanding exactly what problem we were solving, and for whom. I think that whilst the idea of “changing artwork” is quite straightforward, we had a lot to learn in terms of who makes the decisions, when are decisions made, what their pain points are, and how much they were willing to spend.

The more we understood exactly what problem we’re solving, the more we could confidently talk to prospective clients, generate new business, and create

opportunities for local artists.

ISB: How did ColourSpace’s participation in QUT’s Collider Accelerator help in its growth?

SK: The program did three things for us:

  1. Push us to further clarify the problems we’re solving.
  2. Help us refine our message.
  3. Give us confidence and validation that we were on the right path.

Once we returned to Melbourne from the program – which was based in Brisbane – we tripled our revenue in a matter of months.

ISB: What is your vision for the venture in the next couple of years?

SK: Our overarching vision is to transform cities around the world into giant galleries that sustain and support their local artist communities. In the next couple of years, our goal would be to make Melbourne and Sydney fully sustainable with a presence established in at least another Australian city. With any luck, we’ll also have an international presence by this point too, whether that’s over in New Zealand or South East Asia.

ISB: Finally, what is the number one lesson you’ve learnt on your journey you’d share with others looking to start a social enterprise?

SK: I think social enterprises are an exciting approach to creating meaningful opportunities in our society. However, the biggest lesson I want to share for anyone wanting to start a social enterprise is this: Be passionate about solving a customer problem so that we can solve social problems.

What I mean by that is that it’s important to understand how to do good business first and foremost. This means understanding value propositions, pricing strategies, understanding business models and profit margins, etc. This is what allows us to sustainably create positive change for social and environmental issues.

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