What is your full name, title, and business name?
Loke Shao Xun, Founder, patronart.com
Give us a summary of your business in 200 words or less.
Patronart is an online marketplace connecting artists with art lovers. We specialize in turning people’s photos and stories into treasured paintings. If you can dream it, we can paint it.
How did the idea for your business come about?
I was very close to my grandfather growing up and when he passed away I wanted a painting of this man who was a huge influence on my life. Talking to artists, I realized that there was a lack of a platform to get what I wanted, and there was no good way to go about the process. I set out to solve the problem and it’s been very well received with artists all over the US.
What was the turning point for your business? Was there a moment you knew you had something special?
Going into the business, I expected fairly standard commission requests of couples and pets. But something about the website is capturing people’s imaginations and a large portion of the requests we receive are fairly fantastical and imaginative. It’s a really fulfilling experience bringing these requests to life and seeing the client’s reaction when they receive their dream painting.
What does it mean to you to be an entrepreneur and business owner?
Being an entrepreneur means having a unique perspective on solving a problem or inefficiency in the market. Being a business owner means building out a system/organization that can solve that problem in a financially sustainable and repeatable way.
What does the city of Columbus mean to your business?
Columbus is one of the best places to start a business. It’s the perfect intersection of small town cost of living alongside big city opportunities and connections. It also has an amazing underground community of artists, creatives and business leaders. I’m not sure Patronart could have happened anywhere else!
Are you from Columbus? If not, please explain what brought you to here and ultimately what made you stay.
I’m originally from Singapore and came to Columbus to attend The Ohio State University. I registered Patronart the same day I graduated and have been working on it ever since.
What’s the number one piece of advice you’d give to anyone wanting to start a business?
Listen to everyone, make your own decisions, just do it and learn on the fly. Learn to identify your fears and excuses and eventually you will be able to make your decisions based on caution and courage, rather than fear and insecurity.
What do you wish you knew about entrepreneurship before starting your business?
UX/UI web and graphic design.
What’s the most challenging part of your business (i.e, what keeps you up at night)?
Keeping customer and employee interactions genuine and human but also scalable.
Every business owner has a flaw. What’s yours?
Overly optimistic and stubborn. It takes me a while to course correct once I go down a path. I try to balance that by weighing the decision to go down new paths very carefully as it means time and work for everyone involved.
Why do you think most business owners fail? What has made you different?
I couldn’t say. I have not interacted with many failed businesses.
What was your biggest mistake and what did it cost you?
When I was starting out I relied too much on people who presented themselves as experts but did not have an actual understanding of the kind of business we were trying to build. I’ve learned to ask more questions to ensure that anyone I work with is a good fit rather than projecting my own hopes on others.
What tool has helped you the most for your business (invoicing, accounting, shipping, plugin for website, etc.)?
Basecamp and slack are great tools for helping everyone in the company to be organized and communicate well.
When did you know it was time to expand your business, make your first hire, etc.?
Whenever we are able to figure out an aspect of the business to the point where we are able to establish specific, repeatable tasks to add value is usually the time we can bring in someone new to handle it.
What is something that you did that was a game changer for your business?
I started sharing my vision and building a team around me that shared that vision, allowing it to evolve with them.
What was an idea that you spent a lot of time on or thought would make a big difference in your business that didn’t pan out?
Some ad campaigns. We try to learn from them and figure out why they didn’t work and what we can do better next time.
What is something that your business spends a lot of money on that’s worth it?
Web development and design.
What is something you’re working on now that you’re very excited about?
An upgraded version of the commissions process that really streamlines the process for our clients.
What form of marketing is the most valuable for you?
Who is your best Columbus resource (accountant, lawyer, marketer, etc.)?
Stefan Thomas, our attorney. He’s been amazing at advising us on navigating interpersonal contracts and international deals.
Also, the Columbus Idea Foundry, the super awesome, world-renowned co-working space our office is based in. I’ve met so many wonderful people there and being in that kind of environment just inspires us to pursue our mission that much harder.
Who do you vent to when you have a business problem?
My sister, she’s one of the smartest people I know and she works with startups and companies in London so she’s always able to provide good advice.
Where do you see your business in the next 10 years?
We would be the go-to brand for custom art commissions. Whenever businesses and consumers feel the need for custom artwork, they’d turn to us. It’s a good-sized niche to be in.
What was the single worst decision you made regarding your business and how’d you recover?
Fortunately, we have not made too many major missteps. Everything we do is discussed as a team and each consequence is carefully weighed. Any imminent failures are quickly analyzed and stamped out.
When you’re stressed or overwhelmed, what do you do to overcome this feeling?
I play music and hang out with friends. It’s very important to have a support system and creative pursuits to take your mind off things so you can approach them with a fresh perspective later.
What’s one component of entrepreneurship that’s much different than what most people think?
Entrepreneurship is not necessarily about being an obviously inspirational or glamorous individual. I think that naturally comes with the time spent honing your personal philosophy, being an efficient problem solver and learning to work with your team. Especially when you’re first starting out, it can get pretty gritty and rough around the edges.
What’s your end goal with the business? Is this something you want to pass down to your kids or would you like to eventually sell?
I’m happy with either outcome. I like money, but would be hard-pressed to find a more interesting business idea to pursue with my time.
How would your business fare if the economy hit a nasty downturn like it did in 2008? Have you prepared for this?
Whatever comes, we’re small and agile enough to adapt. A bad economy could encourage more people to focus on pursuing a career in art.
What other entrepreneur do you look up to most?
My dad. He brought his family out of abject poverty and is one of the most intense personalities you’ll ever come across.
If you had to tell a visitor one thing to do/see/eat in Columbus, what would it be?
The Wild Goose Creative is an amazing non-profit gallery that has exciting events happening every single day. It’s a great place to dive into the local art scene and meet fantastic people.
The three cup chicken in Joy’s Village is transcendental. I’ve been all over the world and it’s one of the best dishes I’ve had.