The Evolution of a Startup Made for Artists: A Case Study

Published on

August 17, 2020

“If someone told us a month ago that in our first 28 days we’d have 150+ artists on board, get 160+ orders and sell for more than ₹1 Lakh — we would’ve laughed at the thought!”
“In the midst of an ongoing pandemic, who would’ve thought that a startup in this field would achieve so much?”
- Sarthak Baijal & Trishala Santhanam, Founders of 21 Art Democracy

Whether your life is chaotic, frozen in a monotonous routine, or dull and uninspiring, art can be the “knight in shining armour” that you’re waiting for to break you free from this cycle. Keeping this in mind along with the aim to empower artists to take their work to higher levels, 21 Art Democracy was born. To put it simply, it’s a platform for artists to sell their work on merchandise.

While mainstream e-commerce platforms focus on products from retail brands, 21AD curates, markets and sells products designed by regular people; hence, the name 21 Art Democracy — art for, of and by the people.

About the Brand

21AD is tailored to be more than just a means to monetise your work — it is, first and foremost, a community for people pursuing diverse forms of art to get together, learn from each other, and benefit a larger audience than what they’re accustomed to with their creativity and skills. The artist only has to create the designs and add them on merchandise electronically; all the physical operations such as printing, shipping and associated operations are handled by 21AD. This means that the artist is only accountable for their designs.

The website went live in May 2020. 21AD had a small, tentative entry into this field. Trishala Santhanam and Sarthak Baijal— the founders — themselves designed some basic products to start off with. After acquiring just 3 artists, it could be described as a niche platform with not much variety in designs — despite having multiple types of products — and not many artists to boast either. However, the best and defining trait of this platform is that artists only have to invest their time and effort — and not a single rupee. The profits are decided by the artists, so how much they earn is fully up to them; from start to end, the process of earning is straightforward, transparent and crystal clear.

The primary fuel for its growth and success today is, as you may guess, marketing. You can learn two things from the story of 21AD: the difficulties in kick starting a business in its field (especially in the midst of a pandemic), as well as the power that even the simplest forms of marketing has in making any kind of startup a success.

Challenges to Overcome

Being a newcomer to both e-commerce as well as the field of monetising art, some of the first hurdles it had to overcome were funding, marketing itself, and being able to establish enough faith in artists so that they’d be willing to get on board.

21AD was founded and is presently still owned and operated by Vartalaap Consulting Services, a branding and marketing firm based in Bangalore, India. Funding was and is taken care of by them. Due to this being a new and fresh platform, faith was hard to establish — as is the case with any startup. This made recruiting artists difficult. Additionally, some artists were just apprehensive of taking such big and legal steps in their relationship with art. “Is this a permanent deal? Does this mean I can’t put my art up on any other platform? Does this mean I can’t work with anyone else?” While these questions may seem trivial to some, for artists — especially young ones — these were the most important factors to consider.

From a purely commercial point of view too, an artist wouldn’t want to invest their time and effort into a platform that didn’t have many — or any, initially — customers yet. How could they ensure that the platform wasn’t a scam? Will customers get quality products? “Won’t our efforts be in vain if the quality of our art isn’t matched by the quality in the products?”

Plus, 21AD was born amidst a pandemic, which introduced its own unique issues: inability to deliver to all zones initially, temporary halt on international deliveries and the general unwillingness from consumers to trust online shopping.

Transformation & Growth

Collections of items available on the website:
Instagram page of 21AD:

After a gestation period of 45 days following May, 21AD was officially launched on July 6. Marketing commenced from this day onwards, and artists began to be recruited in a streamlined and orderly manner. Vartalaap’s team reached out to all the artists they knew personally — these thus became the first few and earliest artists of the platform. With a heightened pace and force in marketing, the circle of contacts kept expanding.

  • Marketing took place via Instagram ads and promotions.
  • An Instagram page was created a few days after the launch. The posts consisted pictures of raw art as well the products they were on — this would enable people to both visit the website to shop (because of seeing the product) as well as explore the tagged artists’ page (because of seeing the art), which lead to increased traction for 21AD’s website as well as the artists’ art pages. This reinforces the mission of 21AD to be a community for artists in addition to being a marketplace.
  • LinkedIn will be used soon, to further expand the reach: the style of marketing and the purpose of using LinkedIn has a corporate angle; 21AD’s success stories and growth will be shared to highlight its journey from a business standpoint.
  • While 21AD handles marketing and promotions for all products, artists market their own products via their personal social media accounts and WhatsApp.
  • WhatsApp and Instagram serve as the best platforms for advertising products to family members and close friends.

Results and Progress

  • Week 1: 55+ artists came on board, 45+ orders were placed selling over 80 products, more than 6000 SKUs were in place and the Instagram page garnered over a 100 followers.
  • Week 2: There were well over 90 artists by the end of the second week, and the number of products on sale increased tenfold from 80 to 800. SKUs were 6000 in number and the number of followers doubled.
  • Week 3 (present day): With over 1100 products available now, amassing 150 orders and 23000+ SKUs, there are now more than 125 artists on board and over 350 followers on the Instagram page.

(Note: the 3 weeks mentioned are those that followed July 6, 2020).

What’s most notable is that ₹1 lakh in sales was achieved in just a month! This was the result of strenuous and non stop marketing and advertising done by every member on board — in Vartalaap’s team, as well as the artists that are a part of this venture.


With the steady and consistent style of business that 21AD is adhering to, this growth was a given. Bear in mind that these achievements took place in the midst of an ongoing pandemic, which brought very real problems into picture. In spite of these problems, 21AD has done extraordinarily well for a business that came into existence during a pandemic, and is still experiencing its first few months of sales in this trying time. We can only imagine how much more it would have achieved if this wasn’t a time of crisis. Of course, the growth so far only guarantees that it will be (like it already has been) unstoppable in its upward trajectory.

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