Startup snapshot: Allowing African artists to sidestep the gallery curator

Sihlesenkosi Majola

Wezart is a South African-based art marketplace that helps local African artists sell to the rest of the world. Co-founder Sihlesenkosi Majola answers our questions.

1. Give us your elevator pitch.

Wezart is an online marketplace of African art. Our aim is to help artists that capture the new age identity of Africa. We help emerging artists test the worth of their artwork to our collectors and customers, rather than to test them with a gallery curator. Wezart helps African artists prosper from their creativity and focus on creative art.

2. How did you finance your startup?

We financed our startup ourselves. Most startup competitions look for innovative ideas, but as we were seen as just an ordinary ecommerce store, we did not get any outside funding. This prompted us to fund and build the platform ourselves.

3. If you were given US$1m to invest in your company now, where would it go?

It would go to marketing. We would host four exhibitions across the country and host an online auction. 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.

4. What risks does your business face?

We work in a closed market where high-value art collectors are guarded by gallery owners as gatekeepers.

5. So far, what has proven to be the most successful form of marketing?

Having a proper PR campaign has had a greater ROI for us than social media marketing has. Our customers are very niche and this creates a very small pool of clients to reach. Having a good PR campaign targeting specific magazines and blogs has helped us grow our user base of artists by 20% month-on-month.

6. Tell us about your biggest mistake, and what you’ve learnt from it?

Doing too many things at once was our biggest problem. We tried to be both a fashion and art marketplace. This became an issue as one side of the business started to take over the most important side of the business. Initially added as a crowd puller, fashion started becoming a crutch that was taking us back instead of moving us forward. In 2018, we finally decided to focus exclusively on African art. That narrowed our focus to what was important and what we understood better.