Naysawn Naderi is a Canadian engineer turned global entrepreneur. Naysawn was picked up by Microsoft scouts during his senior year at McGill University in Montreal, Quebec, and spent the next four years in Seattle, Washington developing and releasing Microsoft Test Professional, speaking at conferences around the world, and drinking free soda from the Microsoft Commons. Despite the long, running list of possible entrepreneurial ventures that he adds to almost daily, Art Sumo became a reality because of Naysawn’s commitment to giving artists in developing countries a viable way to continue their craft while making a living, and to increase the amount of international art available to North Americans.
Naysawn Naderi enjoys espresso with condensed milk, typing away on his laptop, and finding great deals while traveling. Art Sumo is his first venture, launched on May 5th, 2011.
What are you working on right now?
I am currently working on ArtSumo. Art Sumo strives to make original artwork affordable for everyone while promoting the work of accomplished but under-appreciated artists in the small corners of the world. We do so by scouring the globe to provide our members with amazing painting at an exclusive, members-only price each day.
What does your typical day look like?
I have very few typical days. I tend to spend my time intermixed coding up improvements to Art Sumo, looking at art from around the globe, plotting out high level strategy for Art Sumo and drinking as much coffee as possible.
3 trends that excite you?
1. The world is getting smaller. Just today, I spoke to friends in Ghana, Vietnam and the United States. Each of those calls were completely free to make because of voice over IP technology. When it is free and easy to communicate with anyone in the world, the world starts to feel a lot smaller and it becomes a lot easier to do international trade.
2. Wifi everywhere. I have been fortunate to have traveled to many parts of the world, and while traveling, have found wifi almost everywhere – in small villages in India, in every café in Istanbul, and even in parks in Montreal. When wifi is freely available everywhere, it becomes a lot easier to move around while running an internet-based company.
3. Barriers to bootstrapping decreasing. Today, it is easy to grab a free CMS, free HTML template and free DB and throw a site online in a day. The amount of free but great tools available corresponds directly to the increasing ease of being able to bootstrap a company with a few friends, as you don’t need to break the bank in order to get started.
How do you bring ideas to life?
I bring ideas to life using a constant feedback process.
Ideas come to me all the time, either during intentional brainstorming, in the shower or at the gym; I use note-taking apps on my iPhone to write them down so I don’t forget. At some point, I run these ideas over with Art Sumo colleagues. The ones that people like, I mock up using Balsamiq Mockups. I then share these mock ups with approximately 50 friends on Facebook, specifically chosen because of their agreement to be feedback-giving machines. For the ideas that resonate, I code up or blog about, and I always share the final version with colleagues or friends before they go live on Art Sumo.
I tend to make a decent number of coding and grammatical mistakes, so I’m lucky to have a supportive group of friends always eager to help out, tell me when I’m wrong and offer solutions.
What inspires you?
I love waking up in the morning knowing that I can work on improving the world as I see fit.
What is one mistake you’ve made, and what did you learn from it?
We made a big mistake by trying to launch Art Sumo like Hipster. I was so impressed that Hipster got such huge amounts of press and 10,000 signups by basically revealing nothing but a nice splash page and a viral, social signup process that I tried doing the same thing without much research. While I likewise got to the front page of Hacker News, we just didn’t have the supporting press lined up to help the launch and the launch mostly fell flat. We did gain a good number of sign-ups from the Hacker News front-page, but unfortunately, most that joined weren’t in our target audience; they were more interested in figuring out what the site was about than purchasing art. I think our time would have been better spent targeting art-related press and launching with a product that explained its purpose.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
Like many entrepreneurs, I have a huge list of ideas I would love to pursue in the future. Unlike prevailing wisdom in Silicon Valley, I believe there is a lot of value in ideas, especially when they go against established norms. None the less, I’d like to give your readers some suggestions.
I’m realizing that people are starting to see a lot of value in curation online and I think people would appreciate curation when applied to unusual categories. While it’s fantastic the number of options we have available to us online, when placed with so many options, people often become paralyzed by the number of choices and this paralysis leads people not to buy. This is described well one of my favorite books, the paradox of choice. I believe there would be a good business idea to curate specific things such as music, movies, dating, local restaurants, what to do in town, etc. Google seems to be working on this problem as they recently purchased Sparkbuy, who was seeking to do this for the laptop market.
What do you read every day, and why?
Instapaper: I find it to be an incredibly useful app to read while killing time out of the house.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read, and why?
‘Four Steps to the Epiphany,’ by Steven Bank. While it definitely doesn’t make for light reading and tends to focus more on building business-to-business companies, it does provide a revealing picture of why most start-ups fail, as well as giving some practical suggestions for making sure that yours doesn’t. The book boils down to a key point: the companies who regularly talk to their customers and make adjustments based upon their feedback are the ones that succeed, and the rest usually fail.
What is your favorite gadget, app or piece of software that helps you every day?
I honestly don’t know how I would live my life without Skype. The whole Art Sumo team is scattered all over the world and we rely upon Skype to communicate.
Three people we should follow on Twitter, and why?
A confession: I don’t get much utility out of Twitter. I know many other intelligent people are fans, but I find that most folks on Twitter are there primarily promoting relatively random things, so reading through my Twitter stream seems like a barrage of infomercials asking to randomize me. While I’m happy to use it as a promotion tool, I can’t honestly recommend to follow anyone on Twitter and prefer keeping in touch with the sites and people I follow via RSS.
Who would you love to see interviewed on IdeaMensch?
Ryan Carson of Carsonified. I would also like to see interviews with folks who have bucked raising capital so that they can create a life-style business.
When is the last time you laughed out loud? What caused it?
Last Friday night, I was waiting in line to eat $2 chow mein in downtown Montreal (I love me some $2 chow mein; time should be measured in relation to its invention!). At the front of the line, there was a couple kissing passionately. My buddy said to me, “Those guys don’t seem to really want chow mein right now.” A stranger belted out, “Yeah, that or they REALLY want chow mein.” I died a little.
Why did you chose to start Art Sumo?
A couple of years ago, I met an artist named Abhishek while traveling through New Delhi, India; Abhishek, along with the rest of his immediate family, specialized in extremely intricate depictions of the story of Krishna, and to me, they were more impressive than anything I had ever seen. Yet despite the incredible richness of the paintings versus the incomparably cheap price, he recounted how difficult it was to find enthusiastic buyers in his local market. I couldn’t help but think about the number of friends and family back home who would absolutely love to hang Abhishek’s art on their own walls and how expensive comparable work would be at home galleries.
I decided to create Art Sumo not only to connect art lovers with struggling artists like Abhishek creating amazing work around the globe, but also to shun the current attitude towards art: artwork doesn’t have to be exorbitantly expensive to be worth collecting.
You travelled all over the middle east and europe while coding up Art Sumo? Do you have any tips on traveling while creating a company for our readers?
Just do it! Trust me, the hardest part is buying that first plane ticket.
Living in many parts of the world is much less expensive than living in North America. When you’re starting a company, it’s really important to keep costs low, so living in a place where the cost of living is much cheaper makes a lot of sense. I lived for two months in the south of Spain while preparing to launch Art Sumo. For a fully furnished, two bedroom apartment in the center of the city, I paid approximately $300/month. How can you argue with that?
That said, be careful how much you travel around. Generally, I find that there is a serious tax to moving from place to place, because for each place you go, you need to spend approximately one week setting up (renting a place, getting sheets, finding a gym, etc). Keep in mind that while you’re setting up, it’s still time away from the business, so you must be able to plan for that. Also – if you’re living in a place that generally is very chill (eg. South of Spain!), it can be hard to motivate yourself to work 10 hour days when everyone else is getting up at 11 am only to take a siesta 2 hours later.
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