MadeMay is a startup bringing back the human touch to art, giving thoughtful people around the world an opportunity to get custom, hand-made art. Customers can upload a photo, describe what they want painted and choose from more than 400 professional artists to turn their photo or idea into a real, amazing painting. “Whether you want a portrait of someone, a pet portrait, landscape, abstract, sculpture, and more, a MadeMay artist is ready to turn your request into reality,” says founder and CEO Rei Llazani.
Explains Daniel Billington, director of content, “We recognized many injustices in the online art world, both from an artist’s standpoint and a customer’s standpoint. In short, artists were spending a ridiculous amount of time ‘client hunting’ and many online platform’s algorithms used ‘bottom of the barrel’ pricing, devaluing an artist’s work. On the customer side, it was difficult and overwhelming to find an artist right for you; plus, customers weren’t sure if they were getting ripped off, because commissioning artwork is, essentially, buying something that doesn’t exist yet. Additionally, we witnessed many competitors secretly exploiting overseas labor — primarily in China and Ukraine — in factories with rows and rows of artists. Ultimately, we saw so many things wrong.”
Inspired to create a platform and process to make it easy for people to commission art from independent and talented artists, Llazani launched MadeMay in 2020 (originally named Requiren) that uses an algorithm the company expressly developed to “match-make” people wanting custom art with its artists, including up-front pricing based on each specific request. For instance, a four-subject portrait painting will cost a little more than a two-subject portrait painting, and the algorithm is able to accurately reflect this pricing based on different artists.
“As a double-sided marketplace (for artists and customers), the easy part was getting artists on our platform,” Llazani says. “We were very transparent with our goals and objectives; they loved it and were completely on board.” And, noting that many artists were hit extremely hard during COVID, he says MadeMay’s platform “helped many artists earn income through art commissions from customers around the world.” But, although MadeMay’s artists are vetted professionals and although the business has a money-back guarantee policy, Llazani acknowledges that building trust when nobody knows who you are can be an obstacle. “Since most orders are above $100, it is naturally difficult for some people to feel confident in placing an order on a new platform.”
Observing that startups are chaotic in nature and continuing to push forward is critical, Llazani encourages his team to not worry too much about making the right or wrong decision or screwing up. “Embedded in our early stages is the element of freedom, experimentation and comfort in failure,” he says. “If we make the wrong call, it’s okay; we can learn from it and rapidly move in another direction. As Thomas Edison said, ‘I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.’”
Says Llazani, “Although it sounds cliche, focusing on providing value and giving customers a great experience is how we intend to overcome our challenges, no matter how long it takes.”