How This Tech CEO Could Change The Art Industry

For NYC entrepreneur Alexandra Chemla, it started as a solution to a common problem. As a gallery assistant at the time, she was tasked with being responsible for the three-ring binders that contained all the info about the artwork on display — putting pertinent details at everyone's fingertips but in an old-fashioned way. “There was an obvious need for a digital alternative to what I believed was a very antiquated process,” Chemla tells us, which is why, at 23 years old, she created the app ArtBinder.

Blending the worlds of art and technology, her five-year-old startup has refined the process and pains Chemla dealt with when she entered the industry. And furthermore, her app is used by hundreds of galleries across more than 60 countries. To fully understand how she innovated her way to CEO, we teamed up with Kit and Ace and its own signature innovation, Technical Cashmere™ — a one-of-a-kind, low-maintenance performance fabric — to get to know Chemla for part two of The Next Set, our four-part series celebrating fellow innovators. Ahead, we find out what it takes to blend new tools with old traditions, what experiences technology can never replace, and how being a little oblivious can actually work in your favor.
Photographed by Aingeru Zorita.
Kit and Ace T-shirt, Yves Saint Laurent pants, Alison Lou necklace, Chemla's own bracelets.
What was the first step in creating an app? Were there any major lessons you learned as you got into it?
"I didn’t know what it would take to build an app or software or a business. I thought it would take several months, but several months in, I realized it was a much bigger project. What I’ve learned is that there is no endpoint for developing software. If you want to remain on the cutting edge and remain relevant, that means constantly refining, innovating."

So once you had the technology in place, how did you actually make a splash in the industry?
"Working at a gallery opened up doors in a lot of ways. I would cold-call people at other galleries and talk to them as a colleague, as an equal, as someone who was experiencing the same pain points. A lot of the relationships started from there. By the time we had a prototype of the app in beta, I had been in conversation with galleries for five to 10 months. They were already really excited about it."

What have been some of the points of your journey when you realized you had something special on your hands?
"The first time was when we had 10 of the biggest galleries in the world using ArtBinder during Art Basel 2011 — just one month after we launched. The second was about a year ago when I overheard someone use ArtBinder as a verb. As in, 'Can you ArtBinder that to me?!' It was a great moment!"
Photographed by Aingeru Zorita.
Kit and Ace T-shirt, Céline pants, Catbird necklace, Alison Lou necklace, Chemla's own bracelets.
Your job straddles the worlds of technology and art, both industries that are filled with so many points of view. How do you stand out?
"In tech, there is a lot of value placed on disruption. ArtBinder stands out in that it actually aims to enhance an industry and enable it to run smoothly. We run on the belief that we can be innovative without blowing the place up. In the art world, ironically, we stand out by receding into the background: introducing a sleek design that lets the art speak for itself and saving gallerists hours of time."

What do you wear to balance being a CEO but also working in a creative field?
"I like to keep it casual but chic. Since our office is located in Chelsea [by the galleries], I find myself running to see clients all the time. I definitely can’t run in heels, so I love a cute pair of flats with jeans and a simple shirt. I anchor my work wardrobe with basic staple pieces that I can dress up or down, depending on where I’m going. From there, it’s all about accessories, especially jewelry by my sister, Alison Lou."
Photographed by Aingeru Zorita.
Left: Kit and Ace sweater, Bally skirt. Right: Kit and Ace T-shirt and pants, Won Hundred jacket, Christian Louboutin heels, Alison Lou necklace.
Twenty-three is a pretty young age to start a business. Are there any advantages to taking this leap of faith so early in your career?
"One of the advantages of being as young and as green as I was is that I was oblivious to a lot of the realities and slightly naive about what it would take. I didn’t have as big of a hurdle in terms of my own fears or insecurities because I didn’t know what I was getting myself into. In many ways, oblivion can be bliss — not knowing what’s around the corner prevents you from fearing it."

Do you think art and technology have been reluctant to merge? Are there any parts of the art world that could never be replaced by technology?
"I think it's fair to say that for a long time there was a disconnect between tech and art, in that there was a disconnect between tech and non-tech in general. The reason it happened slightly later in the art world than most industries definitely has to do with fear of technology replacing the in-person viewing experience. The in-person experience can be advanced — people can have more information about the piece that they’re looking at — but seeing artwork in virtual reality or whatever will never be the same as viewing it in person.

"Also, sales will always be very relationship-driven, especially on the high end of the market. Sellers really want to know who their buyers are, and buyers put a lot of emphasis on knowing the sellers and trusting them."

What else can we expect from ArtBinder in the future?
"We’ve recently experienced a huge amount of growth, which has been really exciting. We’re seeing more than 15,000 works added to the platform each month. And we’re coming out with some exciting new products and features in the coming weeks. I don't want to spoil any surprises, so definitely keep an eye on what’s next!"
Photographed by Aingeru Zorita.
Kit and Ace T-shirt, Céline pants, Catbird necklace, Alison Lou necklace, Chemla's own bracelets.

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