How data centric management is transforming the art world An interview with ARTERNAL Founder Sean Green

by Caira Moreira

I sat down with Sean Green, CEO of ARTERNAL, to discuss his business automation platform that is building the largest network of art dealers, collectors and art in the world. ARTERNAL is an all-in-one platform that provides client relationship management, inventory management, sales workflow, and financial integration for art professionals. Their clients include galleries, dealers, advisors, collectors, and auction specialists. Founded by Green and his co-founders, Steve Miller and Raymond Nguyen, the platform was created with the art dealer's experience and needs in mind literally changing how they drive sales.

In this interview Green shares what drives him, and how his Jamaican heritage, and Canadian upbringing, led him to a career in tech and the creation of a platform that is revolutionizing an otherwise staid industry. Interview is lightly edited for clarity.

Q: Who is Sean Green, how would you describe yourself to a stranger?

A: Sean is energetic and super positive, and a hustler. My work ethic comes from my mom and seeing her day in and day out. I want to see people that look like me thrive and survive. I do wear my culture on my back. For me it is multifaceted, I am very focused, and believe in equity.

Q: I want to understand how this looks for our culture and how it cultivates the next generation of artists. How do you feel your background has influenced you to do what you are doing now?

A: There is always the joke that Jamaicans have ten different jobs. I was born in Jamaica, where my mother is from, but I grew up in Toronto, Canada. My mom’s mom died when she was five, and her dad died when she was 16, so she had to fend for herself. She was self-assured, and took on adult responsibilities at an early age. I embody aspects of her, from her will to win and her determination to succeed, coupled with her good-hearted nature. She was the first entrepreneur I ever knew. She was cleaning the homes of doctors, lawyers, and dentists. I was able to watch her build her business. It is no coincidence that I have a client relationship management company in the art world.

Q: What is a personal antidote that really connects you to the art world?

A: Art dealers will tell you that it’s all about the relationship, it is how the business is driven and relationships are how I got to where I am today. Seeing my mom as a businesswoman at such an early age, and as a father to a son and two daughters, I think it is important to change the game for women. My daughters have to grow up in this world. I am very focused on what I have to do to make the path they have to trod easier.

Q: Other than your central family unit what outside influences drove you into tech and art?

A: We learned piano through Canada’s Royal Conservatory, and there were always paintings around us. My father bought me my first computer when I was around 10 years old. From getting my own computer, to learning different types of software early, and then studying software engineering and computer science in school, all of that led to me to this point. I was the first in my family to attend university. I didn't have the knowledge base of my white male counterparts, yet, I have been part of a startup hedge fund which provided me an opportunity to learn the business. From that experience, one of my friends and I created a startup called Net Rentals.

Q: How did these prior opportunities get you to ARTERNAL?

A: My “failures” showed me where I needed to be, and what my role in this world was, but I think empathy got us to where we are now. My friend let me know she was going to become an artist full time. Before that, I didn’t know any artists. Our focus at ARTERNAL is on the commercial side of the business.

Q: Your work ethic has been multidimensional but in regards to this CRM platform what makes it similar to who you are, and different than what is currently out there?

A: Back in Toronto one of my advisors told me ‘time is your most precious resource’. That has a direct monetary correlation on a business, yet it can sometimes be hard for people to grasp. We were at the New Museum Incubator in NYC and I was observing how art dealers and galleries worked. Our first question to them was “where is your CRM”? Every other company outside of the art world has client relationship management tools so how are you functioning? The responses didn’t align with the scale of business some of them were conducting.

Q: What is the workflow of the art professionals you are interacting with?

A. If you are doing on average five art fairs a year; six to eight exhibitions out of your gallery; and traveling around the world, yet relying on older practices, it isn’t the most efficient way to achieve your goals. In deep dives with dealers, I shared that disruptions in their workflow resulted in wasted time. if you redesign your workflow and how you get things done, then you can spend the time you save with your client, building new relationships and driving revenue. At ARTERNAL we focus on how you get the job done through streamlining. Bespoke emailing is extremely key to this effort. You want to optimize the workflow while interjecting a personal touch.

Q: What is your take on data, and how ARTERNAL optimizes it?

A: Data is the future. We have to understand the engagement behind why and what we are doing! Everything is digital and digital means data. For us, we want to help people own their data, make better business decisions through the lens of data, and take less time to get the job done. In the art world that means more time with your client.

Q: The art world is very old school in regards to how we go about projects. The only CRM company that comes to mind is Artbase. How are you pushing this new way of thinking?

A: Cloud storage is the standard today, yet how data is stored in the art world has barely changed. We need to change the dialogue of CRM in the art world and then connect that into inventory management that supports the asset side of the business.

Q: How do you see this communication playing out?

A: We see this as two-way communication. You can see activity related to the artwork as well as client activity. This provides a 360 degree view of what’s happening, which allows you to understand the business better. Business automation tools are extremely important.

Q: Do you feel like this is specific for small, mid, blue-chip galleries. Who is the target audience?

A: In New York, we visit lots of smaller galleries on the lower east side, and for them, there is an issue of being at scale with the blue-chip galleries in terms of information and organization. We have to create tools for these people first.

Q: Regardless of the size of the galley, it appears leveraging data has been overlooked. How is ARTERNAL evolving to meet the need?

A: As we started testing the waters we realized that the larger galleries were working identically to smaller galleries, but they just had more people to get the job done. Employing our data-driven approach we now have blue-chip galleries and auction houses as clients. What is key for us is building infrastructure for the ecosystem to operate on.

Q: Can you elaborate on the different facets of the art world ecosystem?

A: If you think about different players there are auction houses, private sales, the underserved collector, and the artist. This whole ecosystem has very old-school ways of operating. If we can build great tools for these disparate constituents then we can calibrate the marketplace for these interactions through the lens of data and help people connect more seamlessly to get business done.

Q: How has the COVID-19 pandemic influenced the course of ARTERNAL?

A: 24 months ago, I was thinking about how to tighten up our businesses. How can I become more aligned with what shifts the needle? How can I operate more efficiently? During the pandemic, people were forced to work differently while trying to get the same job done. You have no art fairs or openings to attend. The constant was that the art world trades on information, and that information is driven by data. Data drives transparency and now that we are operating in an online space there is an even greater need for transparency, especially in pricing. All this plays into ARTERNAL sweet spot. We have built better tools for working, for the cloud, and for team assignment distribution.

Q: What did you see as a central disruptor for these gallery professionals as it pertains to ARTERNAL?

A: Understanding your data and communication tools which are typically housed in the same place but are now in different locations. Now you need one central unit of information, that is what is key. People were coming to us wanting to know how to work better.

Q: What’s in store for ARTERNAL now, with the pandemic slowing and the world opening?

A: We see light at the end of the tunnel with the world opening up. But being at the epicenter of the art world we also see smaller galleries closing while major galleries aren't leveraging newer and better tools. ARTERNAL is built on working smarter and providing you the tools to understand your client base. We need to understand the new buyer and their habits. Our mission is to enable our constituents to understand how to connect today.

Q. Lastly, which artists are you watching now, both established and new?

A: Rashid Johnson @rashidjohnson (Established) and Monica Ikegwu @monica165 (New) IG Sean: @sean_arternal IG ARTERNAL: @_arternal_ Twitter Sean: @sean_arternal Twitter ARTERNAL: @_ARTERNAL_ LinkedIn Sean: LinkedIn ARTERNAL: