#SWAAYthenarrative
BETA
Close

How One Entrepreneur is Bringing Art to You, Wherever You Are

Culture

If you’ve arrived at the stage in your company where you’ve officially moved into your own space, then you know that with the excitement (and ahem, bills) comes the stress of figuring out your brand aesthetic. Will you have an open-office floor plan or cubicles? A fun kitchen or bigger bathrooms? Conference rooms or corner offices?


And what about the artwork?

Imagine if you didn’t have to invest in expensive artwork but could still give your employees a glimpse into the world of some of the most influential artists in history. Thanks to Dot Bustelo, the founder and CEO of Loupe, you can. What’s Loupe? A technology and sales company that allows its customers to stream artwork from around the globe. You can also guest-curate your own gallery via your Apple TV or by webstreaming. Love a piece so much that you want to own a print - or the original? You can do that, too.

With the online art market valued at $2.64 billion in 2016, Bustelo has definitely tapped into something - and people are paying attention. Since its inception, Loupe has reached the coveted top position for ‘Lifestyle App’ on Apple TV in 35 countries, and is in the top ten in 75 countries.

Here, Bustelo talks about her background, what’s next and what she wish she knew before becoming an entrepreneur:

What’s your background? Have the arts always been part of your life?

I worked at Apple for many years on the Worldwide Product Marketing Team. My role was to travel around the country introducing Apple’s professional music software, Logic Pro, and music production techniques to world touring bands, DJs and producers.

Dot Bustelo Courtesy of Affixmusic

I am also a long-time electronic music producer myself and started my career in music equipment sales, which all led to this role at Apple. The vision of Loupe was born while working in the music industry, spending long hours in recording studios, and constantly looking for visual inspiration to support the creative energy in the room.

So cool. Have you always found art to be relaxing?

For as far back as I can remember, I’ve sought out environments where I could quiet the mind, be in a zone to relax, be comfortable, and most of all, be inspired. Dim the lights, enjoy some candles, add one blue light and pour the right beverage, and it'll create the zone and ambience in my studio to work on music.

I’d often turn on old 1940s movies without the sound – movies that starred Cary Grant, Gregory Peck, Audrey Hepburn, Lana Turner or my other favorite directors of visuals sci-fi. For around an entire year, I left ANIMATRIX running with no sound. It always amazed me how well these great images fit with whatever music was playing, and how much people who visited enjoyed the atmosphere.

I began thinking about the over 120 million people streaming music at home, and what they were doing with their TVs. And I thought about the technology of streaming music, which has become the accepted norm. Why not apply this technology to visual art?

What was the moment when you knew you had to be an entrepreneur?

I honestly never had that moment. I had only a vision of something I saw clearly that I wanted to exist, and that was contagious. A team of creative and talented people emerged around that idea and myself.

What was the moment you knew you were onto something?

A young friend who worked for one of the major upscale hotel chains as a concierge looked me in the eye when I shared my idea and said he wanted to be the one to bring Loupe to his hotel’s global branding team. Funnily enough, he is now marketing director in New York at one of their properties and we are working on that as we speak. Moral of that story? Never judge anyone’s value by their current position or resume – only by your intuition.

What is your goal for Loupe Art?

My goal is to hear about people walking into a faraway hotel, cocktail lounge, airport terminal or other memorable space and see extraordinary art streaming on ultra-thin LED displays and other ubiquitous surfaces. They'll smile, retelling the moment they first caught a glimpse of Loupe, the music that was playing, the company they were with, and the experience of Loupe.

They return home and continue to enjoy Loupe with their friends and family, building infinitely-customizable playlists of visual art.

We are applying streaming technology to visual art so people can be as immersed in art as we are with music. I hope to expand the physical experience of great art – like that first visit to the Louvre – to infinite physical locations, times of day, and moods.

What's next for your company?

By launching on Apple TV, we were able to enter global markets at launch. Apple populates all Apple TV App Stores around the world with our service.

With Loupe’s managing partner Karrie Bran now based in Europe (owner of The Kagency, a New York-based events company representing 400 venues and a client list of luxury brands), we plan to expand our sponsored art channels, installations, events and marketplace sales into Europe and other global markets.

Loupe launched the paid guest-curated channel program in 2017, allowing museums, galleries, art festivals and other art-centric businesses to have a channel on our platform. It is a stunning channel launched in January by New York Art Gallery/Art Installation Services company ARTI.NYC. Talks are underway with many other exciting art-centric brands and partners who see the opportunity to be part of a new global art platform.

What advice would you give female entrepreneurs?

The same advice I would give to male entrepreneurs. Stay true to your original vision. Live the passion fully and authentically, and you will draw in extraordinary people to move it forward. They will open doors while others may do the opposite, but no one ever holds you back except yourself.

What's surprised you the most about being a female entrepreneur?

I don’t focus on my gender or surprises about starting a company as gender-specific. The less I do, the less I feel it being part of the dialogue with others or their perception of me. It’s very difficult to start your own business and I don’t think the challenges of going from “zero to one” of building a business are easier with either gender. I suppose this may come from having worked in such a male-dominated industry for so long. I could either find the gender part of my work or table it.

This month, Loupe was honored as a Finalist for a Global Impact Award in the Category of Innovation by the City of Atlanta for contributing to the city’s exponential growth into global markets in technology and business. I happened to be the only one of the 12 finalists that was female when we were all brought to the podium. A few people in the audience pointed that out to me afterwards and thanked me for being there.

I took note, and kept moving. Back to work.

Our newsletter that womansplains the week
7 Min Read
Business

Dear VCs: Making Pledges Won't Close The Funding Gap

Amid the mainstream conversation about inclusion and justice in the workplace, otherwise known as #MeToo, a Silicon Valley venture capital fund considered how they can be more inclusive of the women, minority, and LGBTQ entrepreneurial communities.

Their solution? Ask the CEOs they currently fund to promise to hire senior-level employees from diverse backgrounds.


Lightspeed Venture Partners, a venture capital fund that has investments with blockbuster startups such as The Honest Company, Affirm, and HQ Trivia, has asked its portfolio company CEOs to sign a “side letter" affirming their commitment to consider women and other underrepresented groups for senior jobs and new spots on their board of directors.

Can making pledges— or even hiring a C-Suite level employee to manage diversity efforts— really make an impact on the funding gap for multicultural women-led companies?

Many experts say it's going to take systemic change, not letters of intent.

It is well reported that the amount of investment going to multicultural women-led companies is incongruous to the entrepreneurial landscape and the performance of their businesses. Between 2007 and 2016, there was an increase of 2.8 million companies owned by women of color. Nearly eight out of every 10 new women-owned firms launched since 2007 has been started by a woman of color yet, these businesses receive an abysmal 0.2 percent of all funding. Amanda Johnson and KJ Miller, founders of Mented cosmetics, were just the 15th and 16th Black women in history to raise $1M in the fall of 2017.

The multicultural women who do defeat the odds to get funded receive significantly less than male founders. The average startup founded by a Black woman raises only $36,000 in venture funding, while the average failed startup founded by a White man raises $1.3M before going out of business.

The implicit and explicit bias not only impacts individual multicultural female founders, it could be stifling innovation. For example, companies with above-average diversity on their management teams reported innovation revenue as 45 percent of total revenue compared to just 26 percent of total revenue at companies with below-average management diversity. That means nearly half the revenue of companies with more diverse leadership comes from products and services launched in the past three years.

In our economy today, venture capital is responsible for funding the work of our most innovative companies. Venture capital-backed U.S. companies include some of the most innovative companies in the world. In 2013, VC-backed companies account for a 42 percent of the R&D spending by U.S. public companies.

With a wealth of multicultural women entrepreneurs and evidence to support the performance of diverse companies, why does this funding gap persist?

According to Kristin Hull, founder of Oakland-based Nia Impact Capital and Nia Community, many traditional investors consider women or minority-led businesses as a category in their portfolio, like gaming tech or consumer packaged good. Hull, who focuses on building portfolios where financial returns and social impact work hand-in-hand, argues gender and ethnicity are not a business category and investors who dedicate a specific percent of their portfolio to diverse companies are the ones missing out.

“We are doing this backwards," says Hull. “Adding diverse, women-run companies actually de-risks an investment portfolio."

Hull points to research that has found women are more likely to seek outside help when a company is headed for trouble and operate businesses with less debt on average. What's more, a study conducted by First Round Capital concluded that founding teams including a woman outperform their all-male peers by 63 percent.

Ximena Hardstock, a 43-year-old immigrant from Chile experienced this bias first hand before she raised $5.1M for her tech startup. “How do you get an investor to notice you and take you seriously?" says Hardstock. “White men from Harvard have a track record and investors are all looking for entrepreneurs that fit the Zuckerberg mold. But a woman from Chile with an accent who started a technology company? There is no track record for that and this is a problem so many women of color face."

Hardstock came to the U.S. from the suburbs of Santiago when she was just 20-years-old. Alone with no family or connections in the U.S., Hardstock worked as a cleaning lady, a bartender, and a nanny before she began teaching and working in education. “I had a lot of ideas and Chile is still a very conservative country," she says. “Most women become housewives but I wanted to do something different. So, I moved to the U.S."

Hardstock went on to earn a Ph.D. in policy studies, served as vice president of Advocacy for National StudentsFirst and worked as a member of Washington DC mayor Adrian Fenty's cabinet. Her experience working in both education and government exposed her to a need to simplify the process of connecting lawmakers with their constituents. As a result, Hardstock founded Phone2Action, a digital advocacy company that enables organizations and individual citizens to connect with policymakers via email, Twitter, Alexa and Facebook using their mobile phones.

Because venture capital and private equity are not necessarily meritocracies, Hardstock initially struggled to get in an audience with the right investors despite her company's growth potential, her experience, and her education. In fact, it wasn't until she won a competition at SXSW in 2015 that she could get an audience with a serious venture capitalist.

While it may seem like symptoms of a bygone era, both Hardstock and Hull say the path to investor relationships is forged in places where many women of diverse backgrounds are not – ivy league organizations, golf courses and late night post-board meeting cocktails attended mostly by White men of means.

The history of venture capital has never been very balanced, according to Aubrey Blanche, global head of diversity at Atlassian software development company and co-founder of Sycamore, an organization aiming to fix the VC funding gap for underrepresented founders. “White and Asian men have built the venture system and for generations have been seeking out people like themselves to invest in."

Personal and professional networks are critical for founders to connect with investors, but many multicultural women don't have access to the networks their White peers have. According to a study conducted by PRRI, the average White person has one friend who is Black, Latino, Asian, mixed race, and other races. This common situation makes getting that all important warm introduction to established VCs very challenging for multicultural women founders.

“Is the ecosystem of your network equivalent to your net worth? Absolutely," says Hardstock. “For us, we have to build our own ecosystem and recreate what happens on the golf courses and at the Harvard reunions."

To Hardstock's point, most multicultural women with entrepreneurial aspirations lack that Ivy League network. According to reporting published in The New York Times, Black students make up just nine percent of the freshmen at Ivy League schools but 15 percent of college-age Americans. This gap has been largely unchanged since 1980.

While notable female investors such as Arlan Hamilton, Joanne Wilson, and Kathryn Finney are actively working to close the funding gap for women of color, only seven percent of current senior investing partners at the top 100 venture firms are women. Less than three percent of VC funds have Black and Latinx investment partners. Without an influential network, Hardstock and entrepreneurs like her are left screaming for a seat at the table.

When Black, Latina, and Asian women founders do get in the room with the right investors, they have to work harder to get the investors to relate to their products and services. “Entrepreneurs solve problems they understand," says Blanche. “When multicultural women entrepreneurs present their businesses to a homogenous group of male investors who may not be equipped to understand the idea, they may pass on an amazing business."

Take, for example, the founders of Haute Hijab or LOLA. Founders of both successful startups would have to explain the market for their services to a table occupied mostly by men who may never have considered that Muslim women want more convenient access to fashion and have never considered women might prefer to purchase organic tampons.

This lack of familiarity typically means reduced funding for women and a host of other consequences.

As one recent study pointed out, even the way investors frame questions to women can impact funding. According to the Harvard Business Review, female founders are often asked “prevention-oriented" questions focused on safety, responsibility, security, and vigilance. Male founders, on the other hand, are often asked questions focused on hopes, achievement, advancement, and ideals.

When all of these factors are considered, a side letter may not be enough to begin to close the funding gap.

Both Blanche and Hull say real change can be made by democratizing information and education on impact investing. Both women say educating investors and MBA candidates about impact investing is the best way to overcome current bias.

Blanche's organization, Sycamore, produces a newsletter for new angel investors who want to help close the funding gap while making money in the process. Hull's firm has an internship program for multicultural girls from Oakland to expose them to the worlds of investing, entrepreneurship, business leadership, and financial literacy.

“I'm excited about the changes I see," says Blanche. “I see more firm employing the Rooney Law on an institutional level, an increase in smaller firms looking at underserved communities, and the democratization of institutional funding."

Hull adds that as long as multi-cultural women-led firms continue to show returns and outperform or perform on par with companies founded by White men, the investor community will rethink their portfolio strategies.


This piece was originally published in 2018.