Adam Fields is the Founder and CEO of ARTA, the technology platform powering the world of high-end shipping and logistics. Prior to founding ARTA, Adam was a Vice President at Artspace.com, where he became hyper-aware of the difficulties that came with shipping art for both online and offline sellers. He knew there had to be a way to make the process more efficient and cost-effective, and in 2014, ARTA was born. Today, ARTA is used by top galleries, advisors, collectors and institutions worldwide. Adam holds a BA from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and though he grew up in Downtown Chicago, he has called New York City home for almost 10 years.
How did you get into the industry?
I previously worked for an e-commerce company called Artspace, which sold art and design objects from leading galleries, museums and institutions online. As we grew and became more global, it became apparent that we didn’t have an effective shipping solution for the types of objects we were selling—goods that oftentimes couldn’t be sent via common carrier (FedEx, UPS, etc.) due to the specialized nature of the packing, handling, customs, etc. As I continued to investigate the shipping and logistics space, it became obvious that there was a major gap in the market for items which could not be shipped via FedEx, and the lack of an efficient solution was becoming a sales blocker for both online and offline transactions. I realized that if there were a way to make specialized shipping easier, global commerce for these types of items would inevitably grow. This was a very exciting prospect, and I left Artspace to start ARTA.
Any emerging industry trends?
The major trend we recognized early on is that the lack of a FedEx-esque solution for specialized shipping has become a major sales blocker for sellers of expensive, fragile objects. Thanks to Amazon, reliable and more efficient logistics is becoming a hot topic across every commercial and retail industry as other businesses rush to compete with the standard Amazon has set for the consumer. We are seeing major advancements in logistics technology, and more and more investors that are willing to pour money into the companies spearheading those advancements. However, when it comes to more precious, specialized goods (think art, antiques, furniture, etc.), those commercial industries have traditionally been technology adverse. At ARTA, we’re trying to change that mindset, with the goal of enabling global commerce by more efficiently, safely, and affordably protecting the world precious objects.
Any industry opportunities or challenges?
The biggest opportunity we see is to enable a new group of buyers and sellers by taking the hassle out of shipping. It’s never been easier to put an image of a beautiful object online with a ‘buy’ button, but it’s nearly impossible to know how much it would cost to pack, ship, install, insure, etc. that item. This becomes even more problematic when trying to ship something cross border, when you account for the nuances of customs, duties, taxes, etc. This is why you often see a “click to inquire” button instead of a “buy” button when trying to purchase specialized goods online, which can lead to lost sales (not to mention a requirement for dedicated time and resources to sourcing shipping quotes). The hassle of coordinating shipping often creates a negative experience post-purchase, which effectively weakens the retention or longtime viability of a potential customer. Our goal is to create a product that effectively solves all of these issues.
Inspiration for the business idea, and your vision for the Business?
I talked about the inspiration for the business in my answer to the first question, and have alluded to our vision a bit in previous questions as well. Put succinctly, our vision is to create an elevated commerce experience enabling the protection of the world’s precious objects.
What's next for the Business in the near future?
Our initial goal was to transform a specific section of the logistics industry that had historically operated via pen and paper (or emails and phone calls) to be conducted completely online. We were successful in achieving this, while also adding a more efficient layer of technology to the process as well. Our next big initiative is to make pricing and checkout instantaneous for any precious or fragile object you cannot ship via common carrier (FedEx, UPS, etc). We’ve developed a pricing algorithm that leverages our historical quoting data, and we’ll put that to use this Fall with a new product launch that essentially allows any seller to include a shipping price at point of purchase. By utilizing this new product, e-commerce operations will be able to process transactions completely online (getting rid of that post-sale hassle I mentioned earlier), and entities without an e-commerce operation will easily be able to create one.
As we continue to create products that are more closely tied to the actual transaction, we’re also developing streamlined payment solutions that will make the entire experience of purchasing and shipping an expensive or fragile object incredibly easy and enjoyable for all parties involved.
Your key initiatives for the success of the Business?
We’ve been incredibly lucky that our business has grown substantially due to word of mouth and referrals. We started the business focused on the art market, simply because that was the industry where I initially saw the need for ARTA’s services. ARTA’s platform was such a new and radical idea that while it took a lot of convincing to get galleries, museums, and collectors to give us a shot, they quickly realized how much time and headaches we could save them. The industry is small and word can travel fast. While we still to pursue other acquisition strategies, word of mouth continues to drive a good amount of new business for us each month.
Relatedly, we made a conscious effort from day one to provide superior customer service. We did not just want to be a technology platform without human interaction; due to the specialized nature of the objects we are shipping, our clients often feel more comfortable talking things through on the phone or over email. We pride ourselves on response times, and our team closely monitors every active shipment to ensure things are going smoothly. We also couldn’t do what we do without the expertise of our employees who bring decades of industry experience and knowledge to complement what we are able to automate on the technology side. The art world is built off of personal relationships, and we had to build a high level of trust with our users to keep them coming back. This has also fueled positive word of mouth and referrals
Your most difficult moment at the Business? (and what did you learn?)
I think our most difficult moment has consistently been changing people’s behavior. The concept of ARTA and the product we have put forth has always resonated with people. Some are more conducive to new ideas and technology and others are a bit more hesitant. It makes sense in an industry that has been historically behind the curve on technology. We view it as a fun challenge, but it can most certainly be a challenge at times. We wouldn’t be doing this if we didn’t think it was the future. We feel a huge responsibility to works towards cultivating change in the industry and to try to push new standards and protocols for buyers, sellers and supply partners we work with.
Ideal experience for a customer/client?
We place a lot of importance of customer feedback. Customer requests for product features or updates heavily influence our product roadmap. We get feedback from personal outreach to our users as well as conduct regular surveys to ensure we are exceeding expectations and to identify any pain points within our user experience that need to be addressed.
As part of soliciting that feedback, we are able to learn how clients that are 100% satisfied view our product and the biggest benefits they get from using ARTA. We are proud that these reported benefits match with the goals we wanted our product to achieve. The first is ease of use and organization of the product itself. Having all history and records for every shipment in one place helps our users operate more efficiently. The second is the amount of time and resources we are able to save individuals and businesses. We often hear that we save at least 1-2 hours of work per shipment in comparison to the way our users used to source shipping estimates, book, and then track a shipment. The third thing our customers really benefit from when working with ARTA is our expertise. We have a network of 350+ shipping and service partners across the world, so we are able to provide access to many high-quality, cost-efficient vendors our users wouldn’t have known about otherwise. We have also shipped to nearly 50 countries, and given the complexities of shipping internationally (customs, duties, etc.) it is extremely beneficial to have a resource like ARTA to provide expertise on that front. And lastly, we help our users save money. We offer the most cost-effective quotes by negotiating volume discounts from our partners that we then pass along to clients, and we only source quotes from partners who service the routes and needs of the client most efficiently.
How do you motivate others?
I want to create a company culture that ensures everyone is excited about coming into work everyday. We focus a lot on monthly goals, but instead of feeling dejected when we don’t hit them, we take time to see what went right/wrong and how we can improve. I try to be incredibly transparent about businesses successes and misses, so that every employee knows that what they are working on has an impact on the company and what that impact is. I also think it’s important to be transparent about where we are going as a business and where I see the biggest opportunities to grow in the future. I work to ensure the team fully understands our trajectory, but more importantly, is on board with those decisions. Our team works incredibly hard, so I make sure we have fun too. We get out of the office at least once a month to do something fun as a team. We host happy hours in our office for our users. We have team catered lunch once a week and encourage everyone to step away from their desks during that time. We have summer Fridays. We support team members in their extracurriculars outside the office. We’ve been lucky to have a group that works well together, but know as businesses grow and so does headcount, there are definitely growing pains involved. So as we add new employees that’s always something I’m thinking about.
Career advice to those in your industry?
I think the main advice I have is to search for pain points you experience on a daily basis. If a solution for that problem doesn’t exist, then don’t be afraid to try and solve them yourself. The best businesses come from problems people face on a daily basis that don’t have available solutions. That advice transcends any particular industry or focus. Shipping was the least sexy part of the art world and yet the global art market couldn’t operate without it. We saw an opportunity to innovate and jumped on it.