Sramana: Did you expand Auctionata to include other auction house functions once you had verified market interest through valuation services?
Alexander Zacke: From there, everything progressed very quickly. We did 400,000 valuations in our first year.
Sramana: How did people find out about the site? How did they know you existed and that you offered the valuation services?
Alexander Zacke: They came to us through organic Google searches. The people who were on the site spent a lot of time on the site and did a lot of things. The traffic was small but very valuable. The site also rated very well in Google searches for keywords such as antiques, auctions, or valuations. We had a lot of artist names which really helped out. The vast majority of our valuation requests came from those organic searches.
Sramana: Can you describe how you fulfilled the valuation request? Did you have to get the art shipped to you?
Alexander Zacke: No, that is the key part of our story. We do it all online. We have 300 art experts from 45 countries that cover 1,100 categories. We have built online software that allows you to upload the image of the piece of art that you would like to have us evaluate. We gather some basic information, such as the size and any history you may have with the piece.
That information goes into our back-end database. It is automatically categorized and forwarded to several of our experts. Whoever picks the case first will add their description and valuation of the piece. That is processed in our software and the valuation is returned to the individual who requested that we perform that service.
Our experts are paid a fixed-fee based on the number of minutes they spent on the case. That payment is done automatically and is processed into their PayPal accounts. If the item goes to auction, then they will also receive a commission. Once the valuation has been provided to the requester, our in-house team will have access to them. They will pick the top 20% of the cases they see every day and will offer the owners a contract to put the piece up for auction. Half of the time people just wanted to know what the piece was worth, the other half of the time they decide to sell.
Once the contract is in place, we will have the piece shipped to us. We will put it up for auction or we will put it on our online shop, depending on the value of the piece.