Alex Dunn, co-founder of Drawdeck, on the impact of COVID-19 on the arts industry

The year 2020, is the pivotal year for change, and the arts industry has certainly not escaped the effects of the pandemic especially concerning commercial art projects within the region. Fortunately, we have seen positive change come through with ecommerce solutions for individual artists as well as brands such as our own – this has helped us navigate through the impact of Covid-19 quite positively. When it comes to working with corporate clients, artwork is always one of the first cost reductions that they’ll look at in order to reduce expenses. Many of the commercial projects we were in discussions with for Drawdeck were put on hold.

However, with our ecommerce offering – traffic to the website has skyrocketed along with social media interaction, and ultimately sales, which resulted in 82% increase in Q2 revenues in comparison to the previous period. Generally, our corporate projects bring in OP-ED the most revenue, with the consumer business complimenting it nicely. During the ongoing pandemic, the two streams have completely switched and that has allowed us to navigate through these challenging times. It has also highlighted how important our online business model is, and consequently it’s encouraged us to invest more into this side of the business. The Drawdeck platform essentially allows artists to generate revenue easily and ethically. Once signed, we handle all the marketing, production, delivery and in return the artist is paid for every sale. We have real artists behind every design, with some generating AED 1,800+ per month. This is revenue they would have never had access to without us being here, as other sites don’t ship here. It’s just our way of giving back and supporting the art community especially in situations like the current one. In today’s world many artists have built an online presence or have joined a site like ours allowing them to generate a steady revenue stream. However, starting an online business is never easy and the current situation is bound to add more obstacles to that. What comes with these challenging times, is a huge amount of opportunity, particularly if you have a tech-focussed business idea. Seek professional advice on the actual formation of the company so it matches your vision in the long run. You could have best product in the world, but ultimately you need to create awareness, gain people’s interest and then convert that interest into revenue. We have partnerships ready to fulfill orders in three continents, the issue is how do we drive traffic to the website. It’s very expensive to do that and requires a serious marketing budget.

Overall Drawdeck has grown really well, 100% y-o-y growth rate seen over the last two years, and we have some big expansion plans to take Drawdeck from the UAE into the rest of the region and beyond. Although as we take a look at the market, we have noticed that the online artwork business concept has become increasingly popular; however, we are seeing an increase in copyright issues and low-quality output which is devaluing the industry. The digital age has allowed companies like us to exist and grow, but it has also given more unethical companies the same opportunity. These companies resell artwork that they do not own the rights to.

For me this is a huge branding challenge, ensuring that we position ourselves differently and enforcing our message that every sale on Drawdeck directly supports the independent artist behind the design. In my opinion, the design industry in the UAE is quite diverse. It represents a reflection of various cultures that reside here. Along with a strong local element and European/Asian influences it makes things extremely interesting for teams like us, allowing us to step out of our comfort zone in order to tailor our output to a specific audience. History has repeatedly shown us that during the aftermath of every economic recession, many of the world’s most successful startups have emerged stronger. This is what we hope to achieve with Drawdeck by continuing to support the industry, working with amazing artists, and expanding into the region – in our ethical manner.