For the Love of Art
She goes against the grain and challenges the status quo.
For start-ups she gave up her steady job. She became a professional champion of art.
She introduces innovation to museum galleries. She is the author of many novel initiatives. She organizes meetings for museum community and for art lovers.
She studied art history and international relations at Warsaw University and received an Erasmus scholarship. She featured in a BBC 30 Under 30 story showing 30 women who were successful in running a global business.
She is based in Warsaw. She travels to Silicon Valley on vacations and to learn. In August 2015, she revisited Silicon Valley and also went to Burning Man festival. With youthful enthusiasm she tells stories about important matters—running a company, responsibility and the meaning of art in our everyday life.
It seems to me that the Europeans have a kind of inferiority complex in relation to art. While talking about art people stress their education, worldliness.
In the United States people come to a museum to listen to lectures during which they ask questions, get answers, participate in discussions. They create a community. For the Americans art does not mean haughty discussion. Art is something worth knowing about, worth learning new things about, as art is an integral part of our civilization, part of our everyday life.
First Startup Weekend
In 2010, as part of Erasmus program, I got placed at the Capitolini Museum in Rome. It has many “boring” antiquity artifacts. I was accepted as an intern to their IT section. My boss was an archeologist whose ambition was the introduction of new technologies in the museum.
For three months I copied data from PDF files to the database and that was my whole range of duties. Yet I was able to learn a lot about applications and technological solutions for smartphones. In those days smartphones, especially in Poland, were just beginning to gain popularity. I returned to Poland intrigued and curious about new technologies and innovative solutions for mobile devices.
What, I Cannot Manage?
I began to be interested in technological solutions for use in museums. At the same time I was also looking for a mission for myself and my life. I started a blog on technologies in museums and decided to write a BA thesis on history of art.
In Warsaw it was the time of a real start-up boom. Many of my friends got involved in those enterprises. There was a talk of a rush of investors into Warsaw. In March 2011, Warsaw held its first Polish Startup Weekend. One of the organizers, Kamila Sidor, was looking for someone to help operate the camera and suggested that I take up this “challenge.” My friend presented the job as something needing a world-class cinematographer such as Janusz Kamiński… That’s why I wondered if I could do it and if I could afford to take a break from my course work. It was the end of the semester and I was studying at two faculties. The same person told me I would not do well with start-ups since I did not know that community. Then I decided to go! Out of spirit of defiance: “What, I cannot manage?! Not good enough—who, me?”
I did a good job with the camera and, what’s more important, I made new contacts. Startup Weekend was superbly organized and the whole event was broadcast online. It was the first meeting integrating the start-up industry in Poland. It was the first time that people who represented a similar way of thinking, worked with similar problems, had similar ideas, read TechCrunch but did not know one another previously and were able to connect.
Warsaw Startup Weekend turned my life around. The fact that I went there and got to know the community where I felt at home was critical for my future career. Had I not been told that I was not good enough for start-ups I would probably be somewhere else today, doing something else.
It was during Warsaw Startup Weekend that Kamila Sidor asked me to become Community Manager at a fund, which, like California’s Y Combinator—created Poland’s first accelerator for start-ups. In this way I started my training and soon I began working there full time. That was the only full-time job I’ve ever held. I worked for almost a year. I got to know the start-up community and understood what working there was all about and what these people were doing.
At the same time I started working with museums. I tried to interest them in mobile applications and using applications in museums. I don’t know why I was so intrigued by mobile applications—maybe because I always have my phone with me. I never part with it.
Moiseum and Daily Art
When I got my first client I said goodbye to the Fund and started a company called Moiseum. It was in 2012. My first client was Museum of the History of Polish Jews. But I had no idea how to run a business! That’s why for a long time nothing was going on in my company. It took nine months for Moiseum to start full operation and 12 months for the market to be ready for the projects I developed.
I Was Not an Expert on Mobile Apps
After several months of stagnation I used the rest of the money to create the DailyArt app, which, to my great surprise, did very well on the market. I was very lucky. When I started designing DailyArt I was not an expert on mobile applications. I knew neither how to make them nor how to promote them. I did not know how to sell them, how to talk to people, how to find clients. I did not know how to create a product that will be both catchy and well received by the users and market. I had no idea how to go about creating a start-up. In one word, I knew nothing! Still, I was successful and I find it completely unbelievable. Moiseum has clients, DailyArt works. Everything happened by complete accident.
Starting up with Moiseum I assumed I would be making ready-made applications for museums. You can do this in many ways—I decided on a consulting version, although financing mobile apps is for many museums a serious financial burden.
How Moiseum Works
I prepare individual products for museums, meet with museum workers, and spend long hours talking with them. I find out whom they want to reach, what they expect from me and what their budget is. I gather all the information and prepare a proposal which is unique and answers the particular needs of a given team and is aimed at a particular museum visitor. I suggest unique solutions. If a museum wants to introduce an audio tour I can prepare an app facilitating the walk through the building. We created such a project for The Museum of King John III’s Palace at Wilanów, in Warsaw.
I can also prepare a mobile version of the product which accompanies the traditional paper version—this is what we did for The Warsaw Uprising Museum. In this case the museum was using only printed maps, which was not efficient. My team prepared mobile maps, which visitors could easily install on their phones.
I Learn All the Time
Only now, after more than two years from the launch of the first version of DailyArt am I beginning to understand how the whole mechanism worked. I read a lot and talk to people and on this basis I try to reverse engineer what happened. Especially since I am planning to build the next, more advanced version of DailyArt.
Of course it took more than a couple of months to create a successful mobile application. My learning took a long time, in stages, while doing a range of projects.
One Story a Day…
A successful product is a combination of the idea, its execution, and teamwork. In the case of a mobile application what is crucial is the content delivered to the user. The rest is just “bells and whistles.” My application delivers one work of art a day, which for the users is the source of inspiration. It also teaches kids to interact with art. It is an escape from mundane matters. My recipient can pride himself on his knowledge of art, can use it as a conversation starter. He can boost his popularity a bit. It all starts with one story a day. DailyArt provides the story. Only one story… or maybe as much as one story…
Dailyart Is My Shield
The DailyArt app was a success. I don’t need to be modest. I am getting excellent feedback from thousands of users. The awareness that DailyArt enhances the lives of thousands of people all around the globe is amazing and empowers me to keep going.
The paid version of DailyArt—DailyArt PRO—makes money. Initially I thought no one would ever buy it! Such thinking is my Polish sin… I thought the application needed to be free because art itself should be free.
Today there are two version available—free DailyArt and paid DailyArt PRO.
I decided to start the paid version to collect money via crowdfunding. I needed money for my living expenses. People pitched in and I could focus on work. And the cost of making a spin-off was minimal. In the beginning the paid version cost one dollar. I soon realized that even the most banal applications related to art are usually more expensive. And DailyArt PRO is an educational app, a valuable one, carrying a message and developing. That’s why I raised the price to five dollars.
I was dumb not to have capitalized on this app as much as I could have. Now we are developing a new version of DailyArt, which will be better in the look and functionality, as well as bringing in more income. I learned from my mistakes.
More on Crowdfunding
I turned to crowdfunding as it was the fastest way to raise extra money. My application had already over 20,000 users. And that was just the beginning. I wanted to raise a small amount, just a few thousand dollars. I assumed that it would not be hard. That was all that mattered. I might use crowdfunding in the future again, as I have a strong user base—over 200 thousand active users, including some “psychofans.” I think at this stage the fundraising campaign is relatively easy. More important, I don’t have to worry about finding investors.
Innovative Initiatives and Meetings
Slow Art Day
Slow Art Day was my first individual project. I first read about the international version of Slow Art Day on Twitter, just before my first Warsaw Startup Weekend. I also decided to create a similar event in Poland. It worked out very well and became an annual gig that’s gaining in popularity.
In America on Slow Art Day you visite a museum at a certain hour, viewing five pieces of art of your choice and then discussing them.
But I think in Poland such a model would not catch on because people are generally afraid of museums and ashamed of their own ignorance. They are afraid of being ridiculed and looking silly. So as a result they would not be able to focus for even 30 seconds on a painting and they would be wondering if they had chosen the right one. That’s why I decided to choose those five pieces myself. The animators initiate discussions around those specific pieces. This creates a sure sequence that the participants can follow. So the walkthrough becomes more user-friendly, not so intimidating and alien. And meanwhile the animator tells a story of a particular painting, warming up the atmosphere. This is something half-way between a standard museum visit and the original version of the Slow Art Day.
We Are Museums
This year, unfortunately, I did not have time to co-organize the We are museums conference. For me it started in 2012, with meeting a young French woman who promotes museums. I do the same through my application; and she makes movies, writes blogs and other social events. We both believe that museums should be people-friendly. I decided to help her. We cooperated at a campaign We are museums in Lithuania and a year later in Poland.
I Can Only Help
I have such a spirit of contradiction that I always go against the grain although making a revolution is never my goal. I just keep thinking and conclude that certain things need to change. I push for changes. If five years ago someone else had invented or organized Moiseum I would have joined the project and would have wanted to work on it.
This is what happened with the We are museums campaign. It was neither my idea nor my initiative but I could lend a hand so I did. My actions will not change the world; I can only help. We are museums is a worthwhile project so I decided to get involved.
During the We are museums campaign, as it was, the Polish museum community had no space where people could meet, gossip, and share ideas in an informal, easy atmosphere. There were only scientific conferences during which there were no socializing opportunities such as a before or an after party. I came to the conclusion that the lack of a developed network was hurting this community. Museum workers do not cultivate friendships and, changing posts, lose contact. But they could learn so much from one another! This is what sparked the idea of Metamuzeum. It was supposed to integrate the community. By creating Metamuzeum I wanted those who were active, or wanted to be active, those who were looking for work or would like to get to know the community but had no place to go—to meet in one venue and talk over a beer.
A Breath of Fresh Air
I started organizing gatherings integrating the community and offered workshops and eventully initiated meetups for museum workers.
I am also working on social media events aiming at promoting museums or creating new channels of communication with actual or potential visitors.
These are small things but in the museum environment they are like a breath of fresh air.
I Always Did Things Myself
I keep learning not to do everything myself. Our team works remotely. We communicate via Facebook and Slack, sometimes via e-mail. Thanks to my trainee I have learned to delegate tasks. For the first few years I couldn’t afford an employee. I always did things myself. Now I don’t have a big team. I cooperate with three mobile developers, one graphic designer, a WordPress expert and I employ Justyna, my assistant. These are the people I can always turn to and I know I can rely on their work. The number of people involved in a project depends on the job. I can delegate only “soft” tasks that I do every day. The rest of company activities require special skills. The graphic designer does his part, the programmers their part.
How to Start
In the beginning you need a good team. I’ve had enormous luck with people. I’ve been working with the same team for over two years. I know they will not cheat me. They will give good advice. We are very honest with one another.
One also needs a well-prepared MVP (minimum viable product). We need to know if our idea will fly or not. I feel I won a lottery ticket because I have natural PR skills. I could write e-mails that made it to the press—the media picked up my ideas. I got some publicity. These are two fundamental things.
You also need a good product. DailyArt application became popular when it had the ugliest imaginable graphics. The first version of the application was atrocious; it crashed and did not really work. In spite of those serious imperfections the market picked up the idea, the app became popular and got many users. That’s why the idea is so important—what matters most is what the app does and what are its uses, not the looks. My application looked terrible…
Shares or Salary?
Many start-up founders believe that initially you have to give your employees company shares. This is supposed to encourage the team to work on the new idea. In my opinion this doesn’t work. None of my employees has shares in Moiseum. I am a sole proprietor; it’s not a company.
The first two people with whom I worked were my friends. I knew them socially. When I was creating my team I already had clients and I could pay my guys for their work. In addition, working for Moiseum is inspiring. It does not consist of churning out another standard application but it contributes to the arts, culture, education. Our work is very creative and brings great satisfaction.
I Just Appreciate Them
I never omit or diminish the contributions that my collaborators brought to the project. I always mention all persons involved by name and I officially thank them, which, interestingly, is not a standard approach and does not always happen. In every application developed by our team we always list everybody and include the links to their LinkedIn or Facebook profiles. I just appreciate people with whom I work. All my later collaborators were recommended by my two first coworkers. They had worked together on other projects and together moved to the next ones. I am friends with all people with whom I work. It would be impossible for me not to like people with whom I collaborate and not to be their friend.
Experiences in Running Start-ups
Unfortunately, my experiences with investors have been bad. When I was starting up with Moiseum and DailyArt I thought I needed an investor. I even went into talks with one of them but, luckily, I did not work with him. It turned out my would be investor had no funds. He took me on a wild goose chase for four months and at the same time he used my app DailyArt to promote his own program. That specific “investor” managed to harm many other young start-ups.
That’s why I am afraid of investors. I worked for one of them and I got to know the Polish realities. I know the investor market in Poland. I also am clear that I would not like to participate in the investor market in the United States. I prefer to work my own way, with my own money and not burden others with my bad decisions.
In any case, at present Moiseum functions well enough not to need any external financing.
There Is Much More To Do…
Theoretically I could cooperate with any museum in the world. But for every market you need a network of people and contacts. If you offer a product that requires consulting, you have to form relationships and be very professional. This is how it works all over the world.
It takes a lot of time to create business relations and construct a product. That’s why conquering other markets or taking my product to international museums is not scalable for me at the moment, especially if entering those markets is to turn a profit. That’s why I prefer to concentrate on developing DailyArt, which is an attractive global product. It helps me to work effectively in the Polish market. I can look after local museums. And there is a lot to do in Poland. It took me three years to get to know the environment, to meet the people, promote myself and my work. And this is just Poland with only a population of 38 million.
My competitors are creative agencies, which sometimes try to break into the museum community. To be honest, these are usually quite harmful activities. There is no big company on the market that would be likely to specialize in museums because, frankly, working with museums is a pain. The circumstance where you have several employees on a payroll and enough clients to pay for it is almost impossible in Poland. All the agencies that planned to work just with museums had to eventually widen their offer, as they couldn’t make a living from such a narrow specialty.
The Best Part of This Work
… is when I get another DailyArt review. Someone writes that every day he reads the picture description to his four-year old daughter and they dream of one day going to a museum and looking at that particular piece of art. It touches me deeply when I read such stories.
It is when I meet someone who says that he just downloaded the app on his phone or tablet and uses it every day. It’s a wonderful feeling.
The Most Stressful and the Hardest Part
The money. In the beginning I sometimes had it, sometimes I didn’t. I organized my work in such a way that I don’t need to worry about paying my team. My team salaries have always been written into the projects. But supporting myself and my cat… paying the bills—that involved pressure. I had to learn to deal with the financial as well as the psychological burden. There were times when I did not have money and I knew there were no commissions on the horizon. Those were dreadful times.
I think about those founders who like to take ten million dollars in financing and then “burn” it—there are many such stories in Silicon Valley. I heard many of them when I took part in the Female Founders program at Blackbox. One of the participants confessed to crying at night because her start-up had just two million dollars left which was enough money for the next three months. She was paying herself a 3,000 dollar salary. Three thousand dollars in Silicon Valley? This is nothing. I cannot imagine the level of stress of that woman. It had to be absurd. Such model of operation makes no sense. You cannot do it on the long run.
What I Like Most About Start-ups…
…are the people. I wouldn’t stay in the start-up community but I love the people. They are wonderful. They are open, they want to learn, they understand the world, they have their passions. I am 27 and I can see that my college friends stopped in their tracks, got stuck at a certain stage of their life. And I cannot find a common language with them anymore. That’s why I go to conferences and get involved in the start-up life—because the people are so great.
The Culture of Defeat
The start-up community practices mutual support. Every start-upper knows that even if we don’t succeed we have the culture of defeat to back us up. Setbacks are accepted by the community and sometimes they are even useful. You have to pick yourself up and keep going. You have to pat each other on the back and start another project. Start-up people learn from their mistakes and this is a valuable lesson. In other industries there is not so much mutual support and understanding for failures.
Sources of Knowledge
Knowledge is essential. You can get it in many ways, but certainly not through EU or government programs, rarely through incubators or accelerators. To be honest, except for Y Combinator and 500 Start-ups, accelerators don’t make sense. You can find a lot on the Internet. I spend a few hours every day doing research online. There is a lot of content and a lot of wisdom. Of course, many people try to promote themselves online. But if someone starts to talk nonsense it quickly becomes apparent. You need to filter critically, but through independent reading you can learn a lot. All kinds of industry meetings are also very useful. One needs direct interactions with people. It can be a Startup Weekend or an after party at a conference or a themed meetup. These are all important sources of knowledge.
Simple Principle of Global Scope
You should think globally from day one. It doesn’t make sense to act otherwise. If I first created DailyArt just in Polish I would have gotten nowhere and I would be stuck to this day. The rule of global scope from the start does not apply exclusive to art applications—it applies to many other services. The market in Poland is too small. There is no reason not to start globally. What does it mean—globally? Globally means in English. You should start with that from the very beginning. It is a very simple principle.
When a Start-up Ceases To Be a Start-up?
When it starts making money. Some serious money.
On Work–Life Balance
Work Is My Life
I cannot work nonstop, at some point my brain turns itself off. I must go out and talk with friends, go to the movies, read a book, watch a show. There are some days when I start working first thing in the morning and at 2 p.m. I need a power nap. After waking up I can keep clicking. I could not manage working 10+ hours a day. My body would rebel. I know there are programmers who can code nonstop for 18 hours. I can’t do that. I will never be able to do that, so I stopped trying.
I don’t fall into depression because I let myself rest—I need to take breaks as otherwise I would not be able to go on. But naturally, I think about work all the time. I surround myself with industry people; the work is always present. It’s my life.
I Would Like…
…for all my projects to go exactly as I planned them. I would like to have the financial freedom to create new projects. And most of my projects are nonprofit. Apparently this is how it goes. I have never aspired to a marble palace and a Porsche… that does not mean that I would say no to a good car; but I am not going to martyr myself in the name of material wealth.
The Measure of Success or Luxury?
Currently I am involved in projects that I really care about. It all came together last year. First, I really wanted to work for The Warsaw Rising Museum. Second, I wanted to create an application for blind people. In future I would like to make an application for children and seniors. Those applications will be tailored to the particular needs of those two social groups.
These are my measures of success. I would like to work with competent institutions on interesting projects. But it is also a measure of luxury.
Surviving the last three years! Now I have reached a turning point and I know nothing really bad can happen anymore. The worst already happened and passed. I survived the time of having no clients and no precise plan for the future. Moiseum has been up and running for over three years. I can manage, I have my little nest, I have clients, I know how to go forward. DailyArt has a great potential and I know how I want to develop it.
These are my biggest successes.
One of the Few Girls
I have never felt successful. I cannot even compare myself to many Polish founders who really made it big. I am still far behind many start-uppers who built impressive companies.
My Personal Failure
I did not finish my Master’s thesis. Although now I don’t need it for anything. My supervisor asked me to rewrite the finished text. But I gave up. I never submitted the paper. This is my failure.
I have no master. Still, I know some people who inspire and motivate me—both in life and professionally, and these two areas are parallel for me. I am motivated by close people who run their lives their own way—I draw on their everyday life successes. I think it is fantastic that someone has their own opinion and keeps realizing their own goals. These are the people that inspire me. Sometimes they make mistakes but the mistakes are also a source of inspiration.
Dad Gave Me Freedom
People would usually give me bad advice. Suggestions such as: study something sensible, otherwise you will not get a job at KPMG. When I started studying art history I was told I was mad since with such a degree I would live under a bridge!
Luckily, my close family, namely my father, never tried to give me directions. He was sure I could cope. He knew I would find the right way, my way. He did not give me verbal advice but I’ve always felt he was supporting me. I knew I could do what I wanted, how I wanted, and when I wanted. He did not say a word when I told him I was giving up my job to start my own project, Moiseum. He could have discouraged me. Many of my friends did not have support from their families when they were starting out with their projects. The families opposed it, even tried to forbid them to begin on such an uncertain path. My dad gave me freedom. And that was super important!
I would like to have peace… But really… I cannot tell. I live from day to day. Just four years ago I was a student. I did not know what I would do in my life. So when you ask me what will it be in a few or several years, this is a cosmic perspective for me. I have two priorities—I would like to do what I want and have peace…
Different Take on Silicon Valley
Female Founders Program
In 2014, I went to Silicon Valley for a two-week long Female Founders program organized by Blackbox accelerator, with support from Google. Luckily the organizers financed my whole stay. This is because I think the female founders only idea was a mistake.
During our time at Blackbox we did not take part in outside events, we did not know how it was “in the real world” out there. We were strongly “incubated.” It was the first edition, which included American women, before Blackbox accepted only foreign founders.
Blackbox offered interesting meetings. Yet the whole concept of a two-week mentoring program for 20 women, where there was no competition, nothing to win, where the participants are on the same level was completely surreal. As a teenager I attended a female school for six years so being around just women was nothing new to me.
It quickly turned out that most of the participants competed with each other in a secret, premeditated way, which I completely failed to fathom. Why? What for? For the first week I was shocked after seeing what was going on, not knowing why. The program was an interesting experience but I think that it would have worked better as a regular, mixed gender course. It would have had a greater potential and carried more value.
The Trap of Females Only Approach
At some point I felt extremely uncomfortable as a participant and group member. I began to wonder whether if it had been a mixed gender edition I would have even gotten into an acceleration program. For me, who created a start-up as a woman, participating in a program targeting just women was a waste of time, as it was an artificial selection. It had mostly a negative effect. I don’t know what was the point. Was I supposed to get directed, was I supposed to not be afraid to continue working in start-up industry? It’s hard to tell. I did not bring home anything like that.
The organizers created a trendy Females Only program and got involved in a fashionable subject. They can write this project into their annual report.
Seven Thousand App Store Reviews
When we did a summary at the end of the program it turned out that my simple DailyArt application was quite a strong offer compared to others. First, it had great traction and retention, did not need outside investors, and had 7,000 positive App Store reviews. And many users who were sending me several e-mails a day telling me the app was great and asking to keep going!
I know the limits of DailyArt. It is a small application and I realize how much I can grow it. If I got into a real accelerator I am afraid I might fall into the trap of “digging myself into the sandbox” or I would need to show a steady few percent growth. I would need to get strong financing. But this is not what I want in my life. Maybe my goals are not overly ambitious but at the same time the culture of “pumping up” projects is not very appealing to me. I would like to come to Silicon Valley for vacations… Also, to prove that you can do things a different way, that you don’t need to just focus on fighting for the next financing round…
On Cultural Differences and Inspirations in a Museum
It is only when I went on scholarship to California that I understood why 70 percent of DailyArt users were from the United States, why they were the ones who will want to download it and pay for it. Compared with the Europeans, and especially with Poles, the Americans have a totally different approach to art. Polish people greatly revere art, in an almost religious way. In Europe we have many old churches and temples. Art is strongly connected with religion. Maybe this is where the pious approach comes from.
The Europeans have a complex attitude toward art. In France talking about art is considered snobbish. When talking about art, people stress their education, their refinement. And yet, the general level of education in society is not very high, both in Poland and worldwide.
But in the United States, people visit a museum to listen to lectures during which they ask questions and receive answers. They participate in a discussion. They take part in a community. For the Americans talking about art does not need to be highbrow. Art is something worth knowing about, worth learning something new about because it is an integral element of our civilization, a part of our everyday life. The Americans see inspiration and beauty in art. In Poland no one says, “I’m going to a museum for inspiration.” But in the States such culture exists. This is a cultural difference. To notice it and understand it you need to go and spend some time in the United States.
Mentors in the Life of Start-ups
The role of mentors is very important but I discovered it only after joining an acceleration program in Silicon Valley. There the start-up community functions in a completely different level compared to Poland. In Silicon Valley you can find real mentors. At home, in Poland, we don’t have them yet and those we have are not in the same league as those in the Valley. They cannot function in the same way, nor can they understand how to get along with young people.
The Polish start-up scene has not yet had big time successes. Those that are considered big in Poland happen daily in Silicon Valley and are considered average. It’s just a different scale of success. And another time-space continuum. In Poland many things happen slowly. And before certain trends have reached us they are already established in Silicon Valley or already passé.
As a Mentor…
Sometimes I act as a mentor but my mentoring has nothing to do with the mentoring in Silicon Valley. I am trying to help the start-ups that lack experience. I talk to people during start-up weekends. I like to help people and try to point out on where they should focus. I tell them to advertise not just in Poland but to create their website in English to be visible on the global Internet. These are just basic things, details. Unfortunately people often get stuck in their old patterns.
I can talk to people who are very daunted, as I have worked out many things over the past years. I can tell them not to be afraid or to think before they act, or to follow up the initial impact and catch the bull by the horns. On the other hand I don’t want this advice to sound too much like a command.
Thrown into Deep Water
The start-ups which left Poland and now are operating in Silicon Valley or were there for a while and now came back to our market represent a whole different class of a company—Estimote, Growbots, UXPin being some good examples of global firms with global successes. Piotr Wilam of Innovation Nest has the principle that people with interesting ideas need to be “catapulted” out of Poland and thrown into the deep water of Silicon Valley. Such an approach is just what Polish start-ups need but it is not yet widely practiced. The start-ups in which Piotr Wilam invests get a whole new perspective. Founders working with Piotr leave the Valley much wiser. You need to go to Silicon Valley and learn there.
One day Piotr Wilam asked me if I wanted to go to the States. I said yes, but I was more interested in New York which has many museums and is a large city. I asked what Silicon Valley really was and what was I supposed to do there. And I went to Silicon Valley. I still feel my stomach cramp at the thought of how stupid I was. Piotr Wilam always chuckles when he remembers what I said.
Today I am all set up to work remotely. I can be anywhere and keep working. I would like to come to the Valley more often, stay for a few weeks, maybe a few months to absorb more knowledge and draw from the innovation of the place. At the same time Silicon Valley is not a place where I would like to live. It is not my place.
Women in Start-up Industry
Question of Upbringing?
Women approach success differently than men. Women care about tangible things. And tangible things are sometimes difficult to sell. I know girls who are scared of talking about their successes. I don’t really know why. I met many professionally active women doing lots of interesting things but I hear about their successes 80 minutes into the conversation…
I know some who are respected figures in the start-up community, who organize fantastic, valuable events. But they don’t talk about their successes, they don’t boast. Maybe it is a question of upbringing?
I Feared the Unknown
Why are there so few women in the start-up world? Maybe they are afraid. I remember myself wondering if I should go to the Startup Weekend. First, I was scared. Second, I was scared I knew no one. I was scared no one would like me. I was afraid of the unknown. These are terrible feelings, but common.
Maybe men don’t have such fears. Maybe they don’t wonder if people will like them…
Women are more responsible than men and are more afraid of risk. They don’t want to involve people in projects that might not get off the ground, which don’t yet have funding. My professional path is very safe. I work and make money as a result but I make the money myself. I would never offer my team to get each a five percent share or to create a company, and for now we work for free. I would never take such a risk.
I’ve never had a problem working with men. I’ve never had a problem with being blond with a tweeting voice. I don’t know where lies the problem of male–female work relations. Although I know it exists.
If I don’t know something I never hide it. I don’t know how to code but I have trusted collaborators who do. I’ve never said I was the Alpha and the Omega. I’ve always stressed that my education is in art history and if someone has a problem with it, that’s their business.
However, museums employ mostly women but directors’ positions are usually reserved for men; women hold lower positions.
Advice for Women
I would like women to do their thing, not to be discouraged and not to give in to setbacks as these things happen to everyone. When girls want to create something, let them go for it. Let them build their companies and their start-ups.
… sometimes can stress dependence, I am afraid. I am not a member of any women’s organizations and I usually don’t participate in meetups for women. Yet if those organizations become springboards getting women ready to function in the real male–female world, if such a format can work it should be promoted. If something needs to be incubated, it should be done. Yet if meetings for women are organized only because of the fact that we are women and “women should support each other because it’s a bad, bad world out there” such an approach is silly and leads nowhere. You should, however, present role models. You should invite wise girls who do interesting things and radiate positive energy. At the same time you should make sure that women’s events produce results and don’t lead to forming cliques, as this is not the effect we want.
You Can Have a Child and a Start-up
I know a couple who recently had a baby. Both mom and dad are start-uppers. So it can work. You can have a child and a start-up. Maybe some girls think that when they start a family, they will have to withdraw from professional life. Such thinking is the result of media propaganda where we keep hearing that having kids means the end of professional life for women and the world of mothers is restricted to the home. The media keep spinning the subject of difficulties in returning to work after maternity leave. Examples that show the reverse are seldom publicized.
In Poland It’s a Bit Better
In Poland’s start-up world there are many girls who like casual style and others who are very feminine. There is no culture of all-male start-ups in Poland. When I was in Silicon Valley many people told me stories of sexism in tech. Reportedly, it is common that wives forbid husbands—investors—to meet with female founders. Or that a start-up founded by a women will get funding only if a co-founder is a man. I cannot imagine such a situation in Poland. I cannot imagine talking to an investor and being refused financing because I am a woman! Maybe in some respects things are a bit better in Poland.
We Are a Start-up from Poland
For me it is unthinkable that a Polish start-up does not identify with Poland. Most users of DailyArt know that we are a Polish start-up. Even if only because we make spelling mistakes in English captions to the paintings. No one makes an issue of the fact we are from Poland! Many users ask me about Poland, and write that their grandparents came from Poland.
When, during a project organized in cooperation with the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage, DailyArt showed pre-WWII buildings in Warsaw we got great positive feedback from thousands of international users. Poland’s history is very tragic and so it was a serious historical project. I don’t see any reason why someone would like to hide the fact that they are from Poland. I don’t think the founders of Skype had a problem with being from Estonia.
I am a proud Pole and I know that a team of people with whom I work also support the DailyArt welcome message: Greetings from Warsaw, Poland.
The interview took place on June 24, 2015 in Warsaw and San Francisco.