"Everyone wants to make some marks."
INTRO: Imagine coming home from a rainy, tough day at work to find a surprise package at your doorstep. Is it a book you forgot you ordered? Something from a 2:00 a.m. infomercial? You unlock your door, walk inside and tear into the package, catching a glimpse of the unmistakable pretzel logo on the side. Inside you find a collection of shiny new art supplies and immediately start imagining the possibilities. Enter, ArtSnacks. A dynamic small business that brings you curated art supplies on a monthly basis.
I remember the first time I came across the company on Twitter. I was on one of those clicking spirals where you come across something interesting and can't even remember how you got there. The clever name and pretzel logo caught my eye and I started reading about the purpose and mission of the company. Earlier this year, I reached out to the brother/sister duo behind the operation, Lee and Sarah Rubenstein. They are the brains and muscles that run every aspect ArtSnacks. Everything you see is a product of their tireless efforts to bring art supplies to the masses. They scour supply shelves and encourage everyone to share their creations through the online ArtSnacks community.
I spoke with Lee and Sarah many moons ago (over the summer), and what follows is a compilation of my notes from our conversation. It's an understatement to say they were a blast to meet over the phone and I'm thrilled to finally have these notes out in the world.
Environment + Geography
Sarah lives in Boston and Lee holds down the fort in New York. They collaborate easily across statelines and schedule time for face-to-face meetings and brainstorms (occasionally at their parents' house). On a standard day, they both work from home offices and/or anywhere with an Internet connection.
How did Art Snacks begin? (First, a few fun facts).
Lee and Sarah both went to art school.
They are 50/50 co-owners that never thought they would own a small business together.
They use words like "awesome" and "terrifying" to describe the experience of being in business together as siblings.
It begins with EatSleepDraw, a user-submitted online art gallery co-founded by Lee and Ben Ross. Now in the 8th year of its tenure, it is largest user-submitted blog on Tumblr with 650,000 daily followers. Not to mention they receive over 1,100 pieces of artwork per week for Executive Editor Anthony Lamberty to review. Sheesh! About two years ago, Sarah introduced Lee to Birchbox to see if his wife might enjoy it as a holiday gift. Lee subsequently asked if there was a box for him. More specifically, an art supply box. There wasn't.
They tossed around the idea of making their own. What would it look like? Who would subscribe? What would it be called? They did a three month incubation of the idea and a lot of research before deciding to launch. "We'll make sure it works, blog about it on EatSleepDraw and hopefully people will turn up," Lee says. In April 2015, after delivering month after month and gaining a significant volume of customers, Lee and Sarah both quit their day jobs. They wanted to amp things up by meeting more often, setting attainable goals and breaking the nine-to-five work mode. In a lot of ways, they're still discovering what patterns make the most sense.
Sarah's previous work in branding and fashion plays a significant role in how they make decisions on what's best for the customer. Being a team of two means they touch every aspect of the business. They manage the community, source and test the supplies, handle business development and support customers individually. They believe that their greatest strength and source of inspiration lies within their customers, and they strive to make thoughtful choices every step of the way. In Sarah's words, “Our ultimate goal is to make sure the customer experience is flawless, like Beyonce. “
Media + Motivation
There is no shortage of ideas, and the challenge lies in focusing on what works for the brand. "It's all about working backwards. What does it look like? Where are we going to get this stuff?" Next they divide and conquer, strike a balance and stay on task. Lee finds inspiration in the abundance of art and design in New York, while Sarah soaks in the benefits of a collegiate / startup town by attending lectures and drop-in classes.
A few of Sarah's podcast subscriptions:
- Wait, Wait...Don't Tell Me!
- Reply All
- Mystery Show
- The Moth
- This American Life
- Call Your Girlfriend
A few of Lee's subscriptions:
- 99% Invisible
- Mystery Show
- Planet Money
- The Ask Gary V Podcast
- The Tim Ferriss Show
- StartUp Podcast
- Mythbusters (TV)
- Marcus Lemonis' The Profit (TV)
Last but not least, I asked Lee and Sarah about how they describe their work to other people. Describing creative work can be really challenging and it's always fun to see how different people go about it. Here's what they had to say:
"I sell art supplies." - Lee
"I run a monthly subscription box for art supplies, called ArtSnacks." - Sarah