What Can Artists Learn from Big Corporates and Startups?

Thesis: Established artists have a lot in common with corporate structures. Up and coming artists do behave more like startups

Different Pathways to Success

Understanding the different pathways to success will lead to efficient cherry picking. However, we have found strong support that this thesis helps artists, galleries and art lovers to understand and analyze the current status of an artist’s career. 

© Dan Cook


Established companies and artists generate budgets out of past activities they can allocate to new projects. The emphasize profit over risk and mistakes are leveled off by successful results. 

90% of startups fail and about the same percentage of artists is not able to pay the bills exclusively with their artistic work. Young artistic talents and startups have to find investors, sponsors or public sources of income. They have to be very efficient and cannot afford a lot of mistakes. The few startups and artists that become successful do generate high returns.  


Famous artists and big corporates have working relationships with customers, sometimes even a fanbase. They can leverage on these existing customers to find new buyers for their creations and products. 

New market participants have to be always pivoting, be more creative, look for USPs, think out of the box and present their ideas constantly to potential buyers.   

Decision Process 

If you have been in the market for a long time you decide based on market data and deep analysis. Measurement and tracking is reliable. For the individual employee or assistant the world around them appears to be certain. Decisions take time and many people and experts are involved. 

Newcomers trigger intuitive trial-and-error methodologies. Decisions may be based on gut feeling and are validated with customers. The world around them is perceived to be uncertain. Decisions are fast and direct.   


Successful artists have hundreds of assistants and successful corporations have thousands of employees. This translates to high fixed costs as well as complex structures. The whole organism can be highly productive even if some employees or assistants are not. 

Artists that work as a one-person-show or new business ventures need to be productive all the time. Everybody involved needs to get 100% out of their input.  


Guess who is the tanker and who is the speed boat? Who is not affected strongly by ocean currents and who is easily moved by the cruel nature of the sea? Artists and corporations alike have to think about their market strategy on a regular basis.   

New Ideas 

International companies and world-renowned artists develop new ideas based on studies, external advisory and market exposure. They are used to work in big teams and use vast ressources. 

Young talents and startups communicate with their peers and customers and develop constantly minimum versions of new ideas which then are improved over time.  

Work Process 

Complex corporates and famous artists have methodologies in place. Employees and assistants have clear roles, responsibilities and structured tasks. Processes have been optimised over years. 

Up and coming artists and startups do not think hierarchical. Things have to be done and executed. The artist and the CEO have to do tasks of different trades.   


Incremental innovation vs. radical innovation are different ways of operation. Even if we might tend to think that startups and young talents are better at radical innovation, there is enough evidence that supports that some big corporations and famous artists have been re-inventing themselves and their work completely over time. Big corporates like Google, Apple, Intel, Tesla, Microsoft, IBM, 3M, SAP, Bosch, Tencent, Samsung, Sony or Amazon are constantly reviewing new technologies and creating revolutionary products. Andy Warhol, Salvador Dalí or Pablo Picasso invented new styles and re-invented themselves over and over again.  

Many young artists and new entrepreneurial ventures chose a style or business model, innovate it just a bit and are very successful by doing so. Innovation on different levels is essential to artists and companies alike. Newly created entrepreneurial speedboats disrupt industries drastically until they themselves become multinational corporations. McDonald’s is in the real estate business even if their customers think that it’s a burger company. AirBnB disrupted the hotel industry forever by not buying into real estate. Uber revolutionized the taxi industry without owning one single car. Today’s artist can use materials and marketing channels that Warhol, Dalí and Picasso would have loved.   

Artists, Corporations and Their Common Denominators 

As to our initial thesis, we have found a lot of evidence to support it. This is neither a scientific study nor a black & white analysis. This is a practical guideline for artists, art lovers and companies. Our criteria do not apply to all artists, startups or corporations. Our thoughts should help artists and companies to think about these issues and understand their place in the market.  

Do you have experience with regard to companies or artists? Please leave a comment below. 

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