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This Start-up Uses AR to Help You Imagine Art Before Buying it

Singapore-based Artzibit seeks to create a community buyers and sellers of art

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BY Adelle Chua - 08 Aug 2017

augmented reality startup

PHOTO CREDIT: Courtesy Company

Two years ago, sportsman-turned-entrepreneur Jonathan Chew found himself facing a blank wall, literally. “I was fixing up my place in Singapore and I had this large empty space that needed to be filled,” he says.

He had some idea what kind of art he wanted to get but he was stumped with the fear that whatever he got may not fit on his wall or match his furniture.

He was on a trip to Europe when he found the art piece he felt would look good on his wall. He brought it to the framer and when he finally had it mounted on his wall he discovered it was only 1 centimeter off the edge.

“I was lucky,” Chew says. In all, the act of putting art on his bare wall took an entire year.

At a subsequent hackathon he conducted for his team in Clark Field, in Pampanga province in the Philippines, Chew remembered this experience and wondered whether technology can help make the process easier for those wanting to do the same.

“We wanted to make buying art easier for people by allowing them to visualize how it would look on their wall, whether it is of the perfect size and whether it would match all the other items that are already in the space,” Chew says. “We also help with the installation of the piece.”

Falling into entrepreneurship

This is Chew’s first foray into art but most definitely not in business. The January 2017 hackathon, in fact, was a gathering of members of his various teams – together, called The Absolute Collective – all building large-scale tech solutions to help other companies, many of them big names and industry leaders, improve their processes.

The Absolute Collective is 15 years old.

In no way was this in Chew’s grand plan. He started out in sports – he competed in national bodybuilding events – went into the national service and obtained his diploma in software technology. He worked part time as a bouncer and developed a good network such that he eventually supplied the services of bouncers in bars and gyms, to which he later on added food consulting.

This path was also not a common one to take in the early 2000s. “It was not cool when I started,” Chew says, adding that the usual route to success is that you finish university, land a proper job, perhaps hone your expertise by getting a masters and a PhD.

Chew’s parents were not too thrilled about their son’s choices, but they supported him anyway. “Early on, I knew that my talent and passion lay in building businesses and running them,” Chew says.

Harnessing Augmented Reality

First, a refresher.

Augmented reality (AR) is based on real time, real space.  “You just superimpose something on what is already there,” Chew says.  For this, you need a smartphone and your mobile app.

Virtual reality, on the other hand, looks real but is, in fact, a completely manufactured environment.

Artzibit allows buyers to vizualize how the art would look on their wall.

Artzibit uses AR to allow the art buyer to see exactly how a piece of art would look and fit on a wall, scaling it to the exact size that you want in real time.

“We also consider the quality of the print and the mounting process. These are included in our services,” Chew says.

He wants to save his customers the trouble of going to individual art dealers and fretting about the fit, as the app serves as a discovery tool for partnered dealers and artists.

Building a community

Aside from helping art buyers, Artzibit seeks to create a community for sellers and buyers of art, build a network among art galleries, and bring the work of lesser-known artists—and many of them are from Southeast Asia—to more people. There are many talented artists out there, and all they need is some exposure, he says.

“We envision a truly global marketplace for art,” he says, citing that the European Union makes up 50 percent, and the United States makes up 28 percent of the global art market, but artists from the Philippines and Vietnam are inaccessible to these potential buyers.

Pioneering product, traditional values

Sure, AR technology is still in its nascent stage. The product, while being able to measure the exact size of the artwork on your wall, will continue to improve. “We will continue to adopt more technology for increasing accuracy,” Chew says.

Artzibit is also significant for Chew in that this is The Absolute Collective’s first big public start-up.

“People are now enamored with start-ups,” he says. “It is a choice that comes with risks, uncertainty, and hard work. Often among my colleagues, I am the last to go.”

But not to worry. “I love it; this is my calling.”