New York–based Gina X. Moreno Valle is the co-Founder and Creative Director of Subject, a site that promotes emerging artists and engages both new and experienced collectors by offering its own fresh take on how to engage with the booming art market. It does so by making the art world user-friendly, approachable and accessible. Gina and her partner launched the business in Summer 2015 and they are preparing to launch a 2.0 version of the business in Fall 2016.
Subject’s portfolio currently consists of twenty artists, with six pieces from each individual. Gina and her team follow a highly selective process so that the artists that they represent are both visually and conceptually solid. Moreover, Subject is global: the firm works with artists on every continent and has sold to clients in Europe, Latin America, the USA and Mexico. Keep your eye out for their pieces across the world: CENTRO, a university in Mexico, commissioned a piece from one of Subject’s artists for a permanent installation on its new Mexico City campus.
While she has an active 10%, Gina is also a full-time graphic designer and also maintains some clients of her own. Plus, like any good 10%er, she’s been doing both her 10% and her 100% simultaneously for the past 2 years. She credits her 10% for keeping her mind constantly engaged.
Note: I met Gina at a Cuba-related theme party thrown by the Young Professionals of the America in New York (as one does….). I already knew her husband, Ricardo Cervantes, but had no idea that he was married to a 10%er. We got talking and, of course, the details came out before long. I am publishing this interview to celebrate the launch of The 10% Entrepreneur in Spanish – El Emprendedor 10% – by Penguin Random House Grupo Editorial under their imprint Aguilar. Although Gina lives in New York City, she is from Mexico City and truly embodies the vibrancy and entrepreneurial spirit of her home city.
What is your day job? If you’ve left that job, for how long did you maintain both a day job and your 10% endeavor?
During the day (and most nights) I’m a graphic designer. I work at an amazing studio called Hugo & Marie where I have literally learned something new every single day. I work with incredibly talented people and I have a great time at the office. In addition to Hugo & Marie, I have my own design practice called Noun which has a few clients every month.
What was your inspiration for launching your company?
Entrepreneurship is something that I’ve always enjoyed. My mother is an amazing role model in that sense. I launched my first company at the age of 20, a concept store that is still up and running, although my role in it is now more passive since I’ve moved to the US. It was really a no-brainer when Subject’s Co-founder Juana approached me with an idea to launch an art platform. Art has always been a key part of my life. My great-grandmother was friends with Diego Rivera, my grandmother was an avid art collector and my mother has astonishing eyes for art and design. I bought my first work of art in London at age 20 and it will always be an experience I will never forget, mainly because that’s one of the great powers of art. You connect with something visual on an emotional level and you are able to enhance that connection by bringing it into your life. To this day, every time I see that painting I smile and it takes me back to that moment. I am passionate about this feeling and I’m intent on bringing it to other people.
When we started working on Subject, we brainstormed for a few months and as the idea began to grow, so did our excitement and passion for the project. We made sure to surround ourselves with people we admired and to enlist advisors to keep us on track.
Why do you think your business is a good idea?
I think I’ve experienced first hand the way a person’s eyes change when they suddenly connect with an artist or with a piece of artwork. Be it their story, the piece itself, the medium, the setting, or the particular moment, that moment opens up a whole new world of possibilities. I received calls from several of my newlywed friends or people who were starting to really think about their living and working spaces and asking if I could recommend any websites where they could go to browse interesting and valuable art. They were looking for things that I would buy for myself, or even any artists that they could contact to try to find their work.
It’s worth noting that the experience of going to New York galleries, such as those in Chelsea, and feeling out of place, intimidated or unwelcome is the complete opposite of what we believe art should be. We realized there was a gap to be filled in which art becomes approachable, emotional and available. We have created a place where you can get as much information as possible about the artist, prices, dimensions, editions, etc.
What convinced you that you could succeed – why were you the right person to start and manage this business? What gave you the confidence to actually try and go for it?
I don’t think you can ever be convinced that you’re going to succeed, which is a good thing because that means you’re never static. The moment you stop evolving and improving a idea, you stay still, and that means that you don’t make progress. Subject has been in constant evolution from its conception and I truly believe the idea is a good one. So far, we’re had encouraging success, but as the times change, so will the company, which is the beauty of the entire endeavor. You should never stop growing, evolving, learning and reshaping. This interestingly also applies to my day job, and it’s a philosophy I stand by and try to remind myself of every day.
How does this particular business idea fit within your life and who you are?
I am definitely a visual person and art is a constant source of inspiration for my design work as well as my personality. If I could go to dinner with someone, it would be Salvador Dali, just to get a glimpse of how he viewed the world. My favorite movie genre is the documentary. I’m a communicator but I also love hearing people’s stories and what better way to do that but through their own art or the connection they make with it.
What have you invested in your company?
So far, I’ve invested two years of time and less than $5,000 cash.
In what ways does this business play to your strengths?
The experience of starting my first company – the concept store – clearly influenced the way I approach Subject on a daily basis. I learned so much about decision making and seeing the world much more pragmatically. Additionally, as I’m a creative thinker, being immersed in art constantly keeps me inspired and up to date. After all, art, design, music, dance, architecture, etc., are all a reflection of the present day. For me, they represent the best way to figure out who we are and where we stand in the context of everyone else in the world.
How have the people at your day job been helpful (if they have) or encouraged you?
I don’t really mix the two things. I’m lucky enough to be surrounded with amazing and understanding partners who are willing to schedule our weekly calls at 7pm and don’t mind when I send them things at 11pm or 7am. I try to be fully dedicated to my day job and then fully dedicated to Subject mainly in the mornings before going to work and in the evenings before dinner. It helps me to be fully focused on each thing individually and to not have to divide my attention or energy.
Do you have any partners? What do they bring to the table that you do not? Are they also 10%?
Juana and I co-founded the company and brought the concept to life. Once we launched, we realized the potential that Subject had in terms of scale and reach so we decided to surround ourselves with people who had skills and talents that would add value to the team. Subject 2.0 in a sense is the moment when we invited 4 additional partners to join the team, each with a specific area of expertise that would help the company reach its potential on the long run. Amanda, our curator, is an incredibly experienced art curator and a prolific member of the art world both as a buyer and a seller. She lives in Canada. Maria, our CFO, has an MBA and has been working in banking in New York City for the past few years. Lucia is our COO and also has an MBA. She currently works at a boutique consulting firm in Mexico City. Finally, Alejandra who is a designer and programmer with her own firm oversees everything with regards to the web and social media. She lives in Mexico City. We are all 10% Entrepreneurs except for Juana, who oversees things on a full-time basis.
What has been the biggest challenge and how have you overcome it?
I definitely think it was the process of launching the business. The moment you sign the first artist then its not just about you anymore. It’s now about someone else, so you’d better make it work because they’re counting on you. It was scary and exhilarating at the same time and that’s the moment when you know its real. Then there’s the moment you make your first sale, and you want everything to go seamlessly. No glitches on the site, no payment issues. Next there’s the excitement of letting the artist know they’ve sold something and the tension of tracking the package every day to make sure it arrives on time. We have challenges every day, so the important thing is not to sulk or to dwell on them but rather to try to find the best and most reasonable solutions.
What are your top tips for managing time?
Don’t procrastinate! Make a plan and be realistic. Set deadlines for yourself that you can actually achieve and don’t forget to leave time in your week to relax, go out, exercise, etc.
Who have you gone to for advice and what you do when you need help?
We have set up a group of advisors in whom we trust deeply and who we go to when we need guidance or have questions we are unfamiliar with. Its made up by a series of people, including my mother and my husband. They are the top two advisors in my life.
What do you see happening in the future?
I see Subject continuing to grow and gain traction and hopefully becoming a go-to place for emerging artists in both North and South America, as well as Europe.
What books and blogs have you read and that have been helpful to you (if any)?
I like the advice on Refinery29. I also love Bloomberg Businessweek and Daily Ozy. I like to read ItsNiceThat and Elephant Magazine. I definitely use Instagram as a means to stay up to date on art happenings and am an avid listener of Radio Lab and 99% Invisible.
Anything funny, crazy, particularly memorable you haven’t mentioned?
I think I’ve ranted for 16 questions already! Seeing is believing – find us on instagram @subject_nyc