Brands turn more and more towards art these days, especially as a medium in an oversaturated market for attention. Even our favorite festivals and conferences, once “indie,” now feel overrun these days with hyper commercialism brought on by big “brand activations” trying to get in on what’s “cool.”
But there remains a standout. Canvas art — which first appeared as a visual medium in 16th century Venice — is making a comeback due to a somewhat unlikely duo behind canvas-art ecommerce outlet, Ikonick. Ikonick, led by Mark Mastrandrea and Jeff Cole — who evoke Peter Klaven and Sydney Fife (“I Love You Man”) with a dash of Cameron Frye and Ferris (“Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”) — look to make canvas art accessible to the masses without the gross commercialization that inevitably attempts to creep in.
Ikonick’s canvas designs caught looks from entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk and Scooter Braun last year, and, according to Mastrandrea, “plenty more is in store” (no pun intended) for Ikonick. Grit Daily caught up with the pair to get a deeper look at what’s behind an unusual brand that’s working.
Grit Daily: You two have had your own interesting entrepreneurial ventures from before Ikonick. Share those.
Mark Mastrandrea: It’s been a long road of successes and failures. In college, I sold Liquor/Beer, had a t-shirt company and produced parties / bus trips. It was a good run.
In my early 20s I spent six months of life becoming LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified, only to move to California and get laid off. I then spent a year selling energy-efficient products door to door throughout California — from Beverly Hills to Compton.
GD: You sound so useful.
MM: Then, I spent a block of time developing a concept called the World DJ League, only to raise money and get it all taken away after the passing of my business partner.
GD: RIP on this end, too, with Jacques Casimir at BNB Shield.
MM: I then had an apparel company, eventually transitioning into becoming the CMO of a hat company called Melin.
It was there where I toured the USA on a tour bus for three months, visiting over a 100 retailers and really starting to understand brand. I met an artist who I eventually managed and helped scale, where I found a hole in the price point art market. In late 2016, it was then where Jeff Cole (Partner/Artist) and I created Ikonick.
GD: And Jeff?
Jeff Cole: My art entrepreneurial training started at a very young age. My parents put me into private art classes at 7 years old. From there I did local art shows, sold my artwork on shirts, painted on phone cases in junior high before their were any phone cases. Fast forward to adulthood I’ve been apart of start up tech companies designing UI/UIX, starting clothing brands, designing packaging for consumer products, and product design for retail stores. I’ve done it all in the art world.
GD: What’s behind the Ikonick name?
MM: Jeff and I were miserable and broke in an apartment in Carlsbad. We started spitting off names that aligned with our generations’ iconic imagery. Jeff then just decided to spell the name wrong and we went with it.
GD: Perhaps you’ve spelled it right. What do you think has been the biggest factor in your journey?
MM: If I had to narrow it down I would say authenticity and speed.
As far as authenticity, it’s pretty simple: all of our pieces are inspired by words, quotes, things that Jeff and I are personally inspired by. We have never put out one piece of art that we personally didn’t like. By default, this created a very defined customer persona, where we spoke to people just like us.
As far as speed goes, it’s pretty simple. We live in a world where social media is king and things come and go quick. You need to put out a lot of stuff fast and remember, things change quickly. Jeff and I have never been emotionally tied to anything; if we need to pivot, we’ll pivot. It’s a win or die mentality.
GD: You’ve picked up some relatively high profile partnerships with Gary Vaynerchuk and Scooter Braun endorsing the work. Who else have you formally partnered with?
MM: The Marilyn Monroe estate, the Muhammad Ali estate, the Elvis Presley estate, the NBA and the an array of different emerging artists. You can expect a bunch of new partnerships coming down the pipeline in the next year.
GD: What are some of the keys that went into building this brand from scratch?
MM: I think the biggest thing is the people; I always look at “business” as just a group of people doing a group of tasks. First and foremost is the partner you pick. Having someone that you trust, with a complimentary skill set are the two most important things in my opinion. If there is 100 things you need to do for a business, you want the two founders to be capable of executing as many of those 100 things as possible together. I don’t think our business (an art business) would work with two “Jeffs” (or artists) and no business-oriented individuals (like me). The same can be said if we had two of “me,” and no “Jeffs.”
Find someone who has a complimentary skill set to you and you guys will be able to achieve the optimal amount of tasks, for the least amount of money, before you bring more people on to your team.
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