Tuesday, 05 July 2022
MTArt Agency represents up-and-coming visual artists worldwide - and aims to disrupt the art world with a focus that is less on selling paintings and more on investing in the people behind them. Its founder, Marine Tanguy won the Demeter Award at the 2019 NatWest everywoman Awards. She shares her business secrets – why ‘doing the right thing’ helps you to grow, and how your entrepreneurial energy can be contagious.
Taking a tour of the artwork in my house. I wake up in the morning and do that, and it's difficult to be in a bad mood because I'm visually inspired by what’s on my walls. It’s also a daily reminder of all the people that I work with – and why I do what I do. I wouldn’t have been able to build the company that I’ve built or work as hard as I do if I did not believe in the mission and I wasn’t passionate about it.
I am very busy, so I don’t have time to scroll – for me, digital is a tool to expand what we're doing as a business. We've got a good social media presence and have built a really strong community out of it. I am available 24/7, but that also means I’m able to be on the beach, with my family or at home while I’m working. So, I feel that digital connection has actually given me life balance and liberation – as long as I have a phone I can still be connected to my company and still be making things happen. I have mostly nice things to say about digital, really. We even created a movement called the ‘visual diet’, about the fact that if you curate your digital life with visuals and people that inspire you in it, it becomes an enhancing experience – which was the subject of my second TED talk.
From a young age, if I had set my mind to do something because I felt it was the right thing to do, I would do it. Ironically, I had parents who were incredibly strict and because of this I developed a personality that challenges a lot. They were both teachers and are absolutely risk averse and tended to say “no” a lot - and I didn't like that. But that’s also why I'm now not afraid of someone saying ‘this isn’t possible’ – because people would say that to me all the time. That’s something my parents have given me, although not on purpose. I think they were trying to pass on being risk averse…and did the opposite!
Being an entrepreneur or being a good boss takes a lot of personal growth - and I'm grateful to have a job that demands that. I feel that the way I handle emotions or conflicts or even try to be fair is getting better – I have much more empathy and think more long-term now. And my job is forcing me to develop that, because it's about doing the right thing and you have to lead by example. I can't behave poorly for my team or for the artists. For me, it always comes back to the question, ‘What is the right thing to do?’ I concentrate on that in any project or situation – and the ‘right thing to do’ is often difficult and requires developing new skills or reflections to get there.
What I have in my bank account is exactly what I have money-wise. I know most people would say that is not good for cash flow, but I need to see exactly what we can spend or not spend in order to be able to plan. I check my bank account often. Even as we scaled I’ve also kept a constant that I'm the one making all the payments – when you do things you love you can tend to overspend or want to do more, and this keeps me aware of how much I have to bring in. This is a business at the end of the day, and you can't be too much of a dreamer or a romantic; I have to stay anchored in the reality of my bank account.
I remember being broke and not having a single opportunity, so actually times of crisis are not foreign to me - they are very much the ‘early days of my company’. We’ve tackled the Covid-19 crisis in the same way we tackled things back then, which is to go and pitch three times more than normal straight away. We thought, how can we add value in a time like this? So, we pivoted to selling more art online and pitched for public initiatives – we've got a partnership with a company that puts art up on big screens and we’re currently working on an amazing public art response in Trafalgar Square with Sofitel as well. Of course, it's tough, but we decided we’d still be pragmatic optimists about it, and I think people came to us because of that. Ultimately, you’ve got to seize every single day, give it everything you have, then start again the next. That usually generates sales or projects, because it's an energy that people find contagious and want to work with.
My rationale was that I would make plenty of sacrifices to start with, so that later on I would not have to make so many, like ripping the plaster off faster. I was 25 at the start of my company so I didn't really know the ’fun 20s’ – I didn’t go out lots, other than networking, and everything was about the company. A new company is like a child, because it doesn't give back to you yet…because it has to eat everything. Now I have time with my baby, a lovely home and a solid group of friends – my personal life came back very quickly. You just have to accept that for a time it's just not there and be patient. Limits are important too. If you’ve been making sacrifices for years and years and getting nothing back there's something going wrong somewhere, and you might think about putting a stop to it. If it's just two or three years and you start getting things back…then you know you’ve done something right.