How does one create the ‘google of the art world’?

by Kay Hare

Pontus Silfverstolpe is the co founder and Head of content of Barnebys, the worlds leading search site for art, design, antiques and collectibles. The service was launched in Sweden, which is their Head Quarters. It has an impressive online presence of two million viewers. The business has grown rapidly and now operates online in France, US, UK, Germany, Italy, Spain and Hong Kong.

As an auction expert with 20 years of experience of fine arts and antiques Pontus is well- known in Sweden hosting antiques TV shows, and an antiques expert in several Swedish magazines. He also writes about the art market, trends and gives analyses at Barneby’s blog. I was keen to interview Pontus regarding Barnebys foresight on the silver market flourishing and to find out what is next?

You set up Barnebys in 2011 when the internet was still fresh. At what point did you see the gap in the market? How did you go about setting it up? Was there a lot of research?

I set up Barnebys with my co- founder, Christopher Barnekow. The story basically began with Christopher looking for a still life oil painting for his newly re-decorated kitchen in his country home. He had no previous experience with auctions, and not really with antiques either, so he did what nine out of ten is doing – he started his search on the internet, at Google.

At the same time I had been working for Scandinavias leading auction house for many years and there was always a question about how to reach out globally, and especially, to the next generation of buyers.

At that time there was a lack of transparency and high barriers of entry were extremely old fashioned in comparison to every other retail or e-commerce experience that’s out there.

The Swedish auction market was in the midst of a great change at the time, which meant that we launched Barnebys at exactly the right moment. We had 90% of the local Scandinavian market listed on our website within three months of launch.

The year after, we introduced Barnebys for the British market. Since then we have launched Barnebys with sites in eight languages, at eight markets and operate all over the world.

Did you have experience of IT programmes or was their a process to hiring the right people who saw your vision ?

No, we hadn’t. But our vision was very clear; we wanted to open up the conservative industry of art, design and antiques and make it accessible to everyone, in a user-friendly way no matter wherever you are in the world.

But to be sure know that you hire the right people is always difficult. At the same time, it is the most critical of whether to succeed or not. We were very lucky from the start we hired some great people who have been loyal and hard working. Today we are very happy with our fantastic team!

What were the first auction pieces ?

We started to cover the Scandinavian auction market, so in the beginning there was, for example a lot of Scandinavian design searchable on site. But now we have everything from Classic Ferrari cars to vintage vine and Rolex watches on site, just as we list Picasso paintings and Louis XVI furniture from thousands of auction houses and dealers around the world.

How did you handle the money side of things when it was a new online business? How did you build the trust with clients?

Since we are a search service, we do not make any transactions on Barnebys. We leave that between the user and the auction houses or dealer.  Instead we built trust to our user by offering a user friendly, transparent and relevant search service. We add new services all the time, like an appraisal service, the world biggest archive of sold lots at auction that is for free for our users. We also communicate to our users through newsletters, blogs and relevant and interesting content.

As it is an online business you can forecast trends, as with the blooming of the silver market, which trend do you predict is next to blossom?

The fashion and short term trends in our industry can vary greatly from season to season. But the hottest long-term trend is sustainability. No doubt. I think more and more people will be looking for quality, and quality will cost. If it’s not used items; antiques for example. Another trend that will continue is that the most expensive works of art will just become even more expensive, since the worlds richest are getting more and more richer. But we will also see higher prices for Indian art, African art, as we will for Japanese art and hand crafts and art by female artists over the next coming two three years.

With regard to interior design do you think there will be more emphasis on mixing traditional with modern?

Yes, I think so. We will not be so one-sided and anxious, but we will want to surround ourselves with quality and things we like. No matter the age.

Are your clients the younger generation or is it a mixture?

Just like the most successful TV-show ever, “The Antiques Road Show”, we attract people from all ages. From the ones that are looking for inspiration when decorating their homes to the hard core collector of Classic cars, Warhol prints, Brittish coins or a particular silversmith.

Do you participate at trade fairs or events ?

We do, with our personal present and sometimes we do barters etc, but not as exhibitors.

Do you think Monte Carlo has a high percentage of art and antiquities as well as classic cars?

Yes, this is obviously an area that attracts rich people from the whole world, so you find some of the major collections, or at least part of the collections in this area.

Do many antiques find their way on boats or superyachts?

I guess the Yachts sometimes get ”pimped” for the season or a particular occasion. Similar to how the nobel families once travelled with there most beloved treasures between their different castles. But at that time they used horses. Today the rich use their own jets.

Where do you envision Barnabys going in the next five years?

We will be the leading search service in the world attracting millions and millions of people, but we will also be covering every step of the ecosystem in the industry, for example being the supplier of white label solution of the most modern system for both dealers and auction houses (something we have already developed).

Building an International online business must have been hard work? And with social media never ending, do you find time to relax or have the confidence to take time off and go on holiday? is but, yes, I do have time for holiday, for example this summer I am coming down to the French Riviera for a couple of weeks, where my father has a house.

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