Arcual Life: Meet Our CTO, Michael!
Tell us about your professional background?
I come from an art background, originally – I studied fine art at the Slade, intending to become an artist. But as I neared the end of my degree I got more into programming and got a couple of very lucky opportunities to gain on-the-job experience as a software engineer. After a brief stint at a startup, I spent the next eight years or so building gallery management software for companies in London and then Berlin, and really enjoyed being able to combine my interest in the art world with my career goals as a software engineer. It also taught me a lot more about the practical and commercial side of the industry, which I had only limited exposure to at art school.
More recently I’ve been working building startups, and I spent five years at BCG Digital Ventures helping set up a number of businesses across a pretty wide range of industries and markets. It was a huge learning experience, and gave me the chance to help establish Arcual from the ground up. I’ve now been working on this project in one form or another for several years, and it’s been really awesome to see it grow from idea to reality.
What was a career highlight?
I’ve taken a couple of big, ambitious transitions in my career over the years, and those are always the scariest and most rewarding. Arcual has been one of those – we have a mission that we really believe in, but it’s not an easy one. We want to build really innovative technological solutions that we think will very much help the art world, but we are committed to doing that in a responsible way, that benefits the industry. That is both a unique opportunity to have, especially with backing like this, but it’s still hard.
What drew you to Arcual?
I like hard problems, I like art, and I see the ways we can help. Having been an artist myself, and still having many friends who are practicing artists, I also have a particular interest in making sure that what we do is to their benefit.
I’m not interested in being disruptive just for the sake of it, I don’t think that necessarily adds value. The legacy of technology has been a pretty complicated one in other creative fields like publishing and music. I think we can do it better here, and in cooperation with the whole community, both on the commercial side as well as the institutional.
What does a typical day look like for you and your team?
We’re a spread out team, with engineers in London, Berlin (where I am), and Zurich, so it’s a lot of time on Slack and Zoom calls! But it means we’ve been able to put together a really talented group of engineers together. We work very closely with the product team and the design team, so it’s also a very interdisciplinary effort. To build great products you need that kind of collaboration.
I try to split my time pretty evenly between technical strategy and longer-term projects we are working on, especially around our blockchain efforts, and supporting the teams working on user-facing products that we release updates to on a more constant basis.
What is your favourite thing about culture at Arcual?
We’re a team that brings a lot of different kinds of experience together: we have folks who have worked on really technical blockchain projects, team members with lots of experience of the art world, as well as colleagues who come from more fintech and startup backgrounds. That gives us a great range of perspectives and distinct viewpoints to draw from, and makes for great problem-solving discussions.
What would you be if you weren’t our CTO?
Over the years I’ve sometimes flirted with the idea of going back to a more direct involvement in art, either through opening a gallery (always tempting when you have very talented artists among your friends), or making art myself again. There is a lot of very interesting stuff happening now with artists becoming even more technical and more capable when it comes to programming, and really raising the bar on the intersection between art and tech. It would be an exciting thing to immerse myself in, but when I see the talent that is out there now, it is a bit daunting to be honest!
Where do you see Arcual in two year’s time?
Two years is both not very long at all but also an eternity in startup time! For us, I think the next two years will be about continuing to build on what we have, showing the art world how powerful these tools are, and helping open up new possibilities for galleries and artists alike.
In the meantime we have some bigger projects in the works that are on a longer time horizon, and I think 24 months from now we will be able to really up the game in terms of what is possible, but more on that when the time comes.
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