It’s no secret that New York City is an expensive place to live, which makes it a tough place for young entrepreneurs to get their start. But that didn’t scare off 29-year-old Tze Chun, the founder of online art gallery Uprise Art. In fact, that’s what motivated her to stick around after graduating from Columbia University. She wasted no time jumping into her career, though as Tze sees it, “If I’d known I was jumping, I might have been more nervous!”
With experience in managing a team, it’s no wonder Tze has taken on so many responsibilities in so many industries. From founding an online art gallery to launching a dance company and co-creating an app, she still finds time to explore the endless hidden gems around the city. How does she do it all without burning herself out? Challenging herself and continuing to learn as she goes: “I like a challenge. NYC has hundreds of galleries in Chelsea alone and there is no better way to learn about what is going on in the art world than to engage with it in person.” Read on to see how Tze has made her way to where she is and find out where she plans to go from here.
Full name: Tze Chun
Current title/company: Founder, Uprise Art
Educational background: Columbia University BA in American Studies (focus in Art in America), BA in Dance ‘06
You moved to NYC from Massachusetts to attend Columbia University, and stayed after graduation to launch and partner in several NYC startups and entrepreneurial endeavors. How did you manage living as a young twenty something in one of the most expensive cities in the country?
It was helpful living in NYC as a student first. It taught me that you can enjoy so much of what New York has to offer without breaking the bank. My favorite thing to do is explore new neighborhoods on foot and people watch.
Museums have free admission nights, and there are so many public art installations at any given time that it’s impossible to see everything. My current favorite is the Madison Square Park installation by Orly Genger.
With some of the best restaurants in the world within walking distance, it’s amazing how much money you can spend eating out in New York. Learning to cook in a New York kitchen(ette) is definitely a skill that comes in handy!
Do you have any advice for a young Everygirl hoping to move to NYC and launch her own business?
Ask for guidance, find mentors, and most importantly, make friends in the city. New York is a hub for entrepreneurship and meeting like-minded people is the best way to get your venture off the ground.
Did you ever consider moving to a smaller, less expensive city with less competition to launch your businesses?
I like a challenge. NYC has hundreds of galleries in Chelsea alone and there is no better way to learn about what is going on in the art world than to engage with it in person. At Uprise Art, we work very closely with our artists, most of whom live and work in NYC.
That’s the great thing about being an online gallery. We are here in New York working with amazing contemporary artists, and anyone around the world can view the art and learn about these artists’ stories.
After graduating with a BA in Dance and a BA in American Studies with a focus in Art in America, you launched Tze Chun Dance Company in 2006. Take us through the process of starting a modern dance company from the ground up.
There isn’t a clear roadmap in the performing arts world like with other industries, so you really have to research opportunities and make sure you are making the most of your resources. It’s up to you to create a structure for what your company rehearsal culture is going to be. I love Twyla Tharp’s book, The Creative Habit, because it shows that developing as a choreograph is like other professions in that it requires dedication and an ethic of determination and discipline.
Were you nervous at all about jumping into entrepreneurship so soon after graduation?
It actually seemed like a natural next step. If I’d known I was jumping, I might have been more nervous! I had produced several dance performances in college and also had a small business for two years through an entrepreneurship program at Columbia. By the time I graduated, I had over 200 student employees, so I was used to managing a team of my peers.
In addition to your dance company, you are also the founder of the online art gallery, Uprise Art. What inspired you to start Uprise Art? Please tell us a bit about the process of launching the gallery. How did you approach artists to work with you?
In 2010, the visual art world was finally opening up to the web: galleries were placing more content online, web platforms for artists to sell work were booming, and art fairs and auction houses were starting to venture into e-commerce. It was the perfect time to shake up the way business is done in the art world.
I noticed that my friends in NYC were still living with empty walls, even though a few blocks away amazing artists were creating and exhibiting works and actively looking for an audience. Traditional art galleries can be hard to navigate and at times intimidating, so I started Uprise Art to make collecting original art by living artists easy and more accessible.
I launched Uprise Art with eleven artists, almost all of whom I had been following and admired, and approached cold. Luckily, a few studio visits, coffee dates, and phone conversations later, they warmed up to the idea of taking a chance on a new gallery.
What went into the process of branding and refining your overall vision? How has your brand changed over time?
When I started Uprise Art, I focused too much on the pitch and the “idea”. I forgot that we’re a visual company with a visual product. My email newsletters and the first iteration of the website were really text heavy. Now, we try to let the images shine and speak for themselves. Our blog now focuses on captivating images and our newsletter is a weekly digest called “The Uprise8,” which contains just eight striking images.
Tell us about your team at Uprise Art. How many employees do you have currently? What advice would you offer to other entrepreneurs who are looking to grow their team?
We’re a team of four women and I’m lucky to be working with such an incredibly smart and fun group. Whitney Shaw, our Gallery Director, first heard about Uprise in 2012 and snuck into a talk I was giving at Harvard Business School to introduce herself. She became employee #1 three months later. Christina Lawrence, our Curatorial Director, finds interesting artists and works hard to promote their work, support their processes, and help them build long lasting relationships with our collectors. We consider the artists we work with as part of our team.
As the founder of two different companies (one focused on performance art in the NYC area, and one focused on visual art based online), what were some of the biggest differences you faced in opening up each company? In what ways would you still like to see each of them evolve?
Managing dancers as a choreographer is very different from managing a team in an office. With dance, when you work through a problem you can physically see the results immediately in the next run-through. Progress is when no one falls and everything happens on the right counts.
Working in an office/gallery setting, it’s harder to visualize projects and progress. At Uprise, we use a lot of online tools to help us keep track of progress and measure results; we use Asana for our task management, and Dropbox and GoogleDrive to keep everything updated in real time.
Looking forward, for the dance company, I would love to create more site-specific work.
At Uprise, we’re starting to work with companies of all sizes to help them find the perfect artwork for their offices. We help small startups find statement pieces for their conference rooms, and help large law firms diversify their corporate collections with emerging art. It’s a really exciting challenge to help companies improve their spaces with original art.
Uprise Art has been mentioned in media sources including TimeOut New York, Design Sponge, Forbes, DailyCandy, Martha Stewart, and the Huffington Post, among others. Tell us about how you handled marketing your businesses when you were just starting out? What advice do you have to new entrepreneurs who are trying to get the word out about their business?
People are usually surprised that we do all of our own PR! When I started Uprise, I was googling “PR best practices” and sending out tons of press releases in the third person. My advice is to read your pitches out loud. It helps you smooth out sentences and keep things short and sweet. Work backwards; think about the ideal article written about your company, and then tell that story in your pitches and supply all the details necessary for a writer to write it.
In addition to your dance company and Uprise Art, you are also a contributor for Quarterly.co, the co-creator of the iPad/iPhone application MiniMash, and a partner in the Brooklyn restaurant Battersby. Tell us a bit about these opportunities came about. With your hand in so many different endeavors in a range of different fields, how do you find time and energy to balance them all?
Being a contributor for Quarterly is a dream come true. I select original artwork and a bunch of my favorite things, and then Quarterly sends it out in a package to subscribers. The contents of the package are a secret until it arrives, and each of my mailings (check out #UAQ01 and #UAQ02) is unique, because there’s an original artwork inside each one. I get to give a gift to hundreds of strangers, without having to wrap a single one.
MiniMash was a collaboration between my friend Daniel Iglesia and I. We made the technical aspects of DJ-ing easier so that users can focus on the simple pleasure of finding two songs that mash-up in a fun way. My friend Luke Harris created the retro design interface, and we made Gizmodo’s Best App list shortly after launch!
Being a partner in Battersby is my most delicious endeavor. Owner/Chefs Joseph Ogrodnek and Walker Stern make truly special meals.
I think having more projects makes you more productive. You can take a break from one project by working on another. It keeps you from getting burnt out on one thing.
What is your favorite part about running your own business? What is the most challenging part?
My favorite part of being an entrepreneur is being able to plan my own path, rather than following a set way of doing things. That’s also the most challenging part. I love that we can put our ideas into action and test them out relatively quickly, without any red tape. At the same time, it’s tough deciding which ideas are worth pursuing and what we should prioritize on a daily basis. There is always more to be done, which is exciting but also exhausting!
Take us through an average day at work. What does your typical schedule look like?
Big cup of tea (actually, I collect Christmas mugs so it’s a mug of tea!), emails, art consultation for a collector, social media strategy meeting, lunch at my desk, studio visit with an artist, a meeting over more tea at Norwood, catching up on art news, more emails, event planning for our next exhibition, and a company outing to a gallery opening.
Best moment of your career so far?
Winning the DailyCandy Start Small Go Big contest last year. They set up an amazing week of meetings and workshops for us that led to our recent collaborations with DwellStudio, Haus Interior, and Birchbox.
What advice would you give to your 23-year-old self?
Save up. This thing called the iPhone is about to come out.