As Rob Weisberg looks to grow Invaluable, the Boston-based online art marketplace, it’s natural that he would seek advice from gurus in the art business.
The former boss at Sotheby’s? Check. A prominent New York art dealer? It’s a given.
Weisberg’s board of advisers consists of two people so far: Bill Ruprecht and Paul Kasmin. But after bringing them on board recently, Weisberg is looking to attract some tech whizzes, as well, particularly executives with significant public company experience.
That’s as good a sign as any that Weisberg has his eyes set on an initial public offering down the road. Invaluable’s top investors include Insight Venture Partners, Ascent Venture Partners, and Commonwealth Capital Ventures.
“Certainly an IPO is in the cards for this company, given our growth rate and our scale,” Weisberg says. “We’re probably two or three years away from that.”
This new board’s advice goes well beyond investor relations, though. Weisberg says board members provide feedback on proposed services, products, and expansion opportunities.
And then there are all the business contacts.
“Both of these gentlemen have quite a Rolodex that they’ve compiled,” Weisberg says.
Weisberg has a pretty good Rolodex, too. He was a top marketer at Domino’s Pizza before joining Boston-based Zipcar in 2010, as chief marketing officer. He left in mid-2012 before Zipcar was sold to Avis Budget Group, becoming Invaluable’s chief operating officer then quickly being promoted to CEO in 2013.
The growth has been fast and furious. Invaluable now bills itself as the world’s largest online marketplace for fine art and antiques. Weisberg says the 130-person company, in a former New Balance factory in Allston, offers a level of technology and customer service that many of its 4,000-plus auction-house and gallery clients can’t provide on their own.
“It’s one of the oldest known industries and goes back to biblical days,” Weisberg says. “But the process for auctions hasn’t changed much in a thousand-plus years.” — JON CHESTO
Boosting small businesses in Eastie
It’s human nature to be drawn to the new new thing. That’s why startups often attract more attention than established companies.
But Interise, a Boston nonprofit, has a different mind-set.
It aims to revitalize low-income communities by strengthening small businesses, and Interise will soon be opening a new location in East Boston, specifically targeting small-business owners there.
“There’s a saturation of resources for startups, because they’re new and shiny,” says Interise spokesman Craig Panzer, “but the things you need to start a business are often not the things you need to grow a business.”
One of the services Interise offers is a seven-month “Streetwise MBA” program, which teaches business owners to network, negotiate contracts, and arrange financing, among other things.
It also connects them with large employers such as Harvard University, Northeastern University, Boston College, Boston University, Citizens Bank, and Santander Bank, in hopes of winning business contracts.
That could mean a small cleaning company gets a contract to do custodial work at a local hospital, or a landscaping firm lands a lawn care contract at a local college.
East Boston companies currently working with Interise include Charlton Becker Catering; Maverick Marketplace, a business incubator; and DPV Transportation, a limousine and car service.
Interise hopes to have its East Boston location up and running in September. — SACHA PFEIFFER
Big money for a sports-data startup
The world’s best daily fantasy sports player isn’t just sitting back in his Boston penthouse and collecting his considerable winnings.
RotoQL, the sports-data startup founded by top-ranked fantasy player Saahil Sud, has raised $1.2 million to expand into the traditional season-long fantasy sports market.
Investors in the new round include DraftKings chief executive Jason Robins, early DraftKings investor Peter Blacklow of Boston Seed Capital, and Sud himself.
DraftKings, also based in Boston, is currently seeking federal approval for its planned merger with New York-based rival FanDuel.
RotoQL says it’s already profitable and expects to hit at least $1 million in sales this year.
The company’s software helps fantasy sports players analyze real-life athletes and quickly load them into fantasy lineups, taking some of the tedium and number-crunching out of what can be a mathematically sophisticated pastime.
In fact, the startup bills itself as helping players compete against “an elite few who dedicate countless hours” to winning big prizes, which can top $1 million in the biggest fantasy contests.
That description would definitely apply to Sud: He’s ranked number one out of more than 34,000 users on the fantasy sports website RotoGrinders. — CURT WOODWARD
Betting on bricks (and mortar)
Bricks-and-mortar retail may not be quite as over as we think. At least that’s the case for BoConcept, a furniture franchise that sells Scandinavian and contemporary furniture and pretty much everything for the home except kitchen cabinets.
Luis Rojas and business partner Anthony Goodh, owners of the BoConcept store near Harvard Square, plan to quadruple the number of stores they operate in Greater Boston over 2½ years.
In-person shoppers, they say, are a huge part of their customer base.
Look for a new store in the Back Bay in the next six to eight months, followed by one in Natick, then Copley Place and Chestnut Hill, said Steen Knigge, BoConcept’s director of US marketing.
The Danish company wants to franchise about 40 new stores in US cities over the next five years, said Knigge, who characterized BoConcept’s wares as a “grown-up alternative to Ikea” that caters to the urban crowd.
Knigge said that less than 1 percent of the company’s global business is conducted online, primarily because customers want to see, touch, and customize the furniture.
“We think the road to go is brick and mortar,” he said. For now. — MEGAN WOOLHOUSE
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