Social Media Handles:
Los Angeles, CA
Short Business Description:
Discover, follow, and collect original artwork and exclusive limited edition prints by emerging artists.
For emerging artists, Tappan is the gold standard of distribution channels. As a young artist fresh out of college, Chelsea herself realized there was no good platform to properly promote and sell her work. Many of her peers were facing the same challenges in finding the right market for their beautiful creations, so Chelsea created one. Through her blood sweat and tears, she has built Tappan into the esteemed online marketplace it is today, and has spun off a high-touch art curatorial service in the process. She has balanced both personal and professional transitions in stride, and has managed to build and scale an impressive business with little to no outside funding – boys take note.
Five years in, she is an inspirational and esteemed powerhouse business-woman. She has tapped into a wealth of undiscovered talent, and established herself as a leading art curator in the process. She collaborates with a dream team of strategic partners, including Consort Design, Soho House, and many more. We may already be looking on with awe, but know she has only scratched the tip of the iceberg. Meet Chelsea Neman Nassib, the young women single-handedly changing how people buy and sell art.
What is Tappan?
We were born out of the desire to reinvent the art buying experience. Prioritizing the quality of work and our artists’ unique stories, we offer collectors an experience unlike any other. Highlighting the work of exceptional artistic talent, Tappan artists are selected for their unique approach to their medium, commitment to their work, and their professional accolades. The result is a simple and smart collection of unique art.
Before starting Tappan, what did you do?
I went to school to pursue a career as an artist.
Did you have any formal business training before launching?
What was your biggest fear before launching Tappan?
I didn’t have any, I was too young and naïve.
But if you asked me about today, I would answer, failure.
Your Glass Ceiling Turning Point
What inspired the idea to start Tappan?
As an artist out of school I found very little resources to help support my artistic pursuit. There was a gap in the market to support young artists like myself and give aspiring collectors an impressive and original selection of artwork to choose from. The concept of Tappan was a clear win / win.
How did you get the courage to just start?
By default I’m an optimistic person; that aspect of my personality combined with not fully understanding the undertaking is what gave me the boost to start Tappan. Additionally, I grew up around a lot of entrepreneurs, their successes made the possibility of success a reality in my mind.
When did you know it was a full-time gig?
I remember a few months after our launch saying, “omg, I created a monster,” because I wasn’t driving the work anymore, the work was coming in and I was just trying to stay on top of it.
Is there anyone in particular who influenced your journey?
My co-founder Jordan Klein would be the most influential person at the start of the journey, she is the one who came to me to start something that was art related in the online space.
The Business of Your Business
How did you finance your business?
My co-founder and I each put in a little money to get it off the ground, we really bootstrapped the business and we did everything ourselves. Since her departure, I’ve undertaken investments to build my team and take Tappan where it deserves to be.
What were the first 5 steps you took to launch?
- Form an LLC
- Sign an operating agreement
- Open a joint bank account, invest money
- Convince artists to work with us
- Launch our website
From a business perspective, we really just hit the ground running – trying to see if it was a viable business model and if people would even buy art online.
Would you do those same 5 things first, knowing what you know now?
Yes, they are the very basics.
How do you find and vet artists?
Many artists come to us, but we also seek them out through BFA and MFA programs, through referrals from our current roster, and through a lot of solid research.
You started the business with a co-founder, and now you are the sole founder. Is there any advice you have to offer on having or not having a co-founder?
Having a co-founder is awesome. You strategize together, imagine things up together, celebrate together and pick up each other up when you’re tired or discouraged.
But ultimately you’re partnering to start a business and you’re betting your livelihood on it. Be honest about your expectations of each other and the business.
Even if you’re best friends now, and think nothing in the world can come between you, have a conversation about what happens if one of you gets pregnant, married, bored, if you don’t see eye to eye, if one of you decides to move on…Who is entitled to what?
What kind of growing pains have you experienced?
Hiring a team and learning how to manage people might be the hardest part. You start a business and get it off the ground because you’re a doer, no bullshit, no excuses you’re going to get it done. When you start to hire and employ people there are a lot of personalities and expectations to manage, including my own. It’s a beautiful thing to have a team that works well together, looks forward to coming to work and I finally have that. Everything I went through is worth the team I have today.
Where do you want Tappan to be in 5 years?
Tappan will continue to be the premier name in emerging art, but in 5 years we will be even more globally visible to both collectors and commercial partners. We are building toward becoming a completely full-service, international art firm. The site is just the tip of the iceberg.
Where do you find inspiration?
I find inspiration everywhere, but probably mostly from people, especially our artists.
How has branding played a role in your business?
Branding has played a major role in our business. I was always committed to delivering a quality product, for me that means that the craftsmanship and how unique a piece is, as well as a great customer experience. I always wanted to be able to deliver the best in our space, and as a brand that’s what we are recognized for – finding the best artists out there right now, and being able to deliver quality.
How do you find and develop relationships with strategic partners?
Most of the people and companies we work with are organic partnerships. There is either a personal relationship or they come to us with an idea.
Are you part of any professional networks?
What challenges do you face as a female founder, and how do you overcome them?
I don’t face any real challenges because I’m a female founder. I think the only difference is an internal one, as women, we tend to be more cautious, carry a heavier burden, ask for less help, not raise money till we’ve proven something to work, rather than raise to prove it will work etc. In some ways I don’t see it as a challenge to overcome, but rather a quality to own. Statistically it’s better to invest in a female founded company because of all the above. It’s part of who I am, and part of why I think Tappan is what it is today.
I was at a Summit once, and a lawyer turned very successful businessman, said, “people say great businessmen are risk takers, but they’re wrong, they are just able to see an opportunity and how they can capitalized, it’s very calculated…” that always stuck with me.
This is me on a good day of course 😉
Has being married changed how you run your business?
I am a very lucky person, I have an incredibly supportive husband. Being married to Elliott makes me a more confident leader.
How do you draw boundaries, or not draw boundaries, between work and personal life?
For me this ebbs and flows, there are times where I don’t have a personal life. It’s wake up, work, eat, sleep, on repeat for what feels like a lifetime.
On the other hand, I subscribe to the “work to live, not live to work” mentality, and I don’t think there is anything more important than experiencing life itself.
But it all comes together for me because I see all my hard work as a means to an end. I’m working towards a life where I built something that serves me, and the people that make it possible. If it takes a few years of sacrifice I’m ok with that.
In a practical sense, I prefer to be 100% where I am when I’m there. That means I’m all in at work when I’m there, and that intensity affords me the ability to be all in at home or with friends when I’m there.
What is the best thing about running your own business? The most difficult?
That you’re leading the charge. That you’re leading the charge.
What are you most proud of?
That I stayed true to my vision and have been able to create something that didn’t exist before. That it really couldn’t have been done by anyone else, and for the most part I did it without significant funding.
At what point did you think, “I made it”?
I’ve never thought that, we have very big plans for Tappan.
And to be fair, I believe that statement changes at different points throughout the growth of Tappan.
What advice would you give to people who are just starting out in business?
To the best of your ability, be realistic about the commitment, the money, raising and not raising. Have a vision of where you want your company to be in 5 years and work backwards from that goal.
If you have a business partner, be very honest about the possibilities of it not working out. Discuss and come up with plans for your exit.
Surround yourself with people you respect that have built companies you admire.
Get ready to work your ass off.
Photography by: Julia Stotz