Entrepreneurs / Startups

This founder left Penn to run online art marketplace, Easely

Ashwin Muthiah and Harris Gani represent a minority in the Philly tech scene, where many college entrepreneurs decide not to take time off for their startups.

Ashwin Muthiah and Harris Gani aren’t going back to school this year.

They’re taking a year off from Penn and NYU, where they would be seniors, to run their online art marketplace startup, Easely. Muthiah, 21, said he’s already working 16-hour days and couldn’t imagine handling homework and class.

Plus, he doesn’t want to miss out on a opportunity.

“We’ll kick ourselves in the shins if we never give this thing a chance,” he said.

Muthiah and Gani, 21, who both grew up near Atlanta, Ga. are now splitting their time between University City and Pittsburgh, where they’re participating in a 20-week accelerator called AlphaLab. AlphaLab offers $25,000 in each company in exchange for 5 percent equity (they also expect companies to stay in the area after the accelerator, according to the FAQ).

Easely is selling more than 500 pieces of original art on the site, curated by a board of artists who have small amounts of equity in the company (“No talented artist is gonna upload their work to an uncurated site,” Muthiah said), and take a cut of each sale. They take 25 percent from original art sales, and a varying amount for prints. Easely’s prices range from $150 for a print to $15,000 for an original piece of art. Since launching one month ago, the total number of sales Easely has seen is “in the thousands,” Muthiah said, but wouldn’t disclose further.

The idea, Muthiah said, is to make art accessible for all — both pricewise and in terms of taste.

“Art is a gray area,” he said. “No one knows what’s good or why things cost what they cost.”

Competitors include Brooklyn startup Artsy, which sells more high-end art, and sites like Fine Art America and Society6, which don’t curate the art they sell. Like Fine Art America and Society6, Easely lets artists upload their art to the site (then Easely’s curatorial board decides what gets sold).


Easely cofounders Ashwin Muthiah (left) and Harris Gani.

While the Silicon Valley narrative might be one of dropping out to pursue a startup, Muthiah and Gani represent a minority in the local tech scene, where many college founders choose to stay in school. (The founders are currently only taking a leave of absence but neither of them feel too strongly about going back, Muthiah said: “I went to school to get a job, so if I have one that I like…”)

Penn grad Dan Shipper, who sold his company Firefly to Pegasystems shortly after he graduated, stood firm on his decision to stay in school, even after being publicly courted by a San Francisco startup when he was a sophomore.

First Round Capital’s Dorm Room Fund, which funds student-run companies, was started, in part, to keep students from dropping out to run startups. (On the other hand, Philadelphia’s tech scene is home to a handful of college dropouts, some of whom say they left school for financial reasons or because they were disappointed with their school’s tech curriculum.)

As for Muthiah, he said his dad understood why he wanted to take time off, but that his mother “raged on [him].” But she’s coming around, he said.

And, he added, he’s not so worried about failure: “If I’m broke two years from now, it’s OK. I have my whole life to make money,” Muthiah said. (He also knows how these things work. As a sophomore, Muthiah also worked on the now-shuttered DreamIt Ventures startup Altair Prep.)

Companies: Altair Prep / Dorm Room Fund

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