Interview with Justin Cooper, Society6

Last week, Justin Cooper, who was one of the founders of VC-backed Passenger, launched a new company called Society6 (, focused on helping to get artists and art projects funding. We caught up with Justin to understand his new company and why he turned his attention to the arts.

What's the idea behind Society6?

Justin Cooper: Society6 is a platform for emerging talent, to get resources and support that they need to realize their full potential. The better way to describe it, is by talking about what the problem it is solving, which is that creative talent has a real limitation on securing funding, resources, and the things they need to get themselves out there. We've created a platform where they can leverage connections around the world--a micro-patronage system--to secure things they otherwise wouldn't have access to.

The traditional route is through an endowment, where nonprofits provide grants. The problem with that, is the system is quite antiquated. It gives very, very large sums of money to very small numbers of people. We're looking at opportunities to give smaller amounts of money, to a much larger group of people. You don't need to be a nonprofit to issue a grant through Society6. You can be a nonprofit, a corporation, or even an individual. If you see on the site today, you can issue a grant for as little as $100. I, as Justin Cooper, can put up a $100 grant for an artist doing the most compelling work, in any corner of the globe.

Who would want to make a grant?

Justin Cooper: Really, anyone interested in support arts and creativity. We just announced last Tuesday a wide variety of grant makers coming on--including very large corporations. They see this as a platform for one: to root themselves in arts and creativity, and two: demonstrating that their brand cares, is out to do some good, and is empowering artists. On the nonprofit side, we're working with a few nonprofits who see this as a natural evolution of grant making.

The traditional system of grant making is fairly paper heavy--you're literally faxing around documents and applications, it's super labor intensive, and it does not leverage the network effect. The cool thing about Society6, is that about 70 percent of the people on Society6 are artists or creative people, and 30 percent are supporters. Even if you are not an artist or creative, you can participate in the process, and you can get a front row view of an artist when they are creating. You have access to the artists, and the narrative behind their work.

Why did you decide to start this?

Justin Cooper: It's important for me to acknowledge my two partners, Justin Wills and Lucas Tirigall. I worked with Justin and Lucas for the past seven years. We had a tight creative working relationship. Justin was the head of product at Passenger, and the situation was we had a passion for helping the arts to evolve and thrive, and it wasn't until January of this year, that we kind of woke up. We decided there was no better time than now to really do our part to support the emergence of arts.

Most people don't realize the importance of artists and creatives in society. One of the ways to revitalize a community, is to bring arts in. The three of us wanted to leverage our experience through Passenger--in building communities for the largest brands in the world, from Apple, to Nike, to Adidas, Starbucks, etc.--and taking that expertise to harness the power of the community. Right out of the gate, we've attracted artists from nearly 60 countries, which is really exciting for us.

It seems like this is very different from the commercial aims at Passenger, how was that transition?

Justin Cooper: I was neat to transition into something really rooted to creating good in the world. When I talk about us, I don't bill us as a business, or a web site, or as a nonprofit. We're really focused on creating a platform whereby arts and creativity can thrive. We have a host of ways we plan to monetize that, to ensure that our operations continue. But, we're really trying to keep pure as we possibly can. We want to support artists as much as we possibly can. Early on, we made the critical decision to think of ourselves as a double bottom line company. We're focused on both doing good, as well as being able to monetize that.

Can you talk about how you want to monetize this?

Justin Cooper: We're rolling out way to integrate people. We don't sell advertising on Society6, instead, large companies can support artists with money or opportunity grants. In turn, we promote that they are issuing the grant. It's a promotional vehicle; no company can simply buy a banner, they have got to come in and help support the arts. It makes for a really good story for brands trying to do some good.


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