Business Tech

Perennial Entrepreneur: Sheldon Laube Launches Artkick

Serial entrepreneur Sheldon Laube, the former PricewaterhouseCooper CIO, and current CEO of ArtKick has made his presence known as one of the new Silicon Valley startups in California. And he’s making a lot of noise in the corporate world.

“I have been an entrepreneur my whole life,” Laube says from his office in San Franciso. “Artkick is my fifth startup and my first was a consulting company in my college dorm room way back then,” he added, “While in college I applied for a summer job as a programmer, but no one wanted to hire me. So, I started my own company and hired myself and that’s where it all started.”

Today, the lean-bearded-40-year-old looks more like a Talmudic scholar in the tech industry with stints as Pac’s first chief innovation officer and Novell’s former CTO. Now he’s at the helm of one of Silicon Valley’s most promising young art-tech startups.

It all started back in the 1980s, just before the period, when Microsoft founder Bill Gates created a first-of-its-kind 22-foot “video wall” in his Seattle home. From the on-set, it featured thousands of digitized images of fine art and classic photographs. In fact, Gates spent millions crafting the world’s largest and most impressive digital art library.

Why was Bill Gates unsuccessful with his idea 25-years-ago?

First, there were no high definition or flat screen TVs. They didn’t exist. Gates wanted to display high quality art, but had to buy commercial studio monitors. Those cost tens of thousands of dollars. Second, there were few high-speed Internet connections in American households. Gates had to build a whole server farm in his house in order to host 100 images. The technology of the day wasn’t ready for Gates’ vision. He faced the same problem George Lucas had when he tried to produce Star Wars. However, the technology wasn’t there, yet. Thus, his efforts largely remained unrealized outside of his personal home. In 1989, Gates established a profit-making business. However, Interactive Home Systems failed to sustain a strong presence in the market place. The company eventually morphed into Corbis Corp., one of the world’s major licensors of photos, footage and other media.

“It’s an interesting story,” Laube explained. “I didn’t even make the connection to what Gates had done, even though I sort of knew about it. But it was a completely independent thought,” he added, while pausing in between sentences. “Just goes to show you that Gates was a great visionary with brilliant ideas way back then.”

His success is very much a family affair. In fact, Laube’s wife as it turns out, is a fine arts photographer, whom sold her art outdoors at fairs during the summers in the Silicon Valley. People would flock and pay hundreds of dollars to have her photos in their home. “My wife at the time was thinking about to expand her business, because standing in booths at fairs for days was tiring,” added the tech industry veteran. While attending a lecture at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art there was a panel of art handlers who were discussing the idea of collecting photography and art. “The discussions were very depressing,” he said with a chuckle. At that moment, a light bulb went off. “How do we bring fine art to the people rather than the people to the art?”

From that befuddling question Artkick came to fruition---a cutting edge progressive digital technology company. Not bad for a serial entrepreneur. Laube said that the new state-of-the-art technology includes the “proliferation of mobile apps low-cost Smart TVs, and high-tech tools such as Roku,” which will catapult Artkick to new heights. “The free app with more than 50,000 images which includes such artist as Monet, Van Gogh and Picasso can be made available on Artkick,” Laube said. “We will offer subscriptions and we will share the money with the artists.”

He acknowledges that copyright issues will be handled fairly from a corporate prospective. “Copyright is very clear,” Laube continues, “All art falls in the public domain in the United States. Especially, an artist who has passed 70-80 years or more.”

But Laube admits that it has been a long, tough journey between then and now. He says he has worked on multiple startups and dedicated two long stints at PricewaterhouseCoopers as a big corporate executive. As an entrepreneur and engineer, he enjoys building “cool things for people.”

“I was the first CIO of innovation at PricewaterCoopers in the dawn of the PC era and it was tremendously exciting, but after a decade, I went to being a startup guy,” Laube said.

He helped found a company called USweb which was the world’s largest Internet consulting firm during the Internet boom. That company grew from five people to 2,500 in more than 23 countries in fewer than 25 months. Laube also helped develop another company called Centerbeam, that provided outsource IT services for small to mid-size businesses. Then Laube ended up back at PwC got another seven years.

After leaving PwC roughly 18-months later, and taking a hiatus, Laube had an idea. And he literary couldn’t shake it. That’s how Artkick was born. Today, Laube now hopes to make a dent in digital technology.  “’We’re here to put a dent in the universe. Otherwise why else even be here.’ That’s a quote from Steve Jobs. I’m here to help people be a part of that, giving them the opportunity to make a difference,” he added, “That’s what I try to model my professional life on. I motivate people. I get them excited about this vision and get them to be a part of changing the world in a small way.”

Laube’s biggest strength is vision building in corporate America, helping people especially entrepreneurs, work for startups, so they can rock the world, very similar to what Gates did with the personal computer. “Gates is aware of our concept. Actually, I sent him a note. The note said, ‘I am bringing your vision to life,’” Laube admits.

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