How to build the Spotify of the art world.
Hussein Hallak shares how his platform Momentable.art makes art accessible like never before. Providing museum-quality images, customized channels and immersive experiences, it empowers artists to showcase work on their own terms. Hussein explains how blockchain enables digital ownership, tips and subscriptions.
Key insights include building community, leveraging the product for marketing, and constantly engaging users. With over 20 years' experience launching companies, Hussein stresses the importance of involving the team and maintaining open conversations. Learn how a mission-driven approach and flipping business models can revolutionize industries. This inspiring episode shows how entrepreneurs driven by purpose and passion can make culture available to all.
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The UnNoticed Entrepreneur is hosted & produced by Jim James.
Jim James (00:02.306)
Hello, welcome to this episode of the Unnoticed Entrepreneur. As you know, this is a podcast for entrepreneurs to hear how other entrepreneurs are building brands. Building brands because brands are what help to drive business growth. And they also help us to reflect what our business stands for and the purpose that we've got as individuals, as humans that are entrepreneurs who wanna make a difference in the world. And today I'm really delighted to introduce Hussein Hallak,
a long time entrepreneur, over 20 years running his own businesses. But today, Hussein who's based in Vancouver, Canada, is gonna introduce us to a company called Momentable.Art. It's a fascinating platform for bringing art into the home, like a Spotify almost for fine art. I've had a look, I think you're gonna be blown away by what he's gonna share, and I think it could really revolutionize how we can experience art.
But we're going to talk about how he's building what is in effect still a SaaS product. He's got to get artists to contribute the content and he's got to get potential customers to subscribe to the platform, to view the art and possibly even to buy the blockchain empowered artwork. We're going to talk about what he's learned about what does and doesn't work when he's doing that. And also what he thinks drives getting noticed as an entrepreneur. Hussein, welcome to the show.
Hussein Hallak (01:27.889)
Thank you very much for having me, I'm honored.
Jim James (01:31.274)
I'm flattered that you've accepted my invitation to come on Hussein because, you know, tell us about Momentable because it appears to me from what I've seen, Momentable.art, that you've created a service for people that love art and you're going back into the archives and seeing art as it exists throughout the ages. And rather than being slavishly following
AI and saying, hey, let's create new metaverse based AI. You're saying, hey, we have hundreds, if not thousands of years of artwork that most people have never seen. So take us through the journey of what you're doing with Momentable.
Hussein Hallak (02:13.645)
Absolutely. Thank you very much for having me again. I really love art since I was young. I remember having this vision of the art piece that is sitting in our in our sitting room and always having people having conversations around it and I was fascinated what it means and continuously over years people would talk about the same painting so that stayed with me and
I, for many, the art world seems distant, locked away, hidden, only accessible for people who have money or have the time. And what we wanted in Momentable is really to bring the best visual experience of art to customers through our software, through personalization, and immersive storytelling. That's what we set out to do. And I'm super excited that we're doing that right now with the release of Momentable DaVinci, which is the latest version of Momentable.
Jim James (03:07.95)
Okay, that's one of them. Originally you're from Damascus, I think you said from Syria, who's saying, but now you're in Toronto. And I remember as well seeing great art and always being sort of frustrated that I could only see it in one place. And you just had a memory of it because you could never get a picture, you know, frankly, of the quality to have it, for example, on my iPhone. Tell us, how are you solving this problem of creating
Hussein Hallak (03:11.202)
Jim James (03:37.386)
an online catalog, I mentioned a bit like Spotify, where someone can find art, find out about the provenance of that art, the story of that art, and how are you helping them to experience that art?
Hussein Hallak (03:50.725)
Yeah, the biggest challenge that we faced is that art exists in these kind of separated silos. Even if you look at a massive effort like Wikipedia, and if you open any artist like DaVinci, who we're celebrating this month, you are clicking between artworks, trying to read a little bit about it, clicking links and kind of trying to piece together in your head what it's like.
Whereas the best experience of art and the most honest experience has been in front of the painting. And maybe if you like music, having some music on or just stillness and just enjoying the art right in front of you and maybe scanning it, zooming in, and then moving to the next painting without interruption, unless there is the museum or the gallery is busy. Most of the time, and I prefer to go when the opening is done so I can enjoy the art and take my time of doing that. And that is, in my opinion,
honest experience of art. So we wanted to create something similar without technology coming in the way. So that is what we set out to create. And in addition to that, we saw, well, everybody has a different taste. So that's why we added personalization. So the more you interact, if you if you remember, for example, Spotify, or Apple Music, or even Netflix, the more you like and interact with things, the more it shows you something close to this, like you might like this. Because if you ask people, what kind of art do you like?
they might not be able to explain what it is because they don't know what the difference, a lot of people don't know what's the difference between abstract art, impressionist art, renaissance art, classical art. There's so many things and they're not experiencing art, but they have feelings and they can feel the art, absorb it. It's kind of like you know it when you see it kind of thing. Like you stand in front of the painting and you know you love it at the moment without knowing who painted it. Why is it important? You don't care. You just see it.
and fall in love with it. And we wanted to create a similar experience of the joy of discovery, the joy of enjoying the art. And we built our platform based on this. So with every tap, there's a new experience of art and culture. And then what we did is we noticed that people, while everybody is rushing towards AI art, and I can comment on my idea of the term even AI art, I think it's an oxymoron and best is a misnomer.
Hussein Hallak (06:13.005)
There's a millennia of art and culture sitting in storage and sitting in files. And there are public access projects with museums and other people that participate in doing great work, but sitting in storage and it's very hard for the customer to consume it. So we wanted to make it easy and that's what we did. And that creates a continuum so that when we introduce contemporary artists, people see the history that brought us here. And that is what people like.
like people like narratives, they like to see the origins of things and they like to follow the story from beginning instead of saying, here's a piece of art, it's great and they don't know like, why is this great? And why is this art, you know, it's such a such brushstrokes on a canvas, how is this important? And we answer it by providing them with the information and the and the artwork in such a way that they can enjoy it, understand it and love it and be interested in it.
Jim James (07:10.074)
And for those people that are going to be watching this on YouTube, Hussein is sharing his screen and he's just showing really the, the interface and we're seeing the amazing sort of high resolution, the high quality of the images and that we can have them scrolling. We can stop, we can have music playing with them. So he talks about making this an experience like the gallery and
I think what's wonderful here is that the quality of the images that you could then play across multiple devices in your home, for example, or in your office, or across any device is really transformative. I've personally never seen anything like this other than maybe sort of the Apple digital wallpapers that you get when you upgrade to Sonoma or something. They give you a whole bunch of new ones.
Jim James (08:09.002)
pictures and at the moment on his screen he's showing us amazing pictures from DaVinci and so on. Amazing high resolution and we can then tag and follow those. But you've also created a platform, haven't you, for contemporary artists to showcase their art without having to have a gallery and all the expenses. And you know, this is a show for entrepreneurs. As you've said,
You know, to me, entrepreneurs are artists and artists are entrepreneurs. Explain to me how your platform creates amazing opportunities for artists to showcase and to monetize their work.
Hussein Hallak (08:53.373)
Absolutely. So the biggest thing that we noticed with artists is that most artists live out of one stream of income, which is selling their paintings. To create other stream of income, they have to even, you know, go out of their way and create, you know, digital spaces. And it's usually broken up. They have to create their website here. They have to post on several social media. We have to create a community. There's so many things that they have to do.
When they sold the painting, they're left with the digital files sitting on their computer doing nothing. So an artist, if they sell a painting, they survive. If they don't, they starve. So it's not an ideal scenario. So we talked to artists and we said, well, what if those paintings that are sitting on your storage, you can actually put them and exhibit them forever? You know, like they're always sitting there and people can exhibit them and you can make money from them. So they asked how? Well, people can subscribe to your channel, just like...
YouTube offers, but in YouTube you have to create a video and most artists do not want the extra effort. They spend hundreds of hours to create their paintings. So to ask them, a lot of them find it very hard. Some of them do that very quickly, they become content creators. But for me, artists to sit and film something and to go through it and you know like it's a ton of work. So we said give us your digital files. We put them on the platform. The platform that organizes them.
So using artificial intelligence, they organize them into collections. And now you can send people your channel, your channel within Momentable. So you'll have your own artist channel within Momentable. And you can send them, they can subscribe to the channel, you can make it even paid. They can tip you, they can donate to you. They can support, let's say a project. You might say, hey, I'm planning to create these kinds of paintings, support me so I can do that. And you can also sell digital versions of your art.
and physical versions of your art. This for us presented the ultimate use of what artists have in general that they've created because they've created the work. It's just that the current situation online doesn't allow them. They can either sell prints or sell physical paintings, which is actually an expense for the artist to do that. And sometimes they can't reach their audiences logistically. They can't ship the paintings to them. Whereas if it's digital, they can offer. A lot of people want to support, you know, dollar here, several dollars here.
Hussein Hallak (11:16.681)
They support the artist and they may not be able to pay, you know, even a hundred dollars or a thousand dollars for a painting. It's out of the reach of many people. So that way artists love this. And we went back to the contemporary, with the contemporary artists, they love the fact that we were going after, you know, old art and renaissance art, because they are inspired by it. And they said, oh, we'd love for our audience to understand our origins and where we come from.
Jim James (11:45.298)
Yeah, and I think that's great how now you've got this sort of continuity, right? That you've got the history of art and then you've got contemporary art and some people can then start to tag maybe influences, for example. And as you say, rather than just having an Instagram or trying to build a Patreon account, you're creating a platform for them. And I think you've also then enabled blockchain.
Hussein Hallak (11:50.744)
Jim James (12:12.074)
haven't you, Hussain, so that they get the royalties from the sale in perpetuity, which is a massive benefit for them, isn't it?
Hussein Hallak (12:13.241)
Hussein Hallak (12:20.585)
We are big believers in the NFT technology, not the NFT how people did it, which is, you know, a quick get rich scheme, which has nothing to do with the technology of NFTs. But unfortunately, a lot of people called NFT art, which is another misnomer, by the way. So the NFT technology allows the transfer of ownership in digital form, which never existed before. You know, the music industry has a lot of support. If you're a musician, you can put your art
your music on many different platforms and people can buy it or subscribe to the platform and you get some pay. Obviously, the smaller you are, the less you get. But artists don't have that. You either sell a physical painting or a print and or if you want to sell digital, you have to go to the digital platforms or NFTs and a lot of artists don't want to show up there. They want their own particular connection directly with the audience. So we listen to the artist and what they want, which is a core tenant of what we do. And we based on our
continuous interaction with the artist, we developed this platform to say, here's what you asked for. You asked for your own personal channel. You can curate whatever you want. Plus, if people sign up to the platform, they see the curated experience, but they can sign up to several channels of the artist, which allows small artists that are just starting, you know, hobbyists, just starting to train, can have their own small channel that doesn't conflict with established artists. A lot of artists...
fear that if you're established, you don't want to show up next to upcoming, you know, hobbyists. But how do we support the art scene in general? So that was our solution to give people their own private space within a bigger space that people can seek them out and can confide them and they can promote it.
Jim James (14:04.566)
Lovely. So you have sort of a shared gallery for discovery, and then people can have their own studios for individual one-on-one. Thank you.
Hussein Hallak (14:07.665)
Mm-hmm. That's a great way of putting it. I love how you put things. Always, Jim, when we talk together, you're actually, you rephrase and it's like, Oh, that's so good. I should write it.
Jim James (14:22.787)
Well, I'm only able to listen to you and then maybe give my own little rendition of it, which I hope helps. I'm saying, you know, it's a SaaS product, a glorious one at that, with wonderful content, but it's still a SaaS business model. You've got, you know, people providing content, and that's only as valuable as the customers that come and look at that content.
Hussein Hallak (14:28.785)
which is brilliant. Thank you.
Hussein Hallak (14:34.106)
Hussein Hallak (14:40.583)
Hussein Hallak (14:48.035)
Jim James (14:49.294)
How are you crossing the chasm in terms of getting people to come to the gallery? Because it's one thing to put on a show, it's another to get visitors.
Hussein Hallak (14:59.993)
Yes, it is usually sometimes when you start something, I'm sure you've been there and you've spoken to people, like you think if you build something great, people will come and that's not usually the case. You have to do a ton of work to get people to come. So the way we're doing it is number one, we're a product led company and our marketing is product led, which means that the product has to provide the experience that we promise, which is why we built this and we added those artworks. So that's number one.
And we use the product in everything we do. So for example, this month we're doing a Da Vinci month where we're promoting, we're promoting Da Vinci and we're talking everything through the lens of Da Vinci. So for example, this is men's health month, it's November. So we're using Da Vinci's quotes, Da Vinci's lives and Da Vinci's practices and introducing them about how he took care of health and why health is important. So this kind of gives us a little bit of a unique.
approach to doing things and we attract people that are interested in those angles because you want first the most dedicated to attract those will carry you moving forward the most closest community. The second thing is community we have our discord it has like 8000 people and what we do is we do constant events last time we did events it's a lot of music and a lot of fun we want. Usually when you think of art and a gallery you think of very you know up tight people don't speak to each other.
very little fun, that's not true. There's a lot of fun and artists are a lot of fun to talk to and you have to be in order to survive trying to drive your passion. And what we do is we hold fun events where, you know, like this painting right now with, you know, the baptizing of Jesus, you know, go find two angels in, you know, a painting on the platform. So people go experience the platform, play around with it. So we get them to experience the platform and we get them to find
Why do you like this painting? We want to hear from them. Instead of impressing on them and say, you know, Da Vinci is important and the Mona Lisa is the most important painting. You say, why do you like the Mona Lisa? What attracts you in that? So it's continuing that constant conversation with our audience is a core tenant of how we market and who we bring along. Then what we do, our plan is once we get that core audience, get into a certain point and it's activated, we have within our platform, again, being product led, uh, referrals.
Hussein Hallak (17:24.717)
where if you invite people, you get, let's say, the subscription, the paid subscription. It's a freemium. We want to make sure that our platform is always available to everyone if we want access. And then if you want a premium subscription where you have more features, you can once you get it by inviting others. So by building the community, you get more rewarded. And we're planning our own point system to allow people to collect. And finally, our biggest, I think,
advantage is we actually give away art for people. So if you go to our platform at any given point here for example you'll see that if you go to our star which is the notification center you see these are collectibles that we've given to you and in fact this is in particular these artwork by Antonio who's one of the artists and this is inspired by my book this is one of the books that I wrote
And this is inspired by my life and the artwork is inspired by it. We're given away, we talk with every artist that is contemporary and we give away a portion of the artworks that are available for sale for free for select people. And it's only available for you for a week. So if I don't claim these, they will be gone in a week and another artwork randomly chosen for you to, to kind of have. And I, this also, it's like you're being gifted art. You're not asked to buy.
right off the get-go, which is the opposite of other platforms. It's just kind of a pressure environment, buy, buy. We're like, here, here's art experience, what it's like to own an art piece, what it's like to collect, because once you collect something, you're more likely to share it and celebrate it and talk about it rather than, Hey, this is a nice image. So that connection and attachment to something, we think it goes a long way. So these are our tactics for approach, for kind of creating this.
Jim James (19:16.158)
Yeah, Hussein, I think that's amazing because you're actually changing the fundamental business model aren't you? And then you're using some sort of gamification strategies as well. Now, Hussein Hallak, who's the founder of a company called Momentable.art, you've had over 20 companies, I believe, over 20 years you've been running your own companies. I always have to ask, although it's not meant to be an insult, but a piece of experience where something has not worked.
Hussein Hallak (19:25.431)
Jim James (19:45.422)
from a marketing point of view that you could share just to stop the rest of us making as many mistakes as certainly I've made. One thing that you'd say that you've done from a marketing point of view that really hasn't been worth repeating.
Hussein Hallak (19:59.961)
Yeah, absolutely. So I think the biggest thing for us is that we are a community, as I said. And as an entrepreneur, I make a ton of mistakes. And one of the biggest mistakes that I've done recently, because I've done a ton of mistakes in the past, is assuming that the community only wants to hear from me when I have something valuable to share.
So, you know, as an entrepreneur, you're always working, working hard, your head's down. And you think, oh, okay, I'll get back to the community when I have something here. Here's something wonderful. And what's not happening in this period, even though there is, you know, members of the team on the committee and engaging, what's not happening, sorry, I got a message that says you're not sharing your screen. That's why I stopped for a second. So what's not happening is that they're not hearing from me. The conversation has stopped.
So I come back after, let's say several weeks or a month and say, ta-da, and nobody's there. It's just like, so what? Whereas what I've learned, the hard way is that share, even if you say good morning, if you say, hi, I'm working on this, I'm struggling with this. Recently, I've been testing with some 3D printing because I wanna offer some gifts. And I shared the failure of my success. This is like a failed piece that turned out really bad. This is a 3D.
for one of our collections. And people engaged with it more so than when I shared, you know, we have this new thing, whatever, and we just released our platform because people want a constant conversation. They're not at your, you know, when you're ready, they're ready. So I think maintaining a conversation is a core element of an entrepreneur's, especially if you're a community driven. And I believe one of my dear friends,
Lloyd Lubo created a book about communities. And communities are the future. Marketing channels always fail, but when you're always changing and things change and something that worked yesterday may not work today, but communities always there for you, especially if you maintain the conversation. So my biggest learning is maintain the conversation. My biggest failure is I didn't do that as often as I should.
Jim James (22:23.306)
Well, Hussein, with what you've been building, I'm amazed you've had the time to do both, but you're right. It's interesting that people are interested in you being there with them on the journey, rather than just telling them that you've kind of reached the destination. Hussein, if there is one thing that you'd say does work from a getting noticed point of view, what would that be?
Hussein Hallak (22:47.177)
I think for us what works best is continuously as an entrepreneur, making sure that you're engaging the people around you, the team basically, in what you're doing. One of the things that we are, me and my co-founder, we are marketing entrepreneurs. We started several ad agencies. We know what to do in marketing.
But when you're leading a company and doing product, doing marketing, doing that, you will miss a ton of stuff. So one of the things that are working is when we're doing our morning meetings, we're actually sharing here's what we're doing and getting input even from members of the team that are not responsible for marketing. So when you're small, I think what works is that everybody's job is to make the company successful. Everybody's job is marketing. Everybody's job is, you know, making the product great.
And we got some incredible feedback from our team members. This is something that we missed out on in the start. What we'd do is we'd go do and say, hey, here's what we're doing on marketing, like and share. And people are not, and we're talking about our team who are really behind the vision, but everybody's in there focused on what they're doing. So once we open it up and said, here's what we want and our goals is to, and what we did is we did the numbers. We put the numbers of our users,
artists and our museums that we're working with at the top and say, what are you doing, even in your role? I know your role is just posting social media, but what are you doing to move these forward? And what that sense of ownership drove our team to becoming far better than we were a month ago, two months ago, three months ago. And I think that's a major thing that we learning that is adding value to our work.
Jim James (24:36.27)
Hussain Hallak, CEO of Momentable to Art, sounds like getting alignment from the entire team through those daily meetings has been of amazing source of power and growth for you there. So that's fantastic. And what a brilliant mission you're on. If you want to find out more about you and Momentable, where do they go?
Hussein Hallak (24:58.697)
You can search Hussein Hallak and I will show up more than often on Google or Momentable and we will show up. Go to Momentable.art, sign up for free. Tell us what you want more of. Reach out to me, Hussein, at Momentable.art. I would love to have a conversation about anything art, culture, and technology. We're always open.
Jim James (25:20.894)
And you've been very open with me and my fellow unnoticed entrepreneurs today, Hussein. So thank you so much for joining me and sharing your amazing vision. And I think really what will revolutionize people's opportunity to access and enjoy art that so often is hidden away under dust sheets or behind locked doors. So thank you for your contribution to making culture available to us all.
Hussein Hallak (25:43.493)
Thank you for having me. It's been awesome, Jim. You're an amazing presenter and it's a great conversation. I can't believe it's over already. Oh my God, this is so smooth. Thank you. It's awesome.
Jim James (25:53.418)
Well, it's smooth because you're an amazing guest and thank you for the kind words. And for those of us that have been listening, it's an amazing opportunity to have a serial entrepreneur like Hussein who has both the intellect and the humility to grow something that can change the world and yet be doing it with the best of intentions and still involving his whole team on a day-to-day basis. And that's a great formula for success. So I hope you've enjoyed this conversation.
And yes, it flew by because it feels like we discussed so many things in such a short amount of time. If you've enjoyed this, do please rate this on your player because it really helps me and helps the players to know that you're enjoying the show so that others can find it too. And share this with a fellow unnoticed entrepreneur and follow the show so that you don't meet and you don't miss another one of our great entrepreneurs that are coming on the show every Tuesday and Thursday.
This show is dropping with 20 to 25 minutes experiences of entrepreneurs on how they get noticed. And until we meet again, I just encourage you to keep on communicating and stay within this community of entrepreneurs. Thank you for listening.