Toadsquare: A “LinkedIn for artists” from Prague

Paris at the beginning of the 20th century. The heart of intellectual and artistic life was beating in the Montparnasse neighbourhood. Referred to as les Années Folles (the crazy years); artists flocked to the neighbourhood’s studios and cafes to connect with one another and discuss the latest trends. With today’s ultra-connected society, one would think this should still be happening in a new 21st century online form. According to Toadsquare founder Jane Hrouda though, it is not.

“Toadsquare is designed to connect people and allow them to showcase and sell their work and themselves,” she told of her site, reminiscent of Behance and a bit like a mash-up of LinkedIn and Facebook for creatives. “It acts as a marketing, promotional and distribution site for artists and their work.”

Toadsquare launched in Prague on 17 May, at an event designed to recreate Montparnasse on the left bank of the Czech city’s Vltava River. The highlight of the event was the creation of the largest piece of collaborative art created in one day according to the Czech Guinness Book of Records. The social networking site aims to become the online home to the creative industries – artists, photographers, filmmakers, scriptwriters, designers – and provide them with an instant, global showcase for exhibiting their talents to agents, producers and collectors. A native Australian, Hrouda previously came into contact with creative professionals there while working on the financial and logistics side of making documentaries. She watched them struggle to do things that she thought shouldn’t be so difficult.

A go-to place for creatives

“There are people sitting there waiting to work but it is hard to meet people,” she said. “You can’t search for a creative on current social media sites, or you may find them, but you can’t see their work. The technology is there but not one place you can go.”

Toadsquare wants to give creatives the opportunity to share samples and examples of their creative talents; be it works of art, photographs, films, video, scripts, designs or music. Ideally, they’ll also be able to buy equipment and materials, get training, swap stories and tips with other creative professionals, advertise shows and exhibitions, invite expert criticism and seek inspiration.

1 million euros and 2 years

Toadsquare took a team of ten people about two years and almost 1 million euros to develop in order to get the specific functionality Hrouda was looking for. Asked about the high amount of money invested in the development of the platform, Hrouda said: “Certain functions exist on other websites, but Toadsquare brings this all together in one place and interconnects them, which involves very complex coding for the website. Our budget also included legal, administration, graphic design, PR and marketing.”

Financed by private investors, which Hrouda did not want to disclose further, Toadsquare is based on a ‘freemium’ model. It’s free to join and receive the core functionality but users need to upgrade for more features, like extra space to build their online showcase. Toadsquare also takes a commission from work sold through the site.

“Members can participate in the blog, the forum, showcase some work and publicise events,” Hrouda said. “They can also buy and sell from anywhere in the world, country to country, it’s not limited like some other sites.” Currently the site has about 180 members. None so far are subscribers, but Hrouda says that should come as users get more involved with the site. She adds they’ll be monitoring closely which functions the users like, but she isn’t planning for fast growth.

“It’s not super quick to sign-up, you need to take time to build your site, upload your work, etc,” she said. “Depending on how much content you have, you need to spend time developing it. But it is cheaper and easier than building your own website.” The site is multi-lingual so artists can put their information in, and thus communicate, in their own language. Ideally she says she’d like to break even in three years. And how did she come up with the name ‘Toadsquare?’ “Toads are good luck, particularly in Asia, and a square is equal on all sides –I hope it means good fortune,” she said.

The daughter of a Czech émigré, Hrouda says one of the toughest parts of launching her business in the Czech Republic was legal – learning the nuances of local business law. She comprised a bit on this by incorporating in Luxembourg. But she does believe Prague was a good choice for a global introduction. Her next target will be India.“The artist market here is more difficult, because it is small and harder to find people,” she believes. “But there’s a deep artistic culture here and a depth of creativity. I hope Toadsquare gives all businesses a chance on the global stage.”