The Apple-backed startup that curates conversations through art

“How does one achieve eternal bliss? By saying dada. How does one become famous? By saying dada. With a noble gesture and delicate propriety. Till one goes crazy. Till one loses consciousness.”
– Hugo Ball, ‘Dada Manifesto’ (read at the first public Dada soiree, Zurich, July 14th, 1916)

These words were written about a nascent anarchic art movement cropping up in parts of Europe and New York City one hundred years ago, but you can find echoes of their meaning in DADA.nyc, the artistic social network founded by Beatriz Ramos.

“One of the things that was important for us was to associate with the spirit of the Dada movement,” said Ramos.

Dadaism stood in stark opposition to much of what was going on in the world around 1916: it was anti-war, anti-establishment, and anti-elitism. The artwork and literature the Dadaists created asked critical questions about the role of the art in society.

“I think that spirit is very relevant now and we want to do that. Not in an aggressive way, but in a playful way,” said Ramos.

A Visual Conversation

Ramos calls DADA ‘Facebook for visual people’: a place to connect with other people through drawings.

Anyone can create a picture with the tools on the site, and then people can reply with a drawing of their own. The result looks like a long mural of interconnected pictures with people from all over the globe contributing. The mural continues to grow as long it’s being added to.

Ramos concocted the idea while running a pair of animation studios in New York City and Caracas, Venezuela. That job helped her realize that hiring artists from around the world was difficult.

“The process is really very broken. To this day what we do is call the few people [in a city] we trust and ask for recommendations. You need to filter quickly to get to the right fit,” she said.

She began to imagine a database where artists anywhere could share their work and contact information. That idea eventually blossomed into a “social network for creative people.”

Ramos reached out to a former associate, Yehudit Mam, who she knew from her time doing freelance advertising work. Mam liked the idea and came onboard, and they began looking for someone to build the technology.

Ramos searched LinkedIn for someone with the right skillset, and after 25 interviews whittled it down to two candidates. Abraham Milano was the one who stuck around and became the technical cofounder.

The team’s working relationship also speaks to their international reach. Ramos and Mam each work in New York City, while Milano works in Venezuela. Ramos didn’t meet Milano until at least six months after they began working together; Mam and Milano still haven’t met in person.

An Apple A Day…

DADA first launched with a web platform in 2014. Since then they’ve generated around 150,000 users, according to Ramos. Now they’re working on moving into the mobile space. Luckily, they’re getting a little help.

In March, 2016, Apple announced the release of Pencil along with the iPad Pro, calling it “the closest we’ve ever been able to get in the digital world to actually drawing on paper.”

When Ramos heard the news she became excited. “It was like, ‘Oh my god. This is like the best thing that could have happened to us. How can we get onto that train?’,” she said.

Apple is notoriously secretive, but Ramos began asking around and eventually got in touch with the company through a New York investor she knew. They set up a meeting with the tech giant a few days later. The meeting went well.

“We had a 20-minute meeting and we were in. That was amazing,” she said.

Apple has backed Dada and is reviewing every stage of the startup’s development. With its backing Ramos expects DADA will grow quickly.

Gigster

But there was one catch: during the meeting with Apple, the executives weren’t impressed with DADA’s rough version of its mobile app. They told Ramos the app needed to be redesigned. That’s when Ramos reached out to Gigster.

Ramos is a graduate and current mentor at the Founder Institute. While taking part in the FounderX Advisory Program she was introduced to Gigster founder Roger Dickey.

From there, Ramos said Gigster just made the most sense to help DADA perfect its mobile app.

Sharing The Wealth

Figuring out how to monetize the app is the next big hurdle for DADA. But Ramos seems more excited by the possibilities than deterred by them. Currently DADA has a store where people can buy different prints, but eventually the company wants to try selling products like t-shirts, books, and mugs.

Ramos points to the 80,000 drawings being generated every month and says the store is already showing some success. Now it’s just a matter of integrating the artistic platform with the retail platform.

They’re also looking at other possible revenue models like a royalty-free image database similar to Shutterstock. Companies could even ask DADA’s users to design products for them, says Ramos. Those are just a few of the ideas DADA is playing with right now.

Perhaps most interestingly though, is that the artists will get a share in the profits. Ramos is emphatic about this point.

“For us it’s, ‘How can we help them make money?’ If they can make money, then we’re going to be fine,” she said.

Tyler Trumbull

Ty splits his time between Canada and Mexico. He’s been writing for Gigster since early 2016 where he really enjoys learning and sharing clients’ stories. He plays banjo in one of Mexico’s only country bands, wishes he could write like Thomas Pynchon, and is generally a fan of the Oxford comma.