From a young age, Brendan Ciecko had the idea that he was going to do something related to “technology, music, culture, art, and the intersection of all these various areas.” When he was around ten years old, he loved filling notepad after notepad with illustrations and entering his drawings into contests. Soon, he became fascinated with designing and developing technology for the entertainment sector.
At the young age of thirteen, he started his first company as a means to break into the music and entertainment sector: Ten Minute Media. Through his business, he designed sites and viral media for famous music artists like Mick Jagger, Katy Perry, and Snoop Dogg. As time passed, his interests in the arts began to blossom. In 2012, he created an app, Fontly, that documented and shared pre-digital typefaces. Exploring cities and recording the more traditional elements of them through modern technology turned out to be a massive success and the project blew up overnight and got international press.
As Brendan explained,
It, in many ways, was kind of my first step into how technology could play a role in either preserving, documenting, or creating a dialogue around the world’s culture. It would be easy to draw some lines of parallels between my next major thing which was starting Cuseum.
Bringing Together New and Old
At a certain point during this time, Brendan got an opportunity through his own companies to work with a prominent cultural institution in New York City. Brendan pointed out some of the issues he noticed: “I quickly saw how painful, frustrating and kind of obsolete a lot of the tools that these organizations had at their disposal were, and I started to notice this huge priority and drive towards creating a seamless, convenient and engaging experience for visitors.”
The problem was, Museums were using these large clunky audio guides that hadn’t evolved with the rest of the world. At the same time, the mobile technology sphere was growing, and its capabilities were rapidly increasing. For example, phones could figure out where they were, indoors or outdoors.
Looking at this problem, Brendan saw a solution. Like his favorite art movement, the Vienna Secession, he saw a fresh and modern perspective combatting years of something ineffective and behind its times.
His solution would involve more integration between the modern mobile realm and the traditional world of museums, cultural institutions, and non-profits.
The Cuseum Cure
Cuseum uses modern technology to help museums and non-profits increase their visitor engagement and cash flow. The company is so unique because of its seamless integration with the flow of the museum and the incredible level of innovation that it puts into its product.
Fundamentally, Cuseum looks to attract new audiences to these institutions, especially the younger millennial generation. They’ve done this through a clean, contemporary user interface that is easy to navigate.
They have basic features such as curated tours in multiple languages as well multimedia content to help educate visitors. Furthermore, they’ve implemented newer concepts into their service like augmented reality and image recognition to create more interaction between visitors and the art pieces.
Location tracking has also become a fundamental part of the service. Cuseum allows visitors to track where they are in the museum so they can find out what’s near them. Integration with beacons also sends notifications on people’s phones when they are close to something new or notable.
Even though Cuseum has developed all these advanced features, they haven’t lost sight of their purpose: enhancing the arts for all visitors.
And much like Brendan and his previous companies, whenever the opportunity came around to spread awareness of the fine arts, they had to take it.
For example, in the past few years, they’ve spent more time building their presence in the art world. After the government cut crucial funding from the National Endowment for the Arts, Cuseum created a campaign to sponsor and support them. They also created temporary tattoos around art pieces and distributed them throughout as a bonding symbol in the community.
This campaign and its advocacy for the arts caught the attention of people and the press and generated lots of organic news coverage, proving to be a success.
Finding the Pace
Although Cuseum found success in areas like arts awareness, some other facets of the industry proved challenging. After starting Cuseum, Brendan Ciecko found one dramatic difference between the entertainment industry and the world of cultural institutions: pace.
Brendan contrasted the two. “In the music industry we could have a meeting and shake hands that day, sign a contract and have something up in the user’s hands or on their screen within a couple of weeks or a couple of months, versus the museum or nonprofit sector where change management and transitions can sometimes take half a year or year-and-a-half.”
He found that the best solution to this slower pace of adopting new practices was having an incredible customer support team for these institutions to help them transition. Cuseum has a concierge that guides these museums and non-profits and walks them through every step, checking in with them to handle any ongoing issues or recommendations.
Learning from the Past
Through the trials and tribulations of small business like product development, promotion, and selling, Brendan has learned one big lesson.
When he first started, Brendan found himself engrossed in all of the new technology that was out at the time instead of its actual tangible benefits to the customer. As time went on, he learned to recalibrate and focus on which pieces of technology mattered and concentrate on making those work for him.
From the first day of the company to the present, the focus of Cuseum has broadened to encompass more aspects of the museum experience. It went from purely visitor engagement to the question of, “How can we help these organizations engage, acquire and retain their numbers and their donors?” They’ve included more touch points for museums and cultural institutions to reach visitors, as well a plan to roll out another application in the future to help these places create more value for their guests.
“I can’t even begin to emphasize how important it is to find mentors as early in the process as you can. Mentors have been hugely influential in who I am as an entrepreneur, a team leader, a CEO, and a founder. For any aspiring entrepreneur, someone with an idea that they want to bring to life, I would highly recommend building a team of people around you, or even one person that you can really depend on, to bounce ideas off of. Surround yourself with mentors and enjoy every every moment in your entrepreneurial journey.”