Since launching in September 2009 we’ve priced more than 62,000 items – usually about 200 a day. I started the company on my own, although was fortunate to have the backing from two of the Dragons, Theo Paphitis and Deborah Meaden. I used to be a director at Sotheby’s so I understand the market, and they bring the retail knowledge and advice on how to appeal to the average consumer. I don’t think starting during a recession was a problem – if anything more people want to know the valuation of their assets during a downturn.
A typical day will start at 8am, when I arrive at the office in Westminster. On Monday I have a meeting with our commercial director, who only joined the company recently. We’ll go through the accounts for the previous week and the prospects for the week ahead. Afterwards I might go out for lunch – this week I met with a potential expert in Japanese art. As the site grows we’re constantly looking for new experts who work for us on a freelance basis.
Monday afternoons I spend checking a few valuations myself, especially those that are worth a lot. The most expensive item we’ve valued is a Monet at £1.5m. But no matter how much something might be worth the flat rate of £5.99 per valuation still applies. More unusual items have included one of the very first Irish bank notes, valued at £20,000-£30,000, a medieval chastity belt and a set of early dentures. Leading up to the Royal Wedding we also saw a spike in wedding memorabilia. We valued a piece of wedding cake from Charles and Diana’s nuptials, and cards signed by the couple. They can fetch anything between £50 to £300, depending how personal the message inside is.
I’m also concentrating on growing the site at the moment. On Thursday I went to a conference organised by UK Trade and Investments which gave advice on launching a website abroad. China in particular appeals to us. The Chinese art market accounts for about 45% of the total art market so it could provide a big client base for our website. I met with someone who’d come over from China on Wednesday to discuss possible options, but at the moment talks are in very early stages.
Later in the week I might visit an auction or an antique fair. On Thursday I went to the opening of the Olympia antique fair, one of the biggest in Britain. I try to get out of the office by 7pm, although I’ll do at least another hour of work at home as the website’s peak time is between 4-8pm. I also spend most of the weekends working, because we’re still a relatively young company and you need to put in the hours to make it work. If I do get some down time then I’ll go to a concert or an art exhibition – but I suppose even that’s technically work.
Patrick van der Vorst is the founder of Value My Stuff, an online valuation service.