Scott Lynn is no typical CEO. Despite his relative youth compared to other successful execs, he’s already achieved unicorn status with Masterworks, an art investment platform that’s disrupting a market long dominated by the ultra-rich.
But how did he do it? Well, Lynn didn’t exactly take a traditional path to success. He forged his own way as a young founder, drawing from his life experiences and business philosophy.
In this blog post, we’ll highlight three key lessons that all young CEOs can take away from Lynn’s approach. Consider it a masterclass from an A student who aced Entrepreneurship 101 right out the gate.
What Is Masterworks?
Before we dive into the lessons, let’s provide some context on Lynn’s company, Masterworks. Essentially, it’s an investing platform that’s made the highbrow world of fine art accessible to regular folks like you and me.
Historically, blue-chip artwork has only been available to the wealthy few who can afford to drop millions at Christie’s auctions. But Lynn envisioned a way for everyday investors to get a piece of the pie. As a result, he pioneered a fractional ownership model in this asset class, allowing people to buy shares in iconic paintings by artists like Banksy and Warhol.
It’s safe to say the concept was a smash hit. Masterworks has brought in over $110 million in funding, achieved unicorn status in just two years, and democratized access to an exclusive market, having onboarded over 800,000 users to the platform since its founding. Pretty impressive stuff.
Given his success, Lynn serves as a role model for the next generation of savvy startup founders. Read on to uncover his secrets and start channeling your inner prodigy CEO.
Become a Market Disruptor
The art acquisition world had operated more or less in the same way for centuries, catering exclusively to wealthy patrons through high-end auctions, private sales and galleries. But Lynn saw an opportunity to open up this exclusive club.
As he’s noted, “The art market created this entire infrastructure of not being accessible. If you walk into a gallery in Chelsea, if you walk into a gallery uptown in New York City, most of the time people don’t even come up and talk to you. It’s just a weird industry that caters to the handful of ultra-wealthy people.”
Lynn aimed to break down those barriers to entry. He pioneered a fractional ownership model, allowing everyday investors to buy shares of iconic artworks. As Lynn explains, “We’re taking these paintings and these objects that a lot of people have never even seen before and just making it more accessible.”
His innovative platform democratized an industry stubbornly resistant to change. Now, people can invest in a Basquiat or Monet painting for as little as $20. His perseverance has paid off. By identifying an exclusionary market begging for disruption, Lynn paved the way for a radically new investing platform.
The takeaway? Don’t accept the status quo, and instead look for gaps where you can innovate.
Lead from the Front Lines
Many founders step back from day-to-day operations as their startups grow. Not Lynn. He maintains a hands-on, collaborative approach, working shoulder-to-shoulder with employees.
Thanks to the culture and flat organizational hierarchy that the team at Masterworks has maintained, Lynn and other executives are fully engaged, even eager to get their hands dirty.
As Jordan Goldstein, Head of Talent Acquisition at Masterworks, notes, “They’re not afraid to roll up their sleeves and get involved in the nitty-gritty alongside the rest of the team. No task is considered too big or too small for anyone here. We all work in person every day, so we are a pretty tight-knit group. I’d say everyone is friends inside and outside of the office.”
This sets the tone for Masterworks’ startup culture. Employees are similarly motivated to chip in wherever needed. It’s one reason why so many interns and entry-level hires have quickly risen up the ranks. As Goldstein explains, “One-third of our management team started at Masterworks as an individual contributor.”
So, what’s the lesson? Adopt Lynn’s hands-on approach if you want to inspire teams and unify your startup’s vision.
Double Down on What Works
Let’s be real – getting a startup off the ground is tough. Lynn knew he was onto something with Masterworks, but grinding it out in the early days was no cakewalk. Still, he doubled down on his vision instead of getting discouraged. Lynn just had a gut feeling that his fractional ownership model could shake up the exclusive art market.
And that conviction has paid off. As Masterworks started gaining buzz, Lynn went all in on scaling it up. He knew you’ve gotta put full faith in your best ideas if you want to achieve exponential growth. Now, with Masterworks solidly established, Lynn is looking to new frontiers. He recently invested $30 million to acquire the iconic Woolworth Building penthouse in New York, a trophy real estate purchase befitting a successful luxe industry executive.
While Lynn doesn’t plan to offer fractional shares of the property itself (or not yet, at least), it represents his willingness to make bold plays in new markets once he validates an idea. The penthouse was originally priced at $110 million, and as the real estate market rebounds, the apartment is likely to appreciate in value, which suggests that just like he does with blue-chip paintings, it’s possible a high-ROI resale is in the works here.
Here’s the key takeaway: When you’ve got a winning idea, go all in. As Lynn said, “It took us a year and a half to get the first investment vehicle through the SEC. Today, we’re launching one of these vehicles every week.” Ride your most promising wave as far as it’ll take you.
For aspiring CEOs, Lynn gives a masterclass on shaking up old industries and tapping new markets. Back your vision, roll up your sleeves alongside your team, and take proven concepts into uncharted territory. Follow his lead, and you might just be the next young entrepreneur to master the art of building a unicorn.
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