Paint-and-sip startup Bartega pivots online amid Covid-19, spreading the joy of painting to more

Bartega co-founder Benson Putra hosts a live painting class through Instagram. ©Bartega

The Indonesian startup finds new opportunities for growth in its unexpected shift

When Covid-19 forced Indonesians into home isolation in March, organizers of all sorts of offline workshops and classes, from yoga to aerobics, had to scramble to go online. Among them was “paint-and-sip” workshop Bartega, which transferred its classes from well-known cafes and bars to Instagram Live and Zoom. By selling painting kits to beginners that follow its free Instagram classes, it has continued to stay afloat.

The company’s quick pivot also helped it to see new opportunities. For example, it has attracted new participants from beyond its previous markets of Jakarta and Bali since its live-streamed classes are viewable from anywhere. 

Its corporate clients, which include tech companies like Google and Traveloka, have continued to use its services, with new activities such as journaling and guided self-reflection replacing the painting workshops it used to do.  

Bartega – which derived its name from the words “bar” and “bottega", Italian for an artist’s studio – started when college-mates Benson Putra, Nadia Daniella and Jazz Pratama saw that the experience and creative industries were on the rise. 

“But most people can only enjoy the creative industry as a spectator or as an audience member,” Putra told CompassList via online interview.

Art as a hobby

The three entrepreneurs believe that art and creativity should not just be a graded subject at school or something pursued as a profession. Rather, these things can be enjoyed simply as a hobby or even as a therapeutic experience. Their goal with Bartega is not to teach people how to paint; they want to teach people how to enjoy painting as a medium for exploration and personal expression.

To help shed the serious or intellectual associations around painting, Bartega includes the social component of drinking in its classes. Students could choose alcoholic drinks such as beer or wine, or non-alcoholic refreshments such as tea, depending on the venue. 

The team opened their first class to a close group of friends and collected fees from participants to buy the supplies they needed. They kept this up for the first ten classes or so until they eventually gathered enough supplies for 150 participants. This way, the business was “profitable from the start,” said Putra.

With public workshops held at hip cafes and bars, Bartega proved to be a hit. Putra said that up until March 2020, Bartega held 60 private and public workshops every month. The private workshops were commissioned by all sorts of clients, ranging from wealthy individuals who were entertaining a large group of guests, to tech companies and multinationals. 

Paintings with a message

Bartega’s corporate workshops were in great demand, with high-profile clients bringing in Bartega for team-building activities. The company has also worked with multinationals Unilever, P&G, and Disney to promote their brand through social painting, as well as with the United Nations and USAID to raise awareness about serious issues such as breast cancer and the refugee crisis.

In its corporate work, Bartega prides itself on its flexibility to create workshops for various purposes. A painting session done as team-building exercise, for example, usually involves collaborative “puzzle painting,” in which participants draw different parts that make a whole image. For brand-launching events or company anniversaries, the message would be based on company values or events in the company’s history. 

Key to this flexibility is the communication abilities of Bartega’s instructors. The instructors are selected from those who have had experience with painting and teaching the skill to others, regardless of whether they are professional painters or hobbyists looking to impart their skills. 

The most important thing, Putra said, is their ability to confidently speak to others and encourage participants to finish their work.

Bartega workshop participants show their work. ©Bartega

“More than teaching them technique, we have to convince them that they can finish their painting at all," Putra explained. "We also have to convince the participants that even if their results are different from the example shown, it’s something that they can be proud of," dispelling the notion among participants that they are painting to get graded by a teacher or other professional.

By creating an environment where everyone can enjoy the process of painting, Bartega provides a calm yet energetic alternative to conventional team-building activities such as outdoor exercises and large company seminars. Extroverts can paint while enjoying refreshments and chatting with friends, said Putra, while introverts can get fully immersed in their work.

Finding opportunities online

In March, the first Covid-19 case in Indonesian territory was confirmed. In the following weeks, shopping malls and offices closed and many people were required to work from home. Offline events were also canceled to prevent the spread of the virus. Bartega’s painting classes were no exception.

Putra told CompassList that the team had anticipated since February that the threat of the virus would make people afraid to go out and gather in large numbers. This foresight allowed them to begin free online classes streamed through Instagram Live from March 19, the first week of ’work-from-home’ for many Indonesians.

To keep the cashflow going, Bartega sold starter painting kits at IDR 350,000, about the same price as its regular public classes. The kit contained a canvas, acrylic paint, a palette and brushes – just enough for a beginner to follow the online classes. Those who wanted to try more advanced themes or have closer supervision from the instructors could opt to join the paid online classes via Zoom.

Bartega is still working with private clients to run team-building or other get-together sessions online. However, the programs have changed. In place of the collaborative painting tasks that it often provided during these private sessions, Bartega is introducing sketching and journaling. The aim is the same: to provide participants with a chance to understand and express themselves better.

“It’s more of a guided self-reflection kind of activity,” said Putra, adding that they have teamed up with a psychology practice to provide guidance to participants in the journaling activities. “Some of our IG Live sessions involve themes such as accepting uncertainty and finding new passions that we can develop at home.”

Capitalizing on the pivot

Bartega’s pivot to online was sudden and forced by rapidly changing circumstances, but it has also helped the team discover opportunities that they had missed before. 

One such opportunity is developing online lessons. Thanks to its Instagram Live sessions, it can reach audiences beyond Jakarta and Bali. The sessions have attracted viewers from locations as far as Sweden and the Bartega team wants to reach out to these potential clients through online events and lesson content.

Putra said this is critical to maintain the company’s adaptability. “I don’t think I can predict accurately what people are going to do with relaxed restrictions. When the restrictions were eased [in Jakarta], we all saw how people flocked to malls and the car-free day event,” he says, referring to the crowds that formed in Jakarta’s regular car-free day event when it was restarted. Wary of a possible reinstatement of restriction, Putra said he cannot predict what the consequences will be.

In addition, the company is looking into improving its online presence. Bartega previously relied on word-of-mouth and gained popularity through social media, but its offline classes could only reach people from the same geographical area. Now that Bartega is doing online classes, it is more important than ever to solidify its branding and increase its social media presence through more posts and possible collaborations with other brands.

Finally, Bartega is considering more sales of physical goods and art supplies to go with its programs. With its online classes, Bartega took the chance to sell its own acrylic paint as part of the painting sets. In the future, it is considering selling journaling and watercolor kits for the respective online programs.

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Edited by Matt Stanley

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