"In a startup, you must reverse your mindset – you fail first, then you learn...One of the biggest challenges has been shaking my fear of failure and letting go of the part of me that values what I achieve, not what I learn along the way."
We recently chatted with Dori Gilinski, who through her eponymous gallery, is democratizing access to art. Dori shares with us her experiences identifying art trends, taking risks, and challenging norms as a female entrepreneur. Join us in our conversation to learn more about how Dori is enacting cultural change through the Dori Gilinski Gallery.
Tell us about yourself and what inspired you to start the Dori Gilinski Gallery?
I studied literature and philosophy and went straight into a master’s in art history hoping to spend many years reading books in a dusty library. I did not want to become an art critic – I wanted to celebrate art! I found myself inspired by young artists from local art schools and discovered how difficult it was for them to sell their work. The first exhibition I put together was in my student living room at Oxford – I cleared out the sofa, painted the walls white, and hung up the works. It looked more like Ikea than the French salon I imagined it would be, but it had heart!
How did you go from selling art in your apartment to building a gallery?
After college, I spent time working at Hammer Galleries in New York and Christie’s in London, which cemented my passion for the business of art and gave me great insight into the inner workings of the art world.
Through these experiences, I identified inefficiencies in the conventional brick-and-mortar gallery and auction models, that were not going to be solved by simply moving online. My idea was to build a traveling gallery; avoiding the high overhead costs of a permanent space, whilst being able to promote the work of artists to a wider audience, and exhibit more extensively.
Wanting to start with a niche I understood, and recognizing the struggle for Latin American artists to garner the respect they deserve in Europe and the United States, I created a platform to highlight up-and-coming young talent from across South America.
Throughout this process of building your art gallery, was there any time you had to pivot or move in another direction because of a learning?
There is sometimes an assumption that your taste in art is what is going to sell, but with every new space, I have to look at art through the eyes of the buyer.
It is important constantly to look at your business from an outsider’s perspective. This means distancing yourself from your own taste and needs, and being open to pivoting in response to the buyer - so I would say that I am constantly adjusting the direction in which I am heading.
Where is the gallery today (literally and metaphorically)?
I have an office in Miami where I work, but as the gallery “travels” the gallery exists where the next exhibition is. My next exhibition will be in Boston this spring - all art will be for rent rather than for sale, a concept I’ve explored while at Harvard. The aim of this model is to give millennial customers a flexible way to experience an artwork for a limited time while also giving young artists a reliable monthly income.
What advice do you have for someone thinking about starting their own company and pursuing it full time?
It is really important when you approach starting a company to have a clear problem you want to solve. Rather than just saying “it would be fun to do this” or “this could be a cool solution,” ask yourself two things: Is this a problem that needs solving? And why am I (specifically) tackling this problem? This gives you a better methodology to frame your mission for your company and yourself.
There is a word that does not exist in Spanish that I only learnt when I moved to the US - gumption. I think someone thinking of starting their own company needs indefinite amounts of gumption - guts, a get-up-and-go attitude, resourcefulness, initiative, resilience. You don’t develop these things overnight, but I think of gumption as an Aristotelian virtue to aspire to!
How has being an entrepreneur shaped your business acumen, especially now as a business student?
As an entrepreneur you learn by trial and error. Yet, our inherited mode of thinking instructs us to learn as to avoid failure. In a startup, you must reverse your mindset – you fail first, then you learn. Kierkegaard wrote that “life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forward.” One of the biggest challenges has been shaking my fear of failure and letting go of the part of me that values what I achieve, not what I learn along the way.
Thinking about your experience as a female entrepreneur, why don’t you think there are more female founders out there?
There are female founders out there, but the challenge is making sure they have not only equal access to funding but also the right support and training. That said, I do think that it is great that we are seeing open debate on this topic and I believe that will only spur on more fantastic women to get involved in entrepreneurship.
And how do you think yourself as a female entrepreneur and how can you and other female entrepreneurs help to change the fact there aren’t more female entrepreneurs?
I grew up the only girl among three brothers, and saw that they never had to apologize for being intelligent and ambitious. When I was younger, I felt the need to downplay my own worth. As a female entrepreneur, it made me reflect on how important it is for a woman to really back herself, to be confident. She can have all the potential and skills, but if she doesn’t believe in herself, no one else will.
We have a duty to remove barriers to females in the field of entrepreneurship. Being a mentor and helping female founders build their network and unlock opportunities is how I try to do this, but I think how you try to make this change is highly individualized. What matters is that you take concrete steps to make it. I saw a t-shirt recently that read “Empowered Women Empower Women.” I loved it.
What lessons do you have on being a founder?
Be kind – to everyone. It's far more important than anything else in life or business.
What are your top three priorities right now from an entrepreneurial perspective?
To continue to build my gallery with the same grit and passion I had when I first started hanging paintings on my walls as a student.
Finding a strategy that works well to balance work for the gallery with my personal life. I want to lay down foundations in the next few years that will enable me to juggle a demanding career with a growing family.
Championing Latina entrepreneurs is really important to me. It is absurd to think that Latinas in the US won’t earn equal pay until 2248 - that is 230 years away! As a Latina, I want to help Latina founders have every shot at success.
Fire Round Questions
Trend most excited about
Making the art world more accessible.
Recent interesting article
What Social Media Was Like in 1857, which shows us that nothing is ever new. Apparently newspapers once featured telegraph items that bear a striking resemblance to tweets.
Female entrepreneur / investor would most like to meet and chat
Sofia Vergara. She started a management company bringing Latin talent to mainstream US market.
What is your spirit animal?
Best piece of advice
Be deliberate in your decisions.
Where can we find out more about your companies?!