How paint and cocktails created a multi-million dollar company

by Justine Hofherr
October 18, 2016

Whether you're an amateur artist or a Picasso in the making, if you've ever attended a "Paint Nite," chances are you had a pretty fun time.

Launched in Somerville in 2012, Paint Nite started as an invitation for people to put down their phones and pick up a paint brush while enjoying a few cocktails with friends. Since then, Paint Nite has grown into a global community where local artists head to local bars in 1,500+ cities around the world, unleashing a creative and social movement that doesn't seem to be slowing down any time soon.

We caught up with founders Dan Hermann and Sean McGrail to learn more about the origin of the company. 

How did you come up with the concept of Paint Nite?

SEAN: Dan and I were at a friend’s birthday party where there was painting and cocktails and we observed the unbridled joy everyone was having getting lost in the creative process and with trying something new. We felt the artist that night was focusing too much on the art and not enough about having fun with friends. We thought we could put on a better party and make it more about having fun with friends and creating a memory as much as it was about creating a painting. Additionally, we wanted to avoid the high retail rents of downtown Boston and thought using the unused function space of cool restaurants might allow us to start the business with little up-front capital.

How do you find the artists for it?

SEAN: The artist community is tight knit and we've gotten connected to local artists all over the world via word of mouth.  It's somewhat easy to find artists that want to host a Paint Nite, it's a bit more difficult to find artists that not only have the talent but also can entertain, and command a crowd of slightly tipsy people.

What do you attribute the company's success to? 

SEAN: The unique nature of our business model is a huge attribution to our success. By partnering with local artists to entertain at the events, and local venues to use their space to host our events minimized the overhead for us, allowing us to scale quickly.

What sets Paint Nite a part from other e-commerce/art startups?

DAN: We are not really e-commerce, or a startup anymore. While we are in only our 4th year of operation, we are profitable and have revenues well in excess of $50M. Nonetheless, we do still have that startup feel. We are growing fast, and have a great, innovative culture that values creativity and teamwork over process and procedure. In terms of our business model, we are a platform that empowers art as a form of entertainment. We connect the dots using technology to bring to life creative events in local bars all over the US, Canada, and even internationally in places like South Africa and Argentina.

Can you describe the company culture? 

SEAN: Our culture is fun, fast, vibrant and casual. As a company that hosts 5,000 social events a month, we tend to attract a "work hard, play hard" crowd.

DAN: I’d say we are like Jackie Chan. Fun loving, lots of laughs, but with a certain amount of whoop-ass baked in. Don't be fooled by our artistic roots and love of cocktails, our hard numbers are better than almost everyone else in Boston, and that's from hard work and good old-fashioned smarts. Judo-Chop!

How do you maintain the culture as Paint Nite grows?

SEAN: Maintaining the culture as we grow starts with the hiring process. We seek people that not only have talent but also people that we feel will work well within our fast-paced environment.

DAN: Discipline and commitment to your core values. Defining well what matters to the organization and staying committed to them as you naturally evolve.

What do you see the company's biggest achievement to date?

DAN: People outside the company point to revenue and growth, but internally its things like our paint share program, which allows local artist's to receive residual payments anytime their paintings are selected for an event. Some of these artists receive literally thousands of dollars’ worth of passive income every month for paintings they created. The paintings are awesome! And they deserve that. We all love to see our platform touch real people’s lives in those tangible ways.

Any future projects/expansions for Paint Nite that you're working on?

SEAN: We just launched a new event concept called Plant Nite. Similar to Paint Nite, the events are held at local bars and restaurants, but instead of painting, people create tabletop gardens and succulent terrariums to take home. Right now, Plant Nite events are happening in 35 cities nationwide, and we have plans to expand to an additional 40 cities in early 2017. 

How would you describe yourself as a leader?

DAN: Adventurous. I love the challenge that Paint Nite has brought to my life and the constant fun and adventure that naturally comes with growing and evolving a completely new approach to business and entertainment. I am more afraid of boredom than of failure.

Are you hiring in Boston?

DAN: We are. Right now we have several open positions, but we’re specifically looking for full stack engineers who think on their feet. 

What do you look for in employees?

DAN: Paint Nite is a team environment with a sense of fun, and a social bent. We do really well with people who like other people, especially when they are curious and smart.

Some responses have been edited for length and clarity. Photos via social media

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