After COVID-19 hit Australia, co-founder of Australian art site Bluethumb, George Hartley, began to panic.

“It was a super intense time,” he told Information Age. “We saw sales drop off a lot at first but within two weeks they rocketed back up. Then sales doubled and they just kept growing.

“We went from having an existential crisis to needing to build up in a really short period of time.”

The Melbourne-based firm started hiring. Sydney, Bali, the Middle East – its production team now features developers around the world.

“Our production manager is still stuck in India where he was visiting family when COVID hit,” Hartley said.

“Fortunately, we were set up to be a distributed company. That has enabled us to scale up quickly.

“We will hire people from wherever so long as they fit the time zone, have the right attitude, are smart and a good fit.”

George and his brother Edward started Bluethumb in 2012 from a desire to create a digital platform to help Australian artists connect directly with buyers.

Over the years, Bluethumb has grown into a sleek, sophisticated platform featuring artwork of different shapes, sizes (and price tags) from artists around the country.

“It seemed like every creative industry had a way of growing their career online but fine art didn’t quite have that,” George Hartley said.

“Of course, we didn’t know what we were doing at first. But it’s been a fun journey and now it doesn’t feel at all like work.”

“Now, about one third of Australia’s indigenous non-profit art centres sell with us. These are some of Australia’s best living artists who are part of a rich 60,000-year cultural history. They are selling throughout Australia and are seeing huge demand overseas.”

Its latest success – coming at the expense of art galleries around the country closing due to COVID – has put Bluethumb in an enviable hiring predicament.

“This year, the huge top line bump our growth is outpacing how quickly we can hire,” Hartley said.

“We could have tripled in size by now but I am conscious of keeping the culture.

“Our head count has increased by 40 per cent which is about the highest amount I’m comfortable with in one year because we still want to keep the culture we’ve built.”

And while it’s important that new hires fit into a workplace culture that includes joining drinks and trivia nights over video calls, Hartley said nothing is more important than the right skills.

“When we’re hiring those technical roles it’s a different process to hiring people in sales, for example,” he said.

“During the interview we want to see what they can do. We give them a task and see what they can come up on the spot, so the focus is on them doing the actual role.

“If someone interviews well, that means they interview well – they may be skilled at interviews, and presentation but won’t necessarily excel at the execution of the job.”

With its own $10,000 first place art prize, the next step for Bluethumb’s growth trajectory is to gain a greater foothold in overseas markets for its Australian artists.

“We’ve got about 12,000 artists exhibiting with us, building their careers online, and thousands more still who haven’t heard of us yet,” Hartley said.