Angelo Sotira: CEO & Co-Founder of DeviantArt

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Angelo is the CEO of DeviantArt, the world’s largest online community for artists and art enthusiasts. In 2000, at only 19 years old, Angelo co-founded DeviantArt, as part of a larger network of music-related websites, for people to share media player "skins” they had designed alongside other artwork. With a commitment to art, the site quickly evolved as a community where digital artists could meet, share their artwork and exchange feedback with one another. It has since grown to become one of the most trafficked sites in the world with over 33.8 million registered members contributing more than 300 million works of art. 

For the past decade, Angelo has guided DeviantArt’s massive community, growing it into a deeply supportive collective that represents more than 2,500 genres of art. The conversations, engagement and artistic growth that happen in real time on DeviantArt represent a complete change in the availability of art as a means of personal expression and participation in world culture. Brands such as Lexus, Disney, Blizzard, Square Enix, Microsoft, Adidas, Mountain Dew, Warner Bros. and many others have partnered with DeviantArt on promotional contests, integrations and brand-building initiatives. Angelo has also led DeviantArt into strategic partnerships with software company, Autodesk, as well as Madefire, the comics software/publishing hybrid.

Tell us about DeviantArt. What inspired the idea and what is your vision for the company?

DeviantArt is the world’s largest online community for artists and art enthusiasts with more than 33.8 million registered members and over 300 million pieces of uploaded art that generate 2.5 billion page views per month. It was created to inspire, entertain and empower artists and art lovers, and features an extensive and evolving platform used to exhibit, promote and discover art and interact with members.

The DeviantArt Mobile App, available on both iOS and Android, expands the digital experience to hand-held devices and reveals a full range of exciting, fresh and culturally relevant content from traditional media such as painting, drawing, photography and sculpture to digital art, pixel art, anime and fan art. Users can browse endless streams of content as well as communicate with and submit to the community 24/7.

DeviantArt started in 2000. We noticed then that application skinning (changing the look of your apps) was becoming popular and there were artists having a great time creating "skins." We learned that these artists were interested in posting on Winamp Facelift, and or other specialty sites but they needed their own platform to publish their other artworks. So DeviantArt began by enabling these artists to publish original art and news content to the Web, collaborate with each other, comment on each other’s artwork and build a fan base to further promote the art.  It expanded quickly past skins into the more than 2,500 categories of visual art we have today.

What strategic partnerships/marketing strategies have you implemented that have attributed to DeviantArt's success?

DeviantArt has played a crucial role in the artistic growth of many millions of artists since its inception in 2000. What sets DeviantArt apart is the focus and purpose of the network and community as a whole. Because we are focused on a single vertical—visual arts—we pay more attention and don't get distracted from our core community and responsibilities.

Focused communities like DeviantArt play an incredibly valuable role in society. In the arts, for this example, we bring artists together during their formative years, so we create long standing bonds and learning opportunities that ultimately spawn art groups and art collectives. In turn, these spawn companies and studios, which are hired by all manner of mainstream and niche media with a massive effect on global culture. Along this path, millions of amateur creative people are immersed in conversation and support from other fellow creatives.

We believe that creativity is to be embraced and nurtured. Our team lives and breathes this mission, as we leverage technologies and communication media to bridge the gaps that exist in the arts.

We have partnered on integrations with major companies in multiple verticals to produce extraordinary art challenges including Lexus, Dodge, Fiat, Dr. Pepper, Blizzard, Square Enix, Epix Games, Microsoft, Autodesk’s Sketchbook Pro, Art Institutes, WeChat, WebToons and virtually every major movie studio. Our members benefit from gaining exposure to the creative executives involved in these companies as well as prizing and the advertising dollars go to support the mission of DeviantArt.

What industry trends are you noticing and how do you capitalize on them?

Today, artists from all walks of life have the power thanks to image-driven communities such as Instagram, Pinterest and DeviantArt, to cultivate their own fan bases. And as more social platforms develop software and technology tools, artists can do everything from create digital art, work with fans on commissioned pieces, leverage payment and commerce technology to simplify money exchange, and much more. The starving artist cliché is slowly dissolving as these “creatives” have the agency to scale their passion into a business.  The business of being an artist is now fully controlled by the artist.

Just a few years ago very few visual artists, maybe less than 500, enjoyed genuine global reach through gallery representation.  Now every artist has global reach without having to cater to elite tastes.  This is a major cultural and intellectual change for the arts and who knows what the impact on that level will be.

Inside our community there's a tech-driven platform that enables artists to post great work, gather feedback, get inspiration by collecting work from other artists and gain empowerment from the comments and support of the audience that they build inside and outside DeviantArt. Artists gain from adjacency to various mediums, including drawing, painting, photography and digital arts. The community members are incredibly generous with their time and focus on teaching each other techniques across all forms of graphic representation. Increasingly, DeviantArt has become the place for artists to establish their profile to present themselves for collaborative professional work particularly in gaming, CGI, animation, comics and graphic novels and all sorts of web-based design activities.

DeviantArt's Motto?

Bleed and Breed Art.

Your advice to an aspiring entrepreneur?

I find that many entrepreneurs (myself included) tend to see an opportunity, and then charge right for it. In this charge, we pick up a lot of information about what works and what doesn't work. But there's a smarter way. Pause, and spend more time researching your market and all of its parts. Then raise capital, hire people, and charge. I meet so many entrepreneurs with a great idea, but when I poke around, sometimes I'm startled by their lack of depth of understanding of the market they are entering. Don't learn the hard way. Don't learn on the job. It'll just cost you far more money to reach profitability, and capital is precious.

That's another thing. Outside capital is precious. Slow your roll. And after that? Slow your roll some more. As an entrepreneur, your ambition is your greatest asset, and it's your greatest liability.

Role model - business and personal?

I admire Travis Kalanick and Garrett Camp, who created Uber. I love technologies that make the industry that they’re going into more efficient but also create many wide reaching positive side effects from what they do. When you hear the mayors of various cities saying that D.U.I. rates are dropping because Uber exists, you’re seeing a technology that makes the world a better place.

In addition, I’m also a fan of the work of Evan Williams. With Blogger, Twitter, and now Medium, he’s probably the best of the best in the field. His formula works over and over, and I particularly enjoy learning from its subtle (but meaningful) evolutions. Each time his networks are easier to maintain for both his engineers and his audience, and each revision strengthens in design simplicity and function.

Current passion?

Over the past few years, I’ve learned to draw every day. I view it as meditation and time to reflect. I use it to improve the way that I see the world, and what I mean by that is that I try to increase the intelligence of my perception. I tend to be in my head a lot, and I think most of our human experience comes through our eyes, at least for most of us, and drawing improves the perception of what I see. Drawing makes the world more beautiful. I think it has many positive effects and has made me a calmer, more balanced person. I’m pretty surprised by how different I feel in four years’ time, and I credit that to drawing.

What's next for DeviantArt?

We're taking on a big challenge that faces the arts as a whole. This challenge involves accessibility of the arts. On the viewer side, different people like different types of art and they often times don't know the category of the art they like or the name of the artists and particularly where to go to see and experience more of what they enjoy. They just know the art they like when they happen to come across it. On the creator side, a large inefficiency in the art world is that we have a hard time knowing who will be attracted to what pieces of art. DeviantArt is looking to change this with innovative search technology and by bringing relevant information from the community into creative tools while art is being made.