Angelo Sotira, Co-Founder and CEO of DeviantArt sits down to talk about his 12 year journey of building a 65 Million member community for artists. He shares his passion for the arts and his plans to fix its broken system.
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Jason: Hey, everybody. Hey, everybody. It’s, ThisWeekIn Startups. Today, on the program, I am super excited, because, I have the founder and CEO, of deviantArt. He has the most successful startup, in Los Angeles: 65M uniques. I’m trying to figure out if there’s any startup, in Southern California, that has more uniques. The only one I can think of, is Hulu. I don’t think, they’re at 65M uniques, yet. This is going to be a, very, special episode. One of the most under-rated, unknown… 65M uniques. It’s a top 30 or 40 site, in The United States. We’ve got him here, today, deviantArt. Thank you, Michael Robertson, for the suggestion. Great get, on the program.
TWiST title sequence.
Jason: Hello, everybody. Hello. Welcome, to another exciting episode of ThisWeekIn Startups. The program, where, we talk about startup companies, entrepreneurship, making a dent in the universe. Trying to build something that’s a little bit better, than, what came before it. This show is not for, GenY losers. This show is for, GenY, GenX, GenZ, baby boomers, who actually are going to work, everyday, busting their ass. Trying to make something of substance. If you’re looking to get life fulfillment and go ride a bicycle, across China, to help the migrant workers, then, tune out. There’s some cause-based channel… go to CauseCast. Go somewhere where you can revel in all the greatness, and, you being lazy, trying to worry about other people’s problems. This is a show for people who want to make stuff. “Make a dent, in the universe,” like, Steve Jobs, says. People who want to “crush it.” As, Gary Vaynerchuk, would say. “People who can manage, their own psychology.” Like, Chris Sacca, would say. I’m just going to quote, all the amazing guests, we’ve had on this program. Today, will be no different. We have, Angelo Sotira. Really, Sotiracopolous. He’s a greek. He is the co-founder and CEO, of deviantArt. I’ll be introducing him, in a second. Boy, am I excited, because, Michael Roberts, who was on the program, last week, I was asking him, “What’s your favorite CEO? Favorite company?” He just, said, “You know, this deviantArt thing, is huge. 65M unique visitors, a month. Top 30 or 40 site.” We’re going to get into that. Exactly, how big it is. It came out of nowhere. I’ve known about, deviantArt, for a while. I thought, it was like 2M or 3M people, a month, going to it. I thought, it was this niche thing. It has broken out. We’re going to find out, how it broke out, today, and how they built a community. This is, perhaps, the largest community, on the internet. Let me state that, again. The largest community, on the internet. I’m not taking social networking out. Which, really, isn’t community. It’s not like, one group revolved around, a specific topic. This is a specific group of people, just, nerving and geeking out, to art. Art’s big. It’s global. It’s 65M uniques. It’s extraordinary. It’s going to be a great interview.
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Jason: Alright. You probably heard this, Angelo, last week.
Jason: We had the news program.
Jason: Michael Robertson, blows you up, on the program.
Angelo: This is what happens.
Jason: You got blown up, on the show. They blew you up.
Angelo: It’s very nice of him.
Jason: What, exactly, did he say? What was the question I was asking him? I can’t remember, exactly, what I asked him. Like, which, startup got the most press?
Angelo: Something about Forbes under forty.
Jason: Yeah. We were talking about the Forbes and he said…
Angelo: He said, I wasn’t on it, but, I should have been.
Jason: Right. deviantArt. You started, when, and why?
Angelo: We started, deviantArt, in August, of 2000. We. really, started building it around April. It’s, well over 12, going on 13 years.
Jason: Wow. So, it’s just another, overnight success.
Angelo: Yeah. Just, another overnight success.
Jason: Another, 12-year, overnight success. As, we like to say, in the business.
Angelo: It, really, started as a very nerdy beginning. The truth is that, we were all coming out of the MP3 community. All these, Winamps and MP3.coms, which, is how I know, Michael. Winamp, had a skin component, where you could change the look and feel of it.
Jason: Sure. Winamp was, for people who don’t know, iTunes, before, iTunes existed.
Jason: If, you wanted to manage WAV files, pre- MP3s. If, you wanted to manage your music files, on your computer, you used, Winamp.
Angelo: And, look at visualizations, while, the music is playing. All that kind of fancy stuff.
Jason: All the stuff that Apple, eventually, cribbed and put into iTunes.
Angelo: Exactly. You could change the look and feel of Winamp. I had built, with this other guy, a site called Winamp Facelift. You could change the look and feel, of it. We met all these artists, on that platform.
Jason: Why did you build that? How old were you, when, you built that? Why did you build it?
Angelo: I was, like, 16.
Jason: So, you were in high school.
Jason: You were a Winamp nerd.
Angelo: Yes. Well, more than that. I’m an MP3 nerd. I’m, like, running the biggest blog for MP3s, at that point in time.
Angelo: It’s all about the audio codecs and the coding technologies. The battle, between, the different MP3 players.
Jason: You found that fascinating, when, you were 16 years old?
Angelo: I wanted to build a music site.
Jason: Why were you, so, fascinated with the internet and MP3s? Did your parents buy you a computer, early on? Were your mom and dad, into computers? How did you wind up getting inspired, to make… I’m, just, fascinated by a 16 year old, starting a company.
Angelo: I get a computer when I’m about 10. By, 12, I’m on BBSs. I’m learning that you can play video games, on them. Right?
Jason: Sure. It’s interesting. We just had a discussion, yesterday, on the program, with somebody who started in the bulletin board area. It was, Jonathan Abrams, of Friendster. He was a BBS sysop, in the 80s.
Angelo: Exactly. I rose to power, I guess, on this BBS. Where, I could, like, command everyone and kick people off the thing. It was really fun. I became a, really, good Dune player during those years. Dune and Quake, were kind of a big deal.
Jason: This is the 90s?
Angelo: This is the 90s. So, from there, you end up meeting, a lot, of interesting people. People that you connect with, more so than you did kids at your local school. I don’t want to position myself as a nerdy kid. The truth is, I was at the top of my… I was the number one, high jumping kid, in the private school, from upset New York…
Jason: So, you weren’t some kind of Asperger’s kid, who, couldn’t look people in the eye? Or, something, like that. You were a popular kid, who just also happened to see the potential in technology.
Angelo: I wasn’t, particularly, stimulated by the local availability of friends. Using these BBSs, I started having these, really, wonderful conversations. When, BBSs went out, as the internet came in, I found myself on IRC. I met, a lot, of smart people there. Then, the MP3 codec, popped up in like ’94.
Jason: That was, pretty, inspiring?
Angelo: Deeply inspiring. For the first time midis sounded terrible. MP3s sounded like CDs. To download one, took only 20 minutes.
Jason: Right. You could download a song, in 20 minutes. People started trading rare tracks. The Grateful Dead, Fish, this was part of… and Usenet, really popularized MP3. Correct?
Angelo: Yeah. It was, definitely, IRC Fserves. This is where Napster launched. This is how Winamp got it’s distribution. This was the whole explosion, there. By the time I’m 15, 16 years old, I’m running this big blog. Zink Technology Group, which, was an encoding software and MusicMatch are, both, my advertising clients. I’m pushing, $40,000-$50,000, a month, worth of ads through my network. I’m selling them, myself.
Jason: At the age of 16 or 17?
Jason: So, you got a, really, fast course, in business. Is this, because, your greek. I know your name is, Sotiracopolous.
Angelo: Angelo Sotira. Yeah. Sotiracopolous, is my full name. I cut that when I was 17, on a phone call, with a wired news reporter. Right there, on the spot. I didn’t even know, I was going to do it.
Jason: They’re going to misspell it, anyway.
Jason: So many times. How do you pronounce, Sotiracopolous? How do you pronounce, Calacanis? It’s like constantly…
Angelo: You’re greek?
Jason: I am greek. You are my big brother.
Angelo: I didn’t know this. I don’t know why I didn’t piece it, together.
Jason: They changed my name, at Ellis Island. It was, supposed, to be Kali-canis. Which, means to do well. Or, to have done well, in greek. It’s Ks. But, at, Ellis Island, they told my grandfather, “What’s your name?” he said, “Kalicanis.” O.K. There’s no “K”. This is America. We use “Cs”. “Calacanis, is how you say it, here.” Got our name changed, at Ellis Island. Free, of charge. Go Ellis Island.
Angelo: I don’t get this, so, I had to butcher my own.
Jason: So, keep going. You decide, at some point, you make the skins for Winamp.
Angelo: Yeah. So, long story short. You’re in this world, Winamp, is blowing up. MP3.com is later, in the game. Napster, launched out of one of my chat rooms, on EFnet. So, I was one of the first copies, of that. I watched that, kind of, slingshot like crazy.
Jason: Wow. So, Sean Fanning, is in one of your IRC chat rooms. Sean Parker, were all hanging out.
Jason: Launched, Napster.
Angelo: Yeah. #napster. It needed protection. So, you had protection bots, defense bots, and, attack bots. It was, kind of, a crazy world back then. I love talking about it, but…
Jason: No. IRCs are awesome. Keep going.
Angelo: So, anyway, we end up building, Winamp Facelift. That was, really, successful. Then, there were some other sites that had other applications. Long story, short: we figured out, the right application, here, is… as we talked to these artists, we realized, they don’t just make Winamp skins. They, also, make graphic designs, tattoos, and paintings. Somebody, posted a JPEG, of a painting. That was mind-blowing, because, nobody had digital cameras, back then. It was one of the first, digital camera shots, I’d ever seen, on the internet. It was a JPEG. It took, a long time to download. It was of a painting that was leaning up against the wall. At the age of 19, or so, this was a mind-boggling experience. I didn’t know any artists, that were friends of mine, or, in my peer group. It was something that, really, captivated my mind. That this was even a possibility, at that moment. When, we set off to build, deviantArt, we were fully engaged in wanting to launch a platform that enabled an open category structure. So, that, anytime a community member would ask for a category, we would launch it. We launched with 12: photography, traditional art, digital art, these things. And, the site exploded. 15, or so, other sites, that did similar stuff, just, disappeared, within half a year. This was the preeminent leader, in that space. It never changed. It was, really, really, tough, during that time. Obviously, 2000 is when the dot com crash, happened. Being an “entertainment” property, was really silly, to people. I couldn’t find investors. It was very difficult to find support.
Jason: Yeah. Community and content, both of those things were just huge red flags to VCs, to stay away.
Angelo: Yeah. Especially, in that year.
Jason: In those years, especially. The years 2002 and 2003, were the darkest among startup years.
Angelo: It was terrifying to be, this young, and have this property blowing up and needing servers. We’re reaching an enormous scale. No one’s there, to really appreciate it. In fact, people are saying, we’re crazy for doing it.
Jason: Back then, your server bills were starting to be ten of thousands of dollars, a month. This is before cloud computing and before cheap bandwidth.
Angelo: Yeah. Here, in Los Angeles, there’s a little company, if you drive down Santa Monica Blvd., it says, Emser. Emser Tile, is this company. This guy, Ellis, works there. He happened to be a friend of a friend: Andrew, who, is now our CTO and funded the company. We had him go in to negotiate a Cogent contract. If it wasn’t for that guy, we would not be here.
Jason: Cogent, back then, was gangster, in terms of, how much you were going to spend and how long you were committed.
Angelo: Our average was $90, per megabit, per second, for a connection. This was, completely, unaffordable if you were our size and scale, and, in terms of revenues. Cogent came out and they were saying, 30 bucks. To us, that was still unreasonable. That was, still, an unfathomable number. But, Ellis, got us to $10. I don’t know how he got us to $10. We got a, $10, per megabit, per second deal, in 2001 and 2002. That’s what, kind of, carried us through. The next thing… before that was, actually, Travis Kalanick’s company, at Uber. We ran their web server solution, at Red Swoosh. That, actually, helped for a minute, as well. We were using creative mechanisms, to do it.
Jason: Red Swoosh, basically, used a peer-to-peer CDN. Technology to lower your bandwidth cost.
Angelo: Yeah. This was unbelievable. You go to our website, we were forcing you to install a client. In order to serve a website. That was crazy.
Jason: This site has been around for so long, now. It’s almost, in a way, like Craigslist. The design of the site has not changed, in how long? The user interface. It, generally, looks to me, like it did. It’s, obviously, got a little more refined. But, the UX experience, has been very consistent, over the 12 year lifespan. Correct?
Jason: When was the last time you did a major UX design? What is your philosophy of that? It feels, very, Craigslist-like. We don’t want to change this user interface and screw people up. It’s not worth it, to make something beautiful for us, or that we think is more functional. When, so many, millions, tens of millions of people know how to navigate it, already.
Angelo: You do deal with a legacy design problem. We redesigned… we’re on version 7, of deviantArt. Version 7 launched, in 2008, I believe. That, kind of, brought us up to a unified bar, at the top. One single line. Then, the content immediately after it.
Jason: Which, we see, here. Profile, gallery, prints, etc. How many pieces of artwork, have been submitted? I’m looking at, Artgerm, right now. Newest Deviations. You’ve got that great nomenclature, to go through the site. Very clever. This person’s been a member, for 8 years. Deviant for 8 years. Carrying that deviant branding through. 18 months, he’s had the premium membership. He’s shouting that out. 10M page views, for their art. 2,700 comments. 352 deviations. What’s a deviation?
Angelo: We, just, had fun with this in the early years. A deviant, is a member. A deviation, is a work of art that they submit. And so on, and so forth. Being devious is the thing.
Jason: I can watch, this person. Send them a note. I can give them a present. How does the give work? What is this, giving points, giving a llama badge, giving a cake badge?
Angelo: Some of this is experimentation with virtual goods and learning, a lot, about this sub-community. You’re, kind of, getting into a very specific aspect of our community. Not everybody engages in this type of activity. Llama badges, were kind of an explosion. Our premium membership is one of our, very, strong revenue models. Our point system is another, very, strong revenue model. Giving a llama badge was, actually, a marketing campaign, that I devised. So, that everybody would learn how to use our virtual points ecosystem. When, we launched it, we had an explosion, on our networks. Roughly, 70M or 80M llamas, were given to people. It turned into, about, 35 llamas being transferred, per second.
Jason: Wow. That’s a pretty high, llama, per second average. I’ve heard, a lot, of LPSs. That’s up there. That’s up there, on the LPS scale. Tell me about your point and badge system. When, did you put the badge system, up there? Obviously, that’s something, game mechanics, that people in the last two years, have gotten into. When, did you put the stuff in?
Angelo: 2 or 3 years ago. 4 years ago. We were looking at some of the Facebook stuff, and, we were going, “I don’t know about this.” We thought, we could do something more fun.
Jason: What impact has that had, on the system? Do people like gaming points? Do people like giving llamas? Do you risk, screwing up your community, by introducing that kind of stuff? How do you know, it’s O.K. to introduce it? How do you introduce it, to the community?
Angelo: We saw a financial opportunity and we saw a fun opportunity. The truth is, we’ve taken the pedal, off of that business. We’ve found that the more, serious, members… it’s a multi-million dollar business, if you want it to be. You can go in this direction and generate a tremendous amount revenue, at DeviantArt. But, it offends, some of the more professional artists. Some, with a more serious tonality.
Jason: Gotcha. So, you’re pulling back, from that. Let’s talk about the number of pieces of art, on the site. How many pieces of original art, are added, per day?
Angelo: About, 180,000, a day, uniquely submitted. You have to describe, each one, when you’re posting.
Jason: It’s not like I can steal 10 JPEGs off of Twitter and dump them, in there? It takes work.
Angelo: Can’t put ten up, at a time. No.
Jason: How many can you put up, at a time?
Jason: One, per day?
Angelo: You can put as many as you want, per day. You have to go through the form, each time. High friction.
Jason: You create high friction, why?
Angelo: That’s the secret, to a successful community. You have to have a higher degree of intent, to publish your work. Here’s the value. If you click on our newest section. In our newest section, here… I get it. This isn’t the best art, you’ve ever seen, but it’s art. The bottom line is, these are artists that are developing and they’re learning from each other. Every once in a while, you’ll see a killer piece. Even, in the “newest” feed. Our “newest” feed is browsable. If you look at somebody else’s “newest” feed, it’s not browsable.
Jason: When you come to the website and you’re logged in, “newest” is the default?
Angelo: “Newest” is the default.
Jason: Why is that? Why not, the most popular, as the default? You’ve, obviously, made the decision, there. Did you make the decision, on data? Was it an emotional gut decision? “I want to give props to new people, as opposed to, show the most popular and keep it circular?”
Angelo: These types of decisions are about your philosophy and about the approach to the design of your network. If, you’re building a vertical community, you want to attract people, that are passionate, sensitive to the arts. In this, particular, instance. If you can make it past our homepage test, then, you are rewarded with an enormous diversity and intense quality of content, behind those walls. We use it as a filter.
Jason: Really? If I come and I’m a douche, I’m going to look at it and be like, “Ah! This artist sucks.”
Angelo: We’re not ready for mainstream consumption. If you were to click on anyone of these images, what you’ll find is in-depth, beautiful commentary about the work. Either, positive, constructive stuff, or, real critiques, real positive energy. This is a unique thing, when, you browse the internet. How easy is it to find good culture inside of…
Jason: It’s, very, hard actually. Because, everything is so aggressive. Look, at YouTube comments. It’s just brutal.
Angelo: Let’s go to “24 hours”, to make it easy, on you. You click on any piece. Let’s pick a more controversial… I’m going really risky, here. Take this attractive girl. Photographed, in this way.
Angelo: Provocative, yeah. but that’s not what these folks are focusing on. These responses are… “I, certainly, would not keep such a beauty waiting…”, oh, wait, that’s not what I’m looking for. You’re still dealing with the community, but, you’re looking at, “Great photo.” “Attractive.”
Jason: “Beautiful skin”. “This is beautiful”. “Contrast is perfect”.
Angelo: Imagery. You’re looking at artistic perspective, rather than…
Jason: How do you curate, that? How do you get it to the point, at which,… this is interesting. This is like the whole S&M plus, the japanese anime thing. A lot of it is risqué and… well, not a lot of it…
Angelo: I wouldn’t say a lot. It’s really deceptive. Let me tell you about our homepage. Which, might help you with it. Our homepage is the highest deterrent to a mainstream user. This is a visual frequency channel chooser.
Jason: Visual frequency channel chooser.
Angelo: I don’t know how to say that, more, eloquently. Image #1 and image #2, have nothing to do with one another. #3, also. #4, also. This is intentional. We have a fair exposure algorithm. deviantArt, is an American Idol, for art, every single day of the year. It’s in three thousand, some odd, categories of art. You can, kind of, get to the top of that. Now, on the front page, we have a responsibility to fairly expose all those sub communities. Which means, our front page is the most chaotic. You can’t get a consistency of experience.
Jason: If, you get that chaos, you do get the ability for somebody new to be discovered? That is the intent?
Angelo: Yeah. Well, the intent is to appeal to… it’s art nerds. It’s people, who are geeky about art. It’s a community for them to navigate and traverse. Now, you can click on any one of these categories and start getting more consistency.
Jason: What percentage of the people are logged in, versus, not logged in? Obviously, it’s a, very, browsable site. You have 65M uniques, now? Where does that put you on, like, Quantcast, or something like that? That’s, obviously, the top 100.
Angelo: Yeah. It’s like 65, in The United States, or something. Let me go check it out.
Jason: That is…
Angelo: We are quantified.
Jason: You are? So, that means, it’s real.
Angelo: We, just, changed our reporting, on it. Because, they were under reporting, some stuff.
Angelo: Actually, you gotta click on the network. I don’t know what this, DeviantArt.com thing is. We don’t have any other site. So, the network is the right one.
Jason: 66, yeah. Incredibly, consistent, everyday. Lots of visits. Tons of page views. The page views, per visit, are huge.
Angelo: There’s, a lot of, logged-out traffic, here. Not like Wikipedia, because, they’re 1%. Our base is more like 20% of the top. 30%.
Jason: 110M visits, per month. That is an extraordinary number of visits, on a global basis. How many people work at the company? How is it funded? What’s the business, of it? You said, before, your co-founder helped fund it, I guess? Or, paid for the servers?
Angelo: So, Andrew, a brilliant guy, is our CTO. He built the Sonique MP3 player. If you recall that, back in the late ’90s.
Angelo: An unbelievable, mind-bowing piece of software. I tried to reel him into our company, for half a decade. I, eventually, got him.
Jason: We call that a term project, in the industry. It takes a year, or more. That would be like a dissertation kind of project. Not just a term, but, dissertation.
Angelo: He and Ian Lyman, who, was the other co-founder in Sonique, they invested about $17K, in the early days. We didn’t take any funding, again, until about 2007. The business had to be strong. We came out of the dot com crash, we had to do some really intense entrepreneuring to make this thing go. It was painful. It was, wonderfully, painful.
Jason: Did you think it was going to survive? Was there a point, at which, this is hard to monetize and you’ve got huge bandwidth bills?
Angelo: I’ve lived on the edge for many, many straight years. For sure. Especially, in the early days. It was really, really interesting.
Jason: So, you were doing other things, side work to fund this?
Jason: 100%. Living very lean.
Angelo: 100% If it didn’t make it, I would starve.
Jason: So, you really pushed it to the edge.
Angelo: Tuna fish. A lot of tuna fish.
Jason: Your mercury is off the charts.
Angelo: It was then.
Jason: In, 2007, you took funding. Did you take funding from a VC or angel? Was it professional funding? Where is it at, now? VCs see you break into the top 100 on Quantcast, that whole idea, like, content isn’t fundable, community isn’t fundable, goes right out the window. Doesn’t it?
Angelo: Yeah. I have a complex view, of this. On the one hand…
Jason: Wait a second. We’re 27 minutes, in. I have to stop and do quick break.
Angelo: Oh. No problem.
Jason: When, we get back, I want to hear about the funding stuff and your complicated view of it.
GoTo Meeting: That was perfect. Let me tell you something. I am so lucky to have @GoToMeeting, as a partner, on this program. GoTo Meeting. Meeting is Believing. I do all of my meetings, exclusively, on GoTo Meeting. When, I log into my account, I see I’ve got 17 meetings lined up, in the next two months. All on GoTo Meeting. Even if somebody just says, “I want to have a phone call, with you.” I set it up, as a Go?To Meeting. Why do I do that? Because, what if they want to show me something? What if I want to show them something? It’s almost like a jazz improvisation thing, the way I use GoTo Meeting. They’re talking and I start changing the screen. So, they’re explaining to me their business. While they’re explaining to me, their business, and, I’m thinking, ” maybe I should invest in their business, or not.” I remember two or three other businesses, that I’ve heard of, that are doing something similar. I pull it up onscreen. While they’re talking, they’re like, “Oh. You’ve pulled something up onscreen. Yeah. We’ve seen that company, before.” Then, I open another tab. Then, I say, “but, have you seen this?” Then, I log into AngelList, I say, “I’m looking at your profile, you left out this piece. You should really fill that in. By the way, you don’t have a referrer. You might want to consider making me the referrer. Since, we’re friends and I told you about Angelo.” It becomes this really great meeting. That’s the power of Citrix, GoTo Meeting. This, sort of, free-style meeting that goes, very, quickly and super efficiently. A phone call… it can be efficient. A meeting in person… it’s kind of inefficient. People got to travel. A lot of wasted time. A lot of wasted expense. GoTo Meeting is the ultimate, in efficiency. When, you use it, you will see that, Meeting is Believing. Group video, obviously, with HD Faces, is just buttery and perfect. That’s why I use it, for this very show. When, I do a remote, we use HD Faces. We use these beautiful Logitech HD cams that do 1080p, and, it is stunning. People think that I have a satellite truck, or, something. It is amazing. HD Faces, works on Macs, PCs, on your iPad, all that great stuff. What I want you to do, right now, is go to Citrix, GoTo Meeting: gotomeeting.com, click “Try It Free”, and, use the promo code: START. So, you can start using meetings, in your 30-day trial. Again, the code is: START. Thank you, to my friends, at GoTo Meeting. Citrix, a great company. GoTo Meeting, great product. I use it, all the time. The people who, I’ve turned on to GoTo Meeting, tell me like, “Jason, this really works.” Not only can I let you use my computer, you can let me use yours, we can both be in the same word document, power point, browser. We can, both, be in the same browser. Think about that. We’re both loading things. I can give you the presentation. I can take the presentation back, from you. I can give it to a third party, whose on the call. It just works, flawlessly. Let me tell you something. The VoIP, voice over IP, technology that they use is better than the landline phone. Sometimes, I’m like, “Do me a favor. Don’t call me, on your cell phone, or, from your hotel room. Get a headset and use your computer. Use the VoIP, then, you don’t have to use up all your minutes. Your using it over IP. You’ve already paid for your LG LTE connection.” It’s awesome. Thank you, Citrix GoTo Meeting. Meeting is Believing. Use the promo code: START. Meeting is Believing. Thank you, so much, GoTo Meeting. There you go. GoTo Meeting. Great product.
Jason: So. You have an interesting view, on funding.
Angelo: Yeah, yeah. For sure.
Jason: What is it? Tell us.
Angelo: You, basically, start in a world, where… I’m young. I’m 19, 20. I’m in need of venture capital. Venture capital is not there. So, some time goes on. I, kind of, had this kid punk entrepreneur view of venture capital.
Jason: The site is called, deviantArt.
Angelo: Well, that’s not, necessary, the point. The point was, that, I felt…
Jason: You were a hacker kid. So, of course, you’re going to be anti-establishment.
Angelo: A little.
Jason: You’re going to have some VC suit, from Harvard Business School, telling you how to run an internet company, when, you made it work. These guys don’t know how to code and get a server up. These guys don’t even know how to ping a server.
Angelo: I think, during those years, we struggling so much to build up this institution that is, DeviantArt, to make it scale and grow. I didn’t really have the five year formula that venture capital, looks for. That, sort of, you take the money, you grow the money, you sell the company: provide liquidity. Because, I didn’t have that, I didn’t want to turn to venture capital. So, instead, I turned to strategic investors.
Jason: Oh. Great.
Angelo: I took a round, in 2007, from DivX. It was a straight forward strategic round. Jordan Greenhall’s, a fantastic guy. We worked that out. We, ultimately, launched a film section, on deviantArt. The way that we wanted to launch it. It was a, really, really, terrific moment for us.
Jason: So, the strategic, had a vested interest in seeing you succeed, because, DivX wants to see more video, produced and started, on the internet. You’re aligned.
Angelo: We had the option of using the DivX codec. We did use it, but, we didn’t have to. That was the nature of the structuring.
Jason: Sort of, like, with my show. I get advertisers, whose products, I already use. It just makes it, really, easy.
Angelo: We knew that we were successful, at that point. We had, a lot, of traffic. We had, a lot, of success on the internet. Still, a top 100 internet property. Even then. The internet was smaller, then. We, also, had a new metric of success, because, that round was raised at $135M. So, $3.5M at 135, that’s $17K turning into $135M, top line number. With a lot of potential to grow, still.
Jason: So, you grew 20X? Those early investors grew their investment 20X, or, something to that effect.
Angelo: Way more than 20, because, we were $17K.
Jason: At a valuation of $1M, or something. Half $1M.
Jason: Low. So, it could have went 50 or 100X?
Jason: So, 100X would not be out of the question. How does that complicate things? If the angels, then, see their investment appreciate, do they get antsy and say, “How do I cash these shares in?”
Angelo: Yeah. I think that we’ve been fortunate, in the sense that, Andrew jumped in and became our CTO, and, still is and pushes the concept forward with us, every single day. Secondly, we had folks that, really, believed in the direction that we’re going in. We all met, through community. We all met online. We’ve been the perfect management team to build, maybe, what is the largest community, on the internet. It’s been, more, of doubling down and investing further and further. We see enormous potential.
Jason: Did you raise, since, 2007? Have you raised a round, since then?
Angelo: We raised a confidential round. Again, strategic. For, another, $5M.
Jason: By the way, you know, 100,000 plus people, download the show? It wouldn’t be confidential, anymore.
Angelo: It’s not confidential. It’s been, 2010. So, it’s ben a little while.
Jason: So, you did it, in 2010? Which, would have been a good time to do it. 2007, was hot. 2010, we rebounded. Is that a VC? Another, strategic, you said.
Angelo: Another strategic.
Jason: Great. Not disclosed, though?
Angelo: Not disclosed.
Jason: Do they mind, if you disclose?
Jason: O.K. We’ll just keep quiet.
Angelo: It was straight forward. Again, Andrew and I, are still the only two folks, on the board of directors.
Jason: You’ve, just, maintained complete control?
Angelo: Yeah. We didn’t have a formula that aligned with venture capital. We had to traverse it, differently. I’m, actually, pretty proud of how we did it.
Jason: It’s non-traditional, but, you’ve maintained control. You’ve maintained your integrity. VCs, say… and this is, sort of, hypocritical on VCs’ part… they say, “Don’t do strategic, because, you’re selling before you sell. Be fearful. Strategic money. Da, da, da,” But, the fact is, strategic money will pay a premium valuation. Their measurement for success is different, than, venture capitalists.
Jason: How is it, different, in your mind? Having worked with two of them.
Angelo: I think that, sometimes, it’s just a straight forward investment of profit for strategic, kind of, alignment or perception. Sometimes, in the case of the second one, I think, it was just aligned with where they are, and, where we are. It made sense for them to learn more about our business. As, just, a matter of fact.
Jason: Interesting. Now, who would be the strategic, who would have a vested interest, in art? Sotheby’s?
Angelo: No. Nothing, like that.
Jason: Not an auction house. So, it has to be another online business.
Angelo: I can’t tell you.
Jason: I know. It would be, like, an Amazon or an Ebay, would be obvious, because, prints and selling items. They’re into transactions. Does commerce occur, on deviantArt? Do people sell the artwork? I see, there’s “prints”, as a button.
Angelo: Yeah. So, obviously, all these years, we’ve had to have strong revenue models. Advertising has been, one of those fluctuating. Goes up. Goes down. You know. Hard to gauge. Premium memberships are our favorite model. It’s aligned with the community. The community buys $30, a year, memberships. We have a few 100,000 memberships.
Jason: What do you get for a $30, a year, membership?
Angelo: You get to remove the ads and get a cleaner experience, so that you can consume the art. You get more modules and more features, on the website.
Jason: So, it’s not, absolutely, necessary. It’s just more convenient. Do you get the sense, as Phil, from Evernote, told me, the people who do premium subscriptions, the number one reason is to support the project.
Jason: So, they’re just giving you money, because, they just love your product?
Jason: That’s a fascinating thing. A wonderful, great, fascinating thing about the internet. That, people believe in your product, so much, that they’re like, “Here is money.”
Angelo: We couldn’t have done it, without the community. In the early days, especially, without the premium membership model. We, still, couldn’t.
Jason: I was looking at my notes, here. You have 23M people, have registered.
Jason: Premium subscribers, do you disclose that? Is it known, on the site? Is it, obvious, on the site? Is it, 1% of that?
Angelo: It’s not obvious. It’s about 150,000.
Jason: Almost, 1%. 1%, would be 230. 150,000 people, paying $30, a year. That’s $5M, pure profit.
Jason: Keeps the site up and running.
Angelo: I don’t know what the 1% is.
Jason: Well, you have to pay some fees, or, something like that. Let’s talk about the printing. Here, I see the print shop. Shop Original Art. Am I paying for the cost of the artwork? If, I want to get… this is, so, clever. Somebody using Legos, to make fun… this is hysterical. “I have you, now.” It’s Darth Vader. So, if I want to get this, as a print, I’m paying for the print, or, I’m paying for the art, or, I’m paying for both? I want a canvas. How does this split up? Does the artist say, “This, artwork is worth $10.” Or, you just sell it for 23 bucks? How does that work?
Angelo: Yeah. The artist will, basically, make 50%, on the product. The numbers are, slightly different, depending if you’re premium, or not. But, it’s a pretty straight forward model. This is, now, one of the older models. We started it, in 2002. We were, really, the first to offer a prints program, to artists, on the internet. There’s a number of different, other, models that have popped up. We, still, do it very, very, well and very much at scale. We have, roughly, 15M- 20M pieces, in our collection, that we sell. It’s a very interesting business. This business is,very, counter-intuitive to a tech entrepreneur. We’ve learned a, tremendous, amount about it. The fact is, you think, when you’re a tech entrepreneur, you put up lots of images, they get lots of traffic, and, they convert. Wall art is different than this. You tend to end up with, 1,000, 2,000, 3,000 images that make up your sellers. You’re constantly marketing that collection. It’s much more traditional, than, you think.
Jason: Can they set their own price? Or, is it that there’s one price, for a 16″ print? If, I say, “Mine are worth $100, each time, you print them out.” Or, is it one set price?
Angelo: They can set their prices. Especially, in the premium program.
Jason: Who is the number one person? Who sells the most? Amongst, which artist, if I type them in, right now, would have the most sales? Or, amongst, the most sales?
Angelo: I’ll give you some of my favorites. There’s HR-FM.
Angelo: HR-FM-deviantart.com. I can pull it up, for you.
Jason: Yeah. You pull it up. What can an artist make, on deviantArt? Is it possible to make a living, there, or no?
Angelo: This is, very, male-oriented work. A lot of guys, buy this, sort of stuff.
Jason: It’s gorgeous.
Angelo: It’s very high-tech digital. I have a lot of these pieces. Here’s one, I have, of Manhattan, The Chrysler Building.
Jason: It’s gorgeous.
Angelo: Yeah. Gorgeous. Then, you’ve got, Aaron Jasinski, who’s one of the older members, of the community. I always like to talk about him, because, his pieces were really inspiring, as we were building our program.
Jason: Gorgeous stuff.
Angelo: His pile is, really, interesting.
Jason: Have people graduated from, sharing their work, here, to then, being in galleries? Being, in the MoMA? Do you have those kind of stories? Somebody started, here. Got discovered by, an agent?
Angelo: I get these questions. It’s really funny. Yeah. Of course. deviantArt’s happening at a scale, that’s unheard of, in the arts. Than, ever before. So, what you have is, basically… if you have a Verizon truck, that shows up outside of your house to install DSL, or whatever. The graphic on the side of that truck, that’s made by a deviant. If you see a billboard, that billboard is made by, a deviant. If you read, Batman or Spiderman, or, any comics, that’s made by, a deviant. It’s like, we do your laundry. We make your food. It’s straight up Fight Club, underneath all of design. In many respects.
Jason: Tell me about this, Odyssey II, with Clive Barker. I see, it’s been pulled up, on my screen.
Angelo: This is one of the, absolutely, coolest things, we’ve ever done. Ron Martino, runs our network. It’s a division of deviantArt, that projects our success stories back on our members. Every once in a while, we take on special projects. This holiday season, we have, Clive Barker, The Hell Raiser, New York Times, best-seller. He is working, with Ron. They’re crowdsourcing the Odyssey II. It’s the second year, we’ve done the Odyssey project. We start with a prologue, written by Clive. It’s a story lead and we crowdsource, chapter 1. We ask the community, “Where do you think the story would go?” Clive, then, edits and decides, which one’s going to be chapter one, as the winner. Artwork, sculptures. Everything else people want to submit, all come with it.
Angelo: Over the next eight weeks, we’re going to write, all eight chapters, collaboratively with the community. Never before done. This is unbelievable. We get to work with, Clive Barker, for the holidays. It’s amazing.
Jason: He picks, what he likes best?
Jason: So, in a way, he’s setting a world in motion. Setting a story in motion, then, taking this incredible energy, that puts 180,000 pieces into the system, a day.
Angelo: Yes. Creating a world, with Clive Barker.
Jason: That’s, unbelievable, opportunity for people.
Angelo: First chapter, a PhD student, out of Kansas, I believe.
Jason: Now, they can come to Hollywood, or, publishing on Madison Ave., and say, “Yes. I did the first chapter of, Clive Barker’s next work. You may have heard of him. He did. Hell Raiser.” Jesus, that’s an incredible opportunity, for someone.
Angelo: Unbelievable. You got Aloha Lilo, Chris Sander, on the platform. Aloha Lilo is, the creator of, How To Train Your Dragon. The director of it. He manages these massive projects, for Dream Works. He’s the creator of, Lilo and Stitch. You’ve got, Mark Brooks, that we can pull up. He’s doing Spider-Man, and, so on and so forth. The success stories are endless.
Jason: Is this where creative people, on TV and film… is this their Farm.ly? Do they look through, here, to like… instead of, sending me your resumé, they just search here, for who’s the most applauded in the system. Who’s the most commented on, whatever it is. Then, they just poach people, from here, for their projects?
Angelo: Yeah. It’s even more integrated into the art’s and into design, than that. The truth is, that creative director’s look at deviantArt, to see, what’s up and coming. To see, what’s edgy, right now, as they design their advertising campaigns.
Jason: Fascinating. Now, you have, “more like this”. Which is, like Google image. Here, on the screen, I see this spiral staircase. Then, lo and behold, a lot of deviations on the spiral staircase, apparently. Lots of people doing photography. Some people doing photoshop. Some people doing illustrations. Some people doing drawing. All different spiral staircases.
Angelo: This might look like a random collection, but, if you were to click, “Show More”, at the bottom, you probably can’t bottom out this feed. You’ll keep going and going. Like I said, the front page is visual frequencies. This is that one, particular one.
Jason: How does this work? Is this done by the word spiral staircase or by…?
Angelo: It’s really the brilliance of, Andrew, and his team. Andrew came in, looked at this problem, built, over the past three years, these really intense machine learning systems. We now have them running along side the deviantArt community. This is all human curated results, based on similarity. Leveraging the, extremely, active community of deviantArt, and all of their collections behavior. This is the foundation of… if you were to pivot, from this view, of you were to go to the top of this feed and click, “artists”, on the left. You’re now, going to see artists that make staircases, like this.
Jason: Wow. That’s crazy. Look, at this. Now, I have found the artists and the staircases, they’ve made.
Angelo: In my view, this probably the biggest step forward for the arts, that I’ve seen, while I’ve been in them. It’s because, for the first time, any stylistic thing… if you go to our homepage. If you go to any piece of art, on deviantArt’s network, you can get a portal into that visual spectrum. You can learn all about that style: who makes it, what it’s all about, and, start following those artists. This is just an, unbelievably, powerful thing for the creative industry. I think, because, it’s brand new, people haven’t quite figured it out yet. Remember, if it’s American Idol for art, all these years, you could only see one day, one week, one month, all time. What about the past 12 years? What about going into one image, infinitely, and all of the images that fall into that visual spectrum, that people picked, together. That’s the basis, truly, for our next evolution. Our next big steps. This is how your going to get the Pandora, of art. The visual Pandora, of art, out to market. This is how you address the scale of the arts. I could talk to you, in depth, about the size of the arts, as they are, today. Even though we’re impressed with 65M people, that’s not nearly big enough. It’s just not nearly big enough, for the arts.
Jason: People say the word artist. It’s kind of an intimidating, loaded term. Isn’t it? I mean, “an artist.” You are one, therefore, I can’t ever be one. It’s sort of that kind of a thing. When, I’ve met people in college. You, either, were an artist or you weren’t.
Angelo: That’s, so not true.
Jason: But, with digital technology, and with Instagram, we each have moments of being artistic. Some “civilian”, non-artist civilian, might take the beautiful… the chances that the most beautiful photo, of the day, being taken by a “non-artist”, someone who does not qualify themselves, as an artist, is 99%. Right? Some random photo taken and a beautiful filter put on it, is art.
Angelo: Just to be clear. Our purpose, at deviantArt, is to entertain, inspire, and empower the artist, in all of us. This is exactly the notion.
Jason: In all of us?
Angelo: In all of us. This is exactly the notion, that’s being missed.
Jason: One of the things I find fascinating, one of the ways I use DA, as we call it in the biz, is… you know, I’m into comic books and stuff, like that. I love Iron Man. I just love geeing out to, just, typing in the word, Iron Man, and seeing that you have 92,755 deviations. They’re sorted by popular, all time or the newest. You start going through this and you see, Iron Cat. Or, genius stuff like hand warmers. Just, gorgeous photos and artwork that is much, much more interesting than the stuff that’s, even, released by the person who owns the intellectual property of this stuff. What does Marvel or Star Wars, Lucas Art, what do they think when they see all this stuff? I suppose that looking at copyrighted intellectual property, they would be… or some groups of them, would be flawed and upset, that you’re using they’re “intellectual property”. Then, others might be enlightened and, absolutely, love this.
Angelo: Not at all. They love it. The truth is, where else are they going to see a global compliment to their brands. Also, the place, from which, they hire their talent.
Jason: Why are they not more involved, with this? It would seem to me, that they should be sanctioning the best. Why isn’t Marvel/Disney, going in here, picking the winners, getting them on set, to Iron Man. You know. Whatever it is, just somehow…
Angelo: They’re doing one better. They’re hiring them and bringing them into their company. I mean, at scale. From what I’ve heard, you can’t really work at Marvel, unless you’ve had a million page views on deviantArt.
Jason: Wow. Well, that’s fascinating.
Angelo: You have to earn that cred, to be on the cover of that comic book. Because, that comic book needs to sell. That’s a pretty cut throat market. Those are tough products, to move.
Jason: This is what I love. You just click on one person, I saw this guy, Mattais Fahlberg…
Angelo: Click, “More Like This.”
Jason: You go look at the, “More Like This” and… are kidding me? The Red Skull? That is the best looking Red Skull, I’ve ever seen.
Angelo: Click on the right hand side. This’ll give you a sense of what’s going on, here. Now, you’re getting into very specific people, who collected that imagery. Collected it with all of these.
Jason: So, Pinterest-like. In a way, Pinterest has knocked off a lot of the features that you pioneered.
Angelo: I wouldn’t say that. I think, they are intuitive, at this point. But, yeah. We, certainly, did these things, first.
Jason: Come on. Intuitive, but… they were intuitive to you, but, they’ve been recognized and become the standard collections, etc…
Angelo: If you want to give a perspective on this, we were the first person to have 50X50 avatars, on our website. Right? Think about that. I mean, that’s Twitter. We can’t say that that’s a knock-off. It’s just that, that’s the right way to go about it. A personality, on the internet, is well demonstrated by a 50X50 avatar. You only, really, had three options: 50X50, 75X75, and 100X100.
Jason: But, you guys tend to figure it out, first.
Angelo: We tend to figure these things out, early.
Jason: Let’s talk, now, entrepreneur to entrepreneur. This has been a 12 year journey. Is this a life-long journey, for you? Or, is there an end to this, for you? Does building a community, like this, at some point, take over your life, and, then become your life? People need to walk away from things, sometimes. Because, you start to wonder… how old are you, now?
Jason: Do you think, “I’m going to be 71, doing this 40 years, from now? It’s going to be 10 times, bigger, or, a thousand times, bigger. This kind of thing, the community owns you, now. You can’t stop. How do you contextualize, this kind of amazing success? You have buy-out offers, all the time. People want these unique visitors. What do you do with something that is so personal and so passionate, but yet, becomes a scale business?
Angelo: Our team has a mission. We have to achieve it. We’re signed on. There’s not one person, at my company, that’s not 300% passionate, about where we’re headed. What we find is, we’re going to do this, until, it’s done. That’s always been our mantra. That’s always been our mission. What it is, is a path. Artists don’t have a path. There’s not a clear cut path. I deal with this, all the time. So, until there’s a clear, lit path, for artists to go from, being kids learning how to draw, where they can end up being a person, who is responsible for creating major properties, like, Spider-Man, Iron Man, etc… That’s not just comic books. We’re talking graphic design. A future in the arts and having that be clear and lit. We’re going to be there, from the education, that is necessary on the platform, all the way through, to the first financial opportunities, you get, as an artist. Then, beyond. We be there for you, afterwards.
Jason: You say deviantArt’s here, right now. People collecting and sharing art. But, you actually see, the prequel to this, the first couple of steps, being, training people to be artists. That’s not in the existing business. Is it, yet? It may happen, ad hoc, in the comments.
Angelo: We were, certainly, not an official eduction platform, although, we have some pretty wonderful partnerships, coming up. There’s the art department, TAD. There an accredited university, at this point.
Jason: You might see a, deviantArt presents, demonstration 1.0?
Angelo: Absolutely. We have many tools. We launched deviantArt Mural. Which, is our tool, with our redraw functionality.
Jason: I remember that one. That’s incredible.
Angelo: So, you can see how art is made. You can slow it down. You can open up the tool. You can see which buttons are being clicked. You’ll see more progression, in that direction. Even more so, there’s back rooms. You see this beautiful piece of art, that you like. We’re going to let you unlock, how it was made. Talk to the artist about, how that was done, pretty, overtly.
Jason: There’s a premium feature and a way for artists to make money. Paying it forward, in a way.
Angelo: That’s right. That’ll be premium content. We’ve already launched. We’re in the alpha stages of premium content. It’s already pretty successful, for it’s size. That’s where, artists can make 80% of a sale. We take 20%, a piece.
Jason: Pretty reasonable. The standard is 70/30. So, you’re being, very, pro-artist, there.
Angelo: As you can see, there’s still a lot of entrepreneurial juice, in it, for me. I still get, completely, enthused going to work, everyday.
Jason: So many ideas, so little time.
Jason: Then, post the person making this art, you see, a job board or career path. Your deviantArt URL, is your resumé, obviously, already.
Jason: I could apply for a job, at Disney, through the site. You see, some sort of, workflow eventually, for recruiting, built into the site?
Angelo: The jobs board, that’s a nice add-on. I, actually, view…
Jason: That’s, too, easy. Shouldn’t it be a whole process, where, I’m Disney, I have an intranet. I come in and I tag people, who, I want to meet. It connects me. Double opt-in. Should we have a meeting, or not? Like, LinkedIn, of artists.
Angelo: Let’s take it up. Let’s go to, like, some vision for this.
Jason: LinkedIn, of artists, sounds pretty big to me.
Angelo: No. It’s pretty big. It’s pretty big.
Jason: You can take it higher? Take it, higher. Go ahead. Let’s free-style.
Angelo: The way to look at it, is that the world needs a creative department. This isn’t something that the world, necessarily, knows. But, everyone’s using Twitter. We’re all on the wires. We’re all intersecting. Look, closely, at the tattoo industry. Suddenly, it’s growing. Why? It’s, because, we’re all seeing each other, for the first time, over the past 5 to 7 years. We all need to look different. What about your social media profile? What about your Twitter background? How are you going to make that customized? How are you going to make that awesome?
Jason: So, I come in and say, “Give me a digital makeover.” And, an artist comes in and BOOM.
Angelo: How much trouble do you have finding a kid to come in and do photoshop stuff, for you?
Jason: Well, I have an art department, now. But, yes. I have a lot of startup companies, that are, like, our branding, our imaging sucks. The first thing I say to people, when they pitch me, on their company is, “That’s a terrible domain. That’s a terrible logo. Your web design sucks.” I have to crush, a lot, of people because they don’t think design matters. Somebody, along the way, told them, design doesn’t matter. They seemed to have missed out on the last five years of, Apple crushing it, with design-led engineering. It, really, does matter, today. Angel investors will invest in a product, based on the design, or not.
Angelo: Yes. So, deviantArt, has for over a decade, we’ve had our talent graduate and go off, into the world, and, do what they do. We’ve, always, wanted to build a graduation community that facilitated conversations between businesses. Small business people that need design.
Jason: 99 Designs, kind of, spec work…
Angelo: That’s a tough word. You’re right.
Jason: It’s, kind of, hated by the deviantArt community.
Jason: They hate the concept of spec work.
Angelo: Yes. They should.
Jason: Should they? The other artists, of those sites… in some cases, I use that term lightly, but, they should be allowed to do, what they want to do. Correct?
Angelo: Precisely. The way that we look at it, at minimum, spec work should be optional. People that sign up to these platforms, should say, “I require spec work to be paid.” That’s pretty simple. But, for some reason, that seems pretty difficult.
Jason: If the person running the site doesn’t care about giving that option.
Angelo: It’s a, very, difficult dialog to understand. The communication of designer, client, agent is a tough thing to understand. You’ve done this many times. You’ve commissioned a designer. You get what you want.
Jason: Well, the Mahalo logo was done by, John Hicks. You know, basically, John Hicks did the Firefox logo. I just looked at the Firefox logo. I said, “I love that logo. Who did it?” I went backwards. That was enough, for me. I’m willing to spend a couple thousand dollars, making a proper logo, and, discussing with that person. I trust, if he did the Firefox logo, and, he’s charging me a couple grand, and I kick it back to him, a couple of times, he’s not going to be pissed off. But, if your, also, trying to get the $250, $500 price, and you kick it back, and you expect an endless amount of revisions, you might want to think, “maybe, I need to pay another $250 for a revision.”
Angelo: You can go straight to the $250 model. Why not just stay at the $2,000 model? Or, the $1,000 or $750. The reality is that, there’s a bigger problem, than price. Accessibility is a massive problem. You can’t even access designers. You don’t know that the guy that you like, that draws, Iron Man, is more than happy to draw you. And, you as Iron Man. They’ll do it, way less expensively, than you think, because, that’s how difficult the situation is in art, for people…
Jason: So, you have a broken market place.
Jason: It hasn’t congealed. It seems that the low end has been solved pretty efficiently, by 99 Designs and those kinds of people. But, the high end and the high-end value category, I would call it, has not even been addressed. High-end results at value-based prices.
Angelo: I’ve looked at 99 Designs and at others. There’s copies. I see about, 12 or 14 of these companies in the space and I remember this. Whenever, you see 12 or 14 companies, doing the same thing…
Jason: Ah. Your radar goes off. I’ve seen 12 or 14 of these companies come up before. There’s a pattern.
Angelo: There were, like, 15 MP3 players, before the iPod, right? There were, like, 12-15 phones, before the iPhone.
Jason: There are 12-15 people doing the deviantArt verticals. One for Manga. One for photography, etc…
Angelo: Something’s wrong, in that space. Let me give you the numbers. It sounds impressive. I think, they do like $20M, $30M, I don’t know. At the bottom of their website, they pay about $1.5M to designers. Designers make $38K, a year, on average, in the country. So, therefore, that’s the rough equivalent of running a design firm that employs 400 designers. That’s not very big for solving this big problem. That’s very boutique.
Jason: And, you know what? Everybody can use a design upgrade. Design is not a static thing. It’s a dynamic thing. Even if you have a beautiful logo, it can be refreshed and iterated on. If there was a way to do it, with trust and with excellence… I really think, the issue is, as much about excellence as it is about… I don’t feel that using 99 Designs and those places… I’ve used them, in the past, and got good results. I would never say that I got an excellent result. I got O.K. to good. It takes a little bit of work to push people to get to, even, good. Now that I’m an excellence junkie, I would, easily, go to deviantArt and, just, be like, “I need excellent.” Just give me excellent.
Jason: The price…
Angelo: You need a Dream Team.
Jason: At a certain point. If you think about winning, today, in design… correct me, if I’m wrong… if it’s not excellent, you don’t win. It’s just that easy. If the car the car is not designed, in an excellent fashion… the Prius is an amazingly designed product. The Tesla… if it’s not excellent, you’re just not going to win.
Angelo: Yeah. That’s fair. That, entirely, fair.
Jason: Look at the comic book movies. If, you compare comic book movies, 10 years ago, to today, The Avengers… whether, you think about the script is perfect, or not.. visually, it’s incredible.
Angelo: It’s stunning.
Jason: Each one, gets better than the next.
Angelo: I’m so excited to go, every time.
Jason: Every movie seems to get better, in terms of, the execution on the design.
Angelo: Yep. Absolutely. So, anyway, we’re in private beta, on DreamUp.com.
Jason: DreamUp. Is it DreamUp.com?
Jason: So, it’s a separate URL? You decided to do it, as a separate URL, so the people who are, the mom and pop dry cleaner, then, can just go to DreamUp.com, and, not have to see the whole deviantArt, 180,000 submissions, a day.
Angelo: Yeah. Of course.
Jason: They can go in, describe what the project is, accept bids.
Angelo: For us, green is community. White is our tools. Blue is our professional offerings.
Jason: I got it. Very, interesting. Logo for a male nude site. Yes! deviantArts holiday card. There you go. Yearbook cover. Lanyard. Lanyard? Did you have an event?
Angelo: This is, kind of, our internal team. Heidi Chambers.
Jason: What do you need a lanyard for? Did you have an event? Or, did I just bust you?
Angelo: We have many events. We have Deviant Meets, around the world. They’re pretty amazing. I did a world tour, two years, ago. I’d love to do another one, soon. Have you heard of that? That I did this thing?
Angelo: I went crowd surfing, for real.
Jason: Tell me about it.
Angelo: We started, in Sydney, we’d literally told people, we’d be at the Opera House, in a day. One day. I had no idea, how many people would show up. I was nervous, because, we had so many members, there. We show up to the Opera House and it looks like this.
Jason: Wow. That’s 50 people.
Angelo: It’s 80. So, we’re like, O.K. Wow. This is unbelievable. Then, we kept going. That’s Singapore, at the Merlion, 300 people, You want to talk about crowdsourcing. This is a 24-hour crowdsource. We’ll meet you at the Merlion. This is the kind of result: it’s 300 people. This is the Louvre, in Paris.
Jason: Of course. I. M. designed… what do you think of the pyramid?
Angelo: The pyramid?
Jason: The I. M. Pei, designed… Some people hate that they added that to The Louvre. Some people think it’s brilliant.
Angelo: I think, it’s gorgeous.
Jason: Me too. I love it. It is, The Louvre, as far as I’m concerned.
Angelo: It is. Yeah. Warsaw, Poland. Toronto. Los Angeles.
Jason: Wow. That’s got to be great to go to all these places and see all these folks come together.
Angelo: I love this one. 600 people at Albert Memorial.
Jason: Where’s that?
Angelo: Hyde Park, in London.
Jason: Ah. Wow.
Angelo: It’s just real nice. It’s amazing.
Jason: Great photo, too. It’s great to have that community, sort of, stuff. A lot of by-out offers, for the site? How many do you field, a year?
Angelo: This is, kind of…
Jason: You don’t have to tell me, who. Just, a ball park. Are they bankers, who come to you? What do they say? They must be nervous coming to you, because, you are such a legit, businessman.
Angelo: We get a lot of merger opportunities. We get a lot of people, interested, for all kinds of reasons. Investors and things. But, we never had this issue. The truth is, that deviantArt is a valuable property. Very consistent. If you watch, our traffic is just solid. Year after year growth. But, it’s not about that. It’s about making sure that it’s, here, forever. Because, it’s a service that’s really important to artists, worldwide. It’s a promise that we’ve made, that we intend to keep. So, we have to make sure the business model of it, is so strong…
Jason: It’s a trust.
Angelo: … that it’s undeniable, why it has to be kept the way that it’s been designed. I would, always, be there. No matter what happens, I would always be there.
Jason: Do you think, that’s going to go away, eventually? If you decide, we’re not going to sell this… you could sell DreamUp, at some point or whatever. Do you think, at some point, 20 years form now…you guys have built, such an amazing business… that this just becomes a trust? You know what? This is in the public’s interest. We’ll just make it a trust and have a board that perpetuates it. You want it to live beyond you. 100 years, from now, you want this to exist.
Angelo: There’s many ways to look at it. Brewster Kahle, from Alexa and the Internet Archive. He looked at it and he was like, “Keep doing what you’re doing. This is 12 years, at this point, of archived history, of the online arts.” Perfectly archived. Every dot. Every stamp. Every thing.
Jason: Not only is it, online arts, but, this represents all the offline art, as well. There’s no difference, between the online and offline. It’s all traditional. They’re scanning it in or taking pictures.
Angelo: Exactly, yeah. Where things came from. It’ll be an incredible thing to study. We’ve had a few researchers study deviantArt, as part of their PhDs. We’ve been very fortunate, in that way.
Jason: Some amazing discovery that they found?
Angelo: This was a sociological study done. About, why people participate. Of course, getting into it, I can’t even give you a summary. It was pretty in-depth. It was three years of somebody’s life. I think we, really, are on the bleeding edge of demonstrating what a vertical is. What a vertically integrated community is. How it accelerates society and community.
Jason: Is there, some other community, that you look at, for guidance, inspiration, best practices. You guys are, obviously, in the elite of the elite. But, are there other ones that you look at. Like, 4Chan or Reddit are just crushing it, informing what we do. Or, you look at and say, wow, these are really, interesting…
Angelo: I look at most things and I say, “O.K. I, totally, see what they’re doing. It’s not unique or new to me, yet. I see a lot of user interface designs, that I really love.
Jason: Who do you love?
Angelo: I like Pinterest. I’ve been looking, closely, at it. I like it.
Jason: It seems like they’ve cleaned up, a lot of, what you’ve done. They seem to have, really, with the white background and very good framing. It’s like a cleaned up, I would say, 2.0 version of deviantArt, or, whatever. An 8.0 version.
Angelo: Well, it’s a very different thing.
Jason: It is. Product shop.
Angelo: One is a source community of things you can pin. Pinterest is a place where you can pin your interests. It’s not, necessarily, a birth place or creation platform, for content.
Jason: But, you do have to admit that the design is very clean and appealing.
Angelo: Oh, yeah. Absolutely.
Jason: Not, that mom and dad, know how to do this… or, your aunt and uncle… if you introduce this concept, this sort of design, would you fear that it would screw up the existing community. You have to protect that existing community. You talked about the walls, you create and the friction, you create to keep the community honest. It’s, almost, impossible for you to add that, without jeopardizing the main community.
Angelo: You can do, a lot. We don’t want to copy and have it be, like, “Oh yeah, deviantArt just copied Pinterest.” You can’t do that without losing faith. Besides, the Pinterest model, isn’t necessarily the right one for us.
Jason: Losing faith, in yourself, to where you’re like, my career’s gotten so… my inspiration and my work is so bankrupt, that I could just copy whatever the latest fad is.
Angelo: I think, we’re so adamant about our design and thinking where the community should go, that in fact, we take a more mature view of it. We’ll pause development and stop making the front page look awesome, for a while. Until, we can leapfrog to the next phase.
Jason: It has been 4 years, since, you redesigned.
Jason: So, to you, this is a 4 or 5 year, think it through, kind of process.
Angelo: If you look closely at, more like this, you’ll see that we’ll be producing our mobile strategy. How you can consume deviantArt, on a dedicated screen in your home.
Angelo: How you can access it, on iPads. It’s a leapfrog.
Jason: I would so love to be able to have, just, the best of Iron Man. The best of whatever. The latest artwork be on my refrigerator.
Angelo: How about a custom art feed for every person. One, where you, not only get the best of the best, that you like, but, also, in the frequency that you enjoy, the updates. The new stuff from the community. So, you’re, always, in tune with the arts. Then, also, all of the events in your area. So, that you can actually start going back to the museums.
Jason: Why don’t you open a museum of a gallery?
Angelo: Why would I do that when, there’s already so many of them? And nobody’s going to them.
Jason: The same reason, when you showed that picture of the Sydney Opera House. Is that you have this fan. If you just did a… if, in downtown L.A., you created a space and you put a different deviantArtist in, every week and in rotation. It would be the most popular art galley, in the world.
Angelo: It would and it wouldn’t be good enough. Because, the arts have a bigger problem. The arts have a bigger problem, because, the reason that you like art, is different than the reason that I like art. There’s a lot of factors, in that. So, I don’t want to send people to an experience that’s the same old experience.
Jason: But, I want to be surprised. I trust your curation judgment. I disagree. I would love, love, if there was a deviantArt gallery, downtown, and, I knew that five weekends, a year, I could go there, any friday or saturday night, and see something awesome.
Angelo: What if you knew everyday, there were ten events, in your area and they were all inside of the spectrum that you like?
Jason: Naa. I prefer for your judgement. I would prefer the communities judgement. In all honesty, there’s just too much stuff, in the world and I’m looking for more curation. I would like people to program my life, a little more. I wish that people would, just, tell me just see these ten movies, a year. If somebody I trust said…
Angelo: Well, it is already curated.
Jason: I know it is. I would love for somebody to say, go to these ten restaurants, go to these ten movies. I’m, constantly, looking for more curation, cause, it’s too much stuff out there.
Angelo: You gotta see it from the perspective that I’m seeing it.
Jason: Get me there.
Angelo: That, you have a massively curated community. You have all of these segments. You could never consume the daily submissions, that occur, on deviantArt, in a day. So, you could never consume, all of deviantArt, in a lifetime. It doesn’t grow the size of the arts, for me to inefficiently send you through the system. It does grow the size of the arts, if I can give you a pocket. Of course, you could always browse the other world. Right? But, give you a pocket, to start. So, that the arts are accessible, to you. Then, from there, open up your local art community, to you. So, that you can access it, also.
Jason: You said it, yourself, it’s broken. The local art community’s broken. I say, you open, in each of the ten major art cities, a deviantArt gallery. Where, whoever the most-followed by the community, gets to put their art up. Anybody’s who in the top most-followed, gets to put up a piece, whenever they want. They, just, schedule to put it up. It’s like an open mic night.
Angelo: I know and that’s fair. I think, we can dynamically organize that so our members can lead in those directions.
Jason: That would be incredible.
Angelo: But, we build tech. So, that what we’ve got to do. We’re going to build tech, to solve these problems. But, that’s, exactly, the right idea.
Jason: Man, it’s so great having you on. Because, when, you reach such great levels of success, again, overnight, it took you only 12 days, 12 weeks, 12… this is the thing, Paul Graham, wrote this piece about, “Startups are about growth.” Growth, growth, growth. To a certain extent. It’s also about soul and art. It’s not just growth for growth’s sake. I feel like that’s something that’s getting perverted, right now. I’m not saying that, Paul Graham, is perverting it or anything like that. But, I do think, when you look at the Y Combinator startups… I was talking to one of the most prominent angels. They said, to me, he said he feels like they’re gaming growth, instead of, soulfully pursuing their passions. I, just, thought about that, for a second. Growth at growth cost, but, removing soul, from an entrepreneurial thing… that just sort of kills it. There’s no long term strategy, there.
Angelo: I am, completely, in sync. I am, where, I’m supposed to be. That’s a beautiful feeling.
Jason: It is, isn’t it? You wake up, everyday and say I love what I’m doing.
Angelo: I can’t go to sleep. I can’t wait to get to work.
Jason: That’s great, man. Everybody, go check out, deviantArt. Check out DreamUp.com. Anything else you’re plugging? Any other projects coming out? i feel like I should plug something, for you.
Angelo: I’m a brand ambassador.
Jason: You are. There’s nothing, there, for me to plug. People already know how great deviantArt is. Here’s what people should do. Go to DreamUp.com and try it. Go describe some project, get some bids and try it for your next project. That’s all I’m asking you to do. Go to DreamUp.com and try that. Give it some feedback.
Angelo: The code is: I have a dream. That’s how you… type in, I have a dream, as the private beta code.
Jason: I have a dream, is the private beta code. There you go. DreamUp. Thank you, @GoTo Meeting. Meeting is Believing. Igloosoftware. Than you, so much. Go win that free, iPad mini. That’s very generous, of them. Go to igloosoftware.com/thisweekin. Thank you, Brandis. Thank you, Jesse. Thank you, Kirin. Thank you, Bryce. Thank you, makeup Jen. Thank you, everybody who works on the program and doing a great job. We’ll see you next time, on ThisWeekIn Startups.