LA Tech Spotlight: Angelo Sotira, Co-Founder & CEO, DeviantART

Los Angeles-based deviantART is the largest online social community for artists and art enthusiasts. Images in social media may have exploded over the last several years, but deviantART, founded in 2000, was way ahead of the curve.

Angelo SotiraLos Angeles-based deviantART is the largest online social community for artists and art enthusiasts. Images in social media may have exploded over the last several years, but deviantART, founded in 2000, was way ahead of the curve.

“DeviantART  was created to inspire, entertain and empower artists and art lovers. It features an extensive and evolving platform used to exhibit, promote and discover art and interact with members,” explains CEO Angelo Sotira, who co-founded deviantART with Scott Jarkoff and Matt Stephens. “It has more than 28 million registered members and over 250 million pieces of uploaded art that generate 2.5 billion page views per month.”

Sotira, age 32, is a veteran entrepreneur. DeviantART is his third company.

As a middle school student in Northern Virginia, Sotira built one of the first digital communities through a bulletin board system around multi-player video gaming. While still in high school, Sotira founded Dimension Music, an early mp3 file-sharing site. DMusic was acquired by agent-mogul Michael Ovitz. Sotira went on to advise Ovitz’s Artist Management Group and Lynx Technology Group. Sotira’s love of art, as well as his work with customized graphics for media players, led him to launch deviantART while he was still in high school.

“In 2000 I noticed that skinning your computer was becoming popular and there were artists moving in behind that development offering their skills,” Sotira explains. “These artists were interested in posting on Winamp Facelift, but they needed their own platform to publish their other art. So deviantART began by allowing these artists to publish original art and news content to the web, collaborate with each other, comment on each other’s artwork, build a fan base, and connect with third-party social networks to further promote the art.  It expanded quickly past skins into the more than 2,500 categories of visual art that we have today.”

DeviantART has the largest community of artists and art lovers in one place, so it sets itself apart from similar platforms by size and scale alone. DeviantART also touts diversity — the forum embraces artists at all levels, from amateur to professional, and accepts all kinds of art, including photography, illustration, 3D models, etc.

The mechanics of the website are simple.

“Inside the community there’s a tech-driven platform,” Sotira explains. “It 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… Through deviantART’s platform, artists can also use galleries to promote and sell their work through print-on-demand, digital downloads and artist commissions.”

Next up for deviantART — taking on the challenge of making art more accessible.

“On the viewer side, different people like different types of art and they often don’t know the category of the art they like or the name of the artists… They just know the art they like when they happen to come across it,” he shares. “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, as well as by bringing relevant information from the community into creative tools while art is being made.”

Part of why Sotira loves Los Angeles is that it reminds him of the beauty of his hometown of Athens, Greece. Yet, that is not the only reason he loves having an L.A.-based business.

“L.A. is now a thriving tech hub with an incredible incoming tech workforce,” he explains. “For deviantART, we also benefit from the attention of the entertainment industry and the large gaming companies here. Thousands of artists are here storyboarding, engaged in character design, sculpting, doing CGI work and so on. For a startup, there’s a constantly refreshing pool of talent here.”

As social tech continues to grow, even an early adopter like Sotira sees there is still so much ground to cover.

“We’re still very early in terms of the impact that social tech will make on the lives of people,” Sotira believes. “We know people want more social interaction tools on the web and in mobile and quickly adopt good ones when they become available. Now is better than ever to launch a social startup.”