Interview with Displa.io CEO Charles Banewitz
Many common practices, occupations, and artistic forms have changed in the past century. Many of these changes can be directly attributed to the creation and popularity of the Internet. The arts have been impacted significantly in several ways. Graphic design and web design are now recognized as art forms and their popularity rivals that of painting, drawing, and other forms of art due to the ability to conduct these types of arts through a computer, which was impossible just a few decades ago.
What has not changed is the love of art. There is a new generation of art lovers, and although they’re not as ‘traditional’ as past generations of art lovers, they are passionate.
I am a passionate art lover, but my tastes are much different than that of my parents or the rest of the baby boomer generation. As part of my work with the Collegiate Entrepreneurs’ Organization I am privileged to help out with the National Conferences for Self Employment in the Arts (SEA). Year after year I witness the drastic changes in what young artists are interested in and what they are creating. This year there were several graphic designers who competed in the business plan competition, something you would not have seen even 5-10 years ago.
My favorite new art based startup is Displa.io, which has already gained the attention of many young artists and art lovers through focusing on a specific type of canvas – metal. The company has a unique personality and is not afraid to shake things up a bit in the art world. The company’s motto is “We f*cking love art.”
I recently interviewed Displa.io CEO Charles Banewitz, who is 30 years old and a co-founder of the company. We discussed how the company was started, his background in the arts, and what’s next for the startup.
General Business Information
Company Name: Displa.io
Founders: Charles Banewitz, Jack Swigert, Eddie Rock
Date Founded: 1st May 2013
Funding to Date: Angel investment, amount not disclosed
General Business Description: Displa.io is a new art & design startup that allows artists, graphic designers and photographers to upload their artworks and offer them on thick metal plates called Displates.
Michael Luchies: How did you come up with the idea for Displa.io and what went into launching the business?
Charles Banewitz: It was a marriage of ideas of the founders. Eddie has long since been an artist and an entrepreneur passionate about graphics, design, illustration and photography. He was the one who saw the potential in the metal plate as being the perfect canvas matching arts timeless form. He started his own manufacture and started offering graphics on metal plates, which received great reviews from his clients. Being the tech-heavy serial startup veteran that I am, I decided that it is a perfect idea to marry those two concepts and create a place which connects people who create art with those who would like to see it on this unique canvas. Jack is the connector, a true people’s person, he just knows a lot of people and how to approach them. I really couldn’t imagine a better matched team.
It took us 8 months to launch the business. We are following the lean startup methodology and wanted to present Displa.io to public as soon as possible and then improve it based on our user feedback.
ML: The lean startup method has given a lot of startups a head start and a quick launch. What is your background in startups and in art?
CB: Our team has a very wide background of entrepreneurial ventures. Eddie owns a creative agency and a prints manufacture. Art runs in his blood as his family’s art roots run back to XIX century. Jack has his own restaurant. I have been involved in the startup scene for several years now. I oversee and personally code all of the websites I launch, front-end and back-end included. We each have a lot of business experience and two of us have a strong technology background and education. Art had a big impact on each of our lives. Eddie started pencil drawing when he was only several years old, Jack is probably the biggest fan of Salvadore Dali there is. I believe art is the most pure, simple and subtle way that gives meaning to our lives, of which I learned during the toughest moments of my life.
ML: Displa.io’s motto is “We f*cking love Art. And we want that feeling to spread like wildfire.” How did you come up with your motto and how do you expect Displa.io to help spread the love of art to others?
CB: What is the first thing that comes to your mind when someone says art? Is it an old painting in a gallery? We think that ‘art’ lost its cool and we want to bring it back. The “We f*cking love Art” is intended to break the stereotype of boring and pompous old men discussing art over a cup of tea . That is also why we choose the metal plate. It’s fresh and modern. We didn’t want to do it on a canvas, because it reminds people of the old stereotypes. We also don’t want it to be sold on cups, t-shirts, or paper. It simply deserves more. We wanted it to be affordable, modern, great looking, and as easy to put on your wall as possible. So you just stick a magnet to your wall and put the Displate on it, it’s as simple as that, and takes 15 seconds. Making it as easy as possible to transfer great art to any surface is huge. If we can do that, and we believe we did, art will become more present and through that, the love for it will spread. But it’s not only about the art. Our surroundings are scientifically proven to have an enormous impact on our creativity, well-being and simply how we feel. We want to breathe life into those empty gray surroundings.
ML: Where does the strong and playful personality of the business come from?
CB: I remember watching Louis CK honoring George Carlin, two people who I personally value for their approach to life. The breaking point for Louis career was when he went on the stage and decided to drop all the unnecessary jargon and say “I can’t have sex with my wife, because we have a baby. And our baby is a f*cking asshole”. Peoples life’s need more color. We want the emotion, we want you to love us or hate us, but never be neutral.
ML: What reception have you received from graphic designers and artists?
CB: The reception was very positive though we are still aware that much more work needs to be done regarding our business model. Graphic designers, photographers and artists are our lifeblood and we want to live with them on great terms. We are receiving tons of feedback and are working each day to make it a better place for everyone.
ML: Displa.io has received a lot of attention, what’s next?
CB: It has, but we now need to get the Displates in people’s hands. We really worked very hard to make every detail of product as great as possible and we are positive that people will love it.
We are just fresh after launch and we are unrolling new features as we speak. We intend to open the website to public on 1st of June because currently it is invitations only. From the start we wanted Displa.io to be active online and offline that is why we are planning our first gallery show in Barcelona, Spain in June and a next one in Berlin. In the meantime we focus on current feedback and metric and introduce additional changes based on the feedback we receive.
It’s inspiring to see such a fresh approach to a classic passion for many and for a new generation to enjoy. I am attempting to come up with a few designs myself that are worthy of being placed on a Displate, but so far it looks like I need to stick to my writing and leave the artwork to those who are truly talented.