Israeli web development company Wix announced last week it purchased the popular West Hollywood-based online artist platform DeviantArt for $36 million including $3 million in assumed debt.

DeviantArt has built a small empire of devoted users – some 40 million – since it was founded in 2000 and has more than 325 million individual pieces of original art housed on its platform. Company co-founder and Chief Executive Angelo Sotira said in an interview that the deal with Wix initially began as a marketing proposition, but quickly evolved.

“We were looking for a potential strategic partner, and at the same time we were going through this process we got a call from Wix about a possible marketing or advertising relationship,” Sotira said.

The two sides were set to meet in San Francisco in October, but just before Sotira was set to fly up he got word that Wix’s Chief Executive Avishai Abrahami wasn’t able to make the meeting. Disappointed, Sotira almost canceled, but then did something out of character.

“I said screw it, let’s go anyway, which is something I never do,” Sotira said. “And we got up there and Avishai ended up being able to make the meeting and immediately locked onto the new site design we want to do and we had an amazing conversation on a product level. It was incredible.”

While some sort of relationship was sparked at the October meeting, it was a December trip to Wix’s headquarters in Tel Aviv where acquisition talks started in earnest. Sotira said he immediately felt at home there and that Wix had the resources to help him update the sites functionality while being committed to keeping the feel – or “language,” as Sotira calls it – of the site intact.

“DeviantArt is a sprawling place and there’s certainly more efficient ways to do things while keeping the experience of the site intact and that’s what we wanted to do,” Sotira said. “But these things are very difficult and are almost impossibly expensive for a company our size. With Wix, we don’t have that issue.”

For Wix, the deal means access to DeviantArt’s artists, which the Israeli company can pitch its web design products to as a way to help users “showcase their creativity online and build their brands.”

Wix Chief Executive Avishai Abrahami said in a statement that this was something DeviantArt’s community was already looking for and that the acquisition would help give them more tools to promote their art.

“The DeviantArt community is talented and robust and hungry for additional product expertise,” Abrahami said. “We understand their passion, share their creative vision and are excited to offer the power of the Wix platform to their millions of artists.”

As part of the deal Sotira will join Wix’s management team and the entire DeviantArt staff will come on as employees of Wix.

DeviantArt backers, according to CrunchBase, include Anthony Saleh, Chief Executive of Emagen Investment Group, Inc., and Emagen Entertainment Group, Inc. in Redondo Beach. Saleh manages recording artist such as rapper YG of Los Angeles and Atlanta’s Future as well as legendary New York lyricist Nas.

Deals & Dealmakers reporter Henry Meier can be reached at hmeier@labusinessjournal.com. Follow him on Twitter @henry_meier.

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