Nov. 6, 2009 3:12 pm

Friday Q&A: Pete Borowsky of Zatista

Pete Borowsky and his wife were moving in to what he describes as his first “big boy” home when he realized he wanted to spruce up his new walls with something more permanent than a poster. “We started looking for original art and the options were just not that great for us,” the Half.com (founded […]

Pete Borowsky and his wife were moving in to what he describes as his first “big boy” home when he realized he wanted to spruce up his new walls with something more permanent than a poster.

“We started looking for original art and the options were just not that great for us,” the Half.com (founded in Conshohocken) and eBay veteran says, mentioning that galleries were too expensive and limiting while art fairs were too unreliable.

Seeing a need in the art world for accessible original works, Borowsky launched Zatista in Yardley along with some other local Half.com expats in May. The site could be described as an Etsy for original art where sellers can post their work for free. The company employs three full-time workers and makes its money by taking an 18 percent cut on all transactions. On the contrary, some art galleries take as much as 50 percent from artists.

After emerging from beta in August, Zatista now has 3,000 original pieces of art for purchase and is beginning to see repeat customers. The site’s just released its new “Art Explorer” feature that can learns what art users prefer based on browsing habits.

“We have good feeling that once we get the word out, people will use the site more often than we thought,” he says.

We chatted with Borowsky about putting art galleries out of business, why he stayed in Philly and what was it like to exist in both the art and tech universes.

As always, edited for length and clarity.

Why did you start Zatista?

It really came from when my wife and I moved into our first “big boy” house. We were at the point in our lives where we wanted to decorate and buy real furniture that would last a while. We didn’t want to put posters on the wall so we started looking for original art and the options were just not that great for us.

We could go to galleries but that had a few drawbacks. Getting to galleries can be tough. You might not have galleries that carry your favorite style of work around you. Then there is a cost factor. You may not be able to afford what is being shown at galleries.

When the idea came to me, I was working for Half.com and there were only reproductions and prints online. The sites that were selling original had some works, but there was a lot of work for the new art buyer to do.

Zatista founder Pete Borowsky

This seems like a merging of two very different worlds: art and tech. What is that like for you?

That’s part of the appeal. I definitely have a technology background, but I actually have an artistic background. In college I did some studio art and photography and after college I did some film production.

For me it was a great blend of something I had interest in along with the experience and skill I have gained with a bunch of years [in tech].

Why did you choose to be Philly?

I used to work for Half.com when it was based here [in Conshohocken]. When I worked for eBay while I traveled to the Bay Area a lot and was based here.

Definitely there was some stubbornness there. I really like the area. It’s a fantastic place for our family and for our kids. It’s a real nice blend of things that are available in a city and beautiful suburbs. Though, I actually grew up in Southern California.

Wow, so you did a sort of reverse of the typical migration that most startups do?

I just really loved the area I think the people are great and there are a lot of really intelligent people here. While its not he premier place to be, it is certainly getting easier to have technology companies in any location as we get more connected.

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Sean Blanda is an adviser to Technical.ly, the local technology news network, having cofounded its flagship Technically Philly in February 2009. He is a media consultant, engagement editor for Behance and lives in Brooklyn, NYC.

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