N. Phila. startup fits fledgling artists to a T

DAVID MAIALETTI / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Jonathan Dubrowski (left) and Douglas Wong created InksterInc. for artists to cash in on T-shirt designs.

DOUGLAS WONG, 38, of South Philadelphia, and Jonathan Dubrowski, 34, of Rhawnhurst, co-founded a website and creative community called InksterInc. The North Philly startup, which launched in December, gets artists - called "Inklings" - to create pop-culture T-shirt designs and upload them to its website. When a design sells, the artist gets $5 for each $20 shirt. I spoke with Wong.

Q: How'd you come up with the idea for InksterInc.?

A: I always wanted to be an artist, and my son told me when he was 10 that he wanted to be an artist. I've been a banquet server for almost 19 years and told my wife I wanted to do something to support the artist community.

Q: How did you come up with the money to get started?

A: We sold our house and I [liquidated] my [retirement account]. I put up $250,000.

Q: And the biz model?

A: It's an open platform for artists to brand themselves. They submit designs and we digitally print the T-shirts on 100 percent homespun cotton. The artists own rights to their artwork. They come to the community through word of mouth, social media. Jonathan shoots about three videos a week, artists are interviewed and we blog. We want people who wear InksterInc. T's to know they support artists.

Q: How many artists are in InksterInc.'s community?

A: We have more than 100 artists signed up.

Q: Who buys T-shirts?

A: Most have been purchased by women on the East Coast, ages 18 to 32.

Q: How many T-shirts have you sold to date?

A: About 50, but for the first month all we did was try to get artists to join the community. We've gotten inquiries from Canada, Singapore, asking when we're going to sell to people overseas.

Q: How many artists in InksterInc. are from Philly?

A: Not many. That's why we'll be starting meet-up and focus groups. I think it's because the word hasn't gotten out yet. I'm setting up a craft show, I'm going to be sponsoring booths for artists to sell T-shirts and whatever else they make at craft shows during the summer.

Q: You've added Bitcoin as a payment option. Why?

A: One of our artists suggested we try Bitcoin. We signed up about a week ago and see this as a way to drive more traffic to our website. We sold our first T-shirts using Bitcoin last week.

Q: How many employees?

A: Two full time, five part time, including three graphic designers and two printers.

Q: What's your revenue target for this year?

A: We think we can hit six figures by year's end. We can see the tipping point because we are not selling overseas yet.


Twitter: @MHinkelman

Online: ph.ly/YourBusiness