From the tall, tree-like creature that greets visitors to the sixth floor of 326 Gold Street, to the needlepoint hangings and artwork, visitors to Etsy's headquarters are treated to the same kinds of handmade and vintage items they find when visiting the Etsy.com online marketplace. The website has struck a nerve with consumers hungry for creating, buying and selling handmade, and local newspapers, magazines and blogs are full of stories about Etsy members and their unique items, including a feature on Martha Stewart television.
Most impressive, perhaps, is cofounder Rob Kalin's appearance in Davos, Switzerland at the World Economic Forum, which nominated Etsy as one of their 2009 Technology Pioneers.
I visited Etsy headquarters in Brooklyn, New York to get a sense of the culture and see what I could learn about the marketplace that, while founded in 2005, maintains the aura of a startup. Adam Brown is Etsy's public relations contact. Like most of Etsy's 60-plus employees, Adam is not a native-New Yorker and has an eclectic background.
The building that currently houses Etsy was formerly occupied by a printing firm, Adam explained on the tour. The mahogany-paneled offices that had housed executives are now home to the marketing and community staff, while Etsy's engineers sit in a large open space that had formerly housed the secretarial typing pool.
Three floors down is home to the Etsy Labs, a crafter's paradise that is open to the public on Monday nights for classes and crafting projects. For those who can't make it to Brooklyn, Etsy offers an online version called Virtual Labs.
It was in the Etsy Labs on a couch festooned with cozy handmade pillows and quilts, positioned next to a knitting machine, that I conducted a podcast interview with Adam. Like the pillows, many of the handmade items found throughout the offices were sent in by members, he explained.
But while Etsy emits a sense of fun and creativity online and offline, there's a very real business-side to the company. It has raised a total of $31.6 million in funding. Gross Merchandise Sales grew 230% from roughly $26.5 million in 2007 to roughly $87.5 million in 2008. With 200,000 sellers and over 2.1 million registered users, the company has roughly doubled the number of employees since Adam started with the company 2 years ago, he said, and recently Etsy hired its first human resources employee.
Maria Thomas joined Etsy last May from NPR and took over the role of CEO from cofounder Rob Kalin two months later. While General Manager of NPR Digital, Maria took a business approach to managing the creative endeavors of a network of independent producers (stations) - experience she likely draws on when managing Etsy's community. She also gained direct ecommerce experience during her 3-year tenure at Amazon.com where she played a key role in launching its camera and photo store.
Maria hired Chad Dickerson from Yahoo in September as Chief Technology Officer, and he began immediate work on improving Etsy's search engine and site performance. He launched an API program earlier this year to give third-party developers access to Etsy to help them create applications for buyers and sellers. Tom Kutter, who had previously worked at PayPal on the Merchant Services side of the business, heads the program.
Tom told me that developers have approached Etsy about creating tools for launching listings, but he said there's not a big need since sellers are listing unique, one-of-a-kind items, except for sellers in the Supplies category. (What about sellers in the vintage category who may wish to import their items from eBay or online antiques malls, I later wondered.) Many of Etsy's early developers are "boyfriends and husbands" of Etsy sellers, he said.
Currently, sellers are allowed to list handmade goods created by themselves (you cannot sell something that someone else made); supplies; and vintage - items 20 years or older with vintage appeal.
My tour of Etsy and interview with Adam Brown comes at an exciting time for the company. It's transitioning from small startup to high-growth powerhouse with a dynamic CEO to lead the way. How she handles some of Etsy's challenges will be critical, as our readers can understand having participated intimately with other ecommerce marketplaces facing similar growth curves.
I'm grateful to all the Etsy folks who took the time to say hello, including Adam, Jakob, Vanessa, Matt, Tom, and Michelle, whose handmade bloomers can be found in her Etsy shop. And special thanks to Phil at NewsPhoto.com for the Etsy photos!
Podcast interview with Etsy's Adam Brown
Listen to podcast
Etsy, Where Handmade and Vintage Collide
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