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The truth behind Etsy

Holiday shopping is just around the corner, and if you’re ordering from small businesses, that deadline creeps even closer.

A Brooklyn-based online artisanal marketplace has become New York tech’s poster child within the past 15 years. From starting as a storefront for small sellers’ arts and crafts, the marketplace now has over a $27B valuation, and continues to rise.

Yes, that internet retail platform is Etsy, the home of custom door signs, personalized candle scents and hand-made dog toys.

With all stereotypes aside, I love Etsy. There are so many unique sellers whose creative talents have made it onto Etsy’s gift guides, user’s favorite collections and even editors’ picks. As the owner of an Etsy shop myself, Etsy is an easy-to-understand platform with many opportunities to connect with potential buyers and be creative.

Etsy’s mission is to keep commerce human, as well as the commitment to “using the power of business to strengthen communities and empower people.”

With over 93 million items for sale, 5.2 million active sellers and 90.5 million active buyers, Etsy has made quite a name for itself since its beginnings.

Rob Kalin, Chris Maguire and Haim Schoppik developed the first version of Etsy in June 2005 in a small Brooklyn apartment. The trio’s original vision was to create a business that would function as an online platform for craftsmen to sell their goods. Kalin’s struggle in marketing his own amateur wood-encased computers sparked the idea.

“In early April of 2005, I sat in an orange chair facing an open window. It was nighttime and the lights were off. I was back in Brooklyn after a brief residence in Paris, and I was about to sketch the initial ideas that would become Etsy. Working with three friends – Chris, Haim and Jared – Etsy went from these ideas to a site live on the web in about two months,” said Kalin on the company’s blog.

By 2007, the website had nearly 450,000 registered sellers who generated $26 million in annual sales. Maguire and Schoppik left the company in August 2008, leaving Kalin as the only remaining original owner.

As Kalin’s load became heavier, he hired Chad Dickerson as Etsy’s new Chief Technology Officer, who began building out Etsy’s engineering team. This was the beginning of a huge turning point for the company. Dickerson later replaced Kalin as CEO of the company in 2011, with three years under his belt of effective leadership in his CTO role.

Over the years, Etsy remained planted in Brooklyn, the hub of creatives and independents. Dickerson said he wanted the company to influence and be influenced by the mix of industries here, from media to fashion, to a burgeoning manufacturing renaissance.

In a feature by Forbes, “Etsy created a work environment meant to inspire creative thinking.” The headquarters offers a variety of meeting space styles, both indoors and outdoors, a fully-stocked workshop space for “crafternoons” and a space for dogs. These locations around the office are meant to encourage employees to take advantage of fun features to ward off burnout.

​​”In addition to offering a competitive benefits package and paid time off policy, we want to create an environment where employees can challenge themselves both personally and professionally,” said Raina Moskowitz, SVP of People, Strategy and Services.

Just like anything that hits mainstream culture, Etsy’s growth has come with controversy and complaints. Customers become annoyed by high shipping costs and long waits for products to arrive. But, unlike Amazon, Etsy doesn’t own warehouses stocked with inventory, as items are made by individual buyers.

Josh Silverman was named Etsy’s CEO in 2017. When named this position, Silverman said: “Our focus will remain on delivering value to our community, including our shareholders.” From his work at other online-based services, such as American Express, Skype, shopping.com and eBay, he recognized how difficult it is to create a differentiated value proposition for buyers that also benefits sellers, but he believes “Etsy has done that.”

According to an article from The List, “As Etsy surged in popularity and grew into a machine of its own, many buyers and sellers who were initially attracted to the website for its hip, underground feel found themselves disappointed in the direction the company seemed to be heading.” Critics of the “conformist” turn of the site argued that Etsy began to feel more like eBay.

When COVID-19 hit in spring 2020, Etsy became a key source in finding unique, handmade mask options. This grew the company’s key profit and sales metrics, not only from masks, but from homebound purchases, as well.

“What they’ve been able to use Covid for is to bring either new customers to the platform or old customers back to a better experience,” said Jason Helfstein, an analyst at Oppenheimer and Company. “When you searched something, you actually found it. Or when you bought something, it actually came, like, pretty quickly, not weeks later, which was some of the issues with what we’ll call the old Etsy.”

Etsy is growing at a faster pace than ever predicted. Online shopping has increased over the past year and a half, and Etsy sees those results. The platform has become a unique website platform for people who are looking to buy and sell one-of-a-kind gifts and items.

As the season of holiday shopping comes around, be prepared for slow turnaround time as small businesses have a higher demand. From October to December of 2020, 13 million new shoppers joined the online site.

I buy all of my Christmas gifts off of Etsy, in support of small businesses and creators. Plus, the unique gifts are so much more fun to give. Etsy only receives 5 percent of the transaction fee, so it doesn’t take as much as Amazon does, which ranges from as low as 6 percent to as high as 45 percent.

Take a different approach in your holiday shopping this year. In the words of Etsy’s guiding principles, commit to the craft, minimize waste, embrace differences, dig deeper and lead with the optimism that you have helped create a new standard of what is possible —yes, even with holiday shopping.

Hey! I'm Madalynn & I'm a freshman at KU! I'm majoring in Strategic Communication & minoring in Film & Media Studies. When going to a coffee shop, my go-to is a caramel latte! In the future, my goal is to work for Disney Parks & Resorts in advertising! I'm excited to share my articles with you - I hope you enjoy! :)
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