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Summary:

Etsy is one of the quiet successes of the modern Internet. A artisan’s haven (and heaven), it is a global market place that is unique in its mission. It is time to meet Chad Dickerson, its unassuming leader, whose outlook on business is simply human.

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The technology industry these days has taken on the veneer of a glam-rock festival — lots of venture capitalists, founders and executives taking center stage and enjoying the bright lights — or quips on social media and hamming it up on video shows. And perhaps that’s why someone like Chad Dickerson, chief executive officer of Etsy, a Brooklyn, New York-based global marketplace for arts and crafts goods, is a breath of fresh air. A quiet man who speaks very softly, Dickerson is an unlikely success story in the razzle-dazzle world of ecommerce.

Dickerson, who started his life in the media world (he worked for Salon), and spent time at Yahoo, ended up joining Etsy in 2008 as its chief technology officer. Etsy, which was started in 2005 by Jared Tarbell and Rob Kalin, had gone through a series of management upheavals and from the outside felt like a temperamental middle child of busy parents. About two years ago, when the company was in middle of one of those upheavals and was facing stalled growth, the board (which includes Fred Wilson from Union Square Ventures) bet that Dickerson was the right man to lead the company into the future. It doesn’t matter who made that call — it was an inspired one.

Etsy has had its share of issues, but Dickerson has confronted them head on. He hasn’t hid behind a PR machine, and is open to talking to either Etsy buyers or sellers, anytime. He is unlikely to be every confused for a “internet CEO poster child.” He has shock of gray hair and is losing his battle with looming middle age. And he smiles a lot — using it as a way to put everyone at ease.

Two year turnaround

The company is on track to cross $1 billion in total annual transactions — twice as much in 2011 when Dickerson took over as CEO. It has 30 million registered users (versus 10 million when Dickerson stepped up) and by the end of 2013 will have a million sellers hocking their wares — bags, belts, hats, Siracha hot sauce and trinkets — on the Etsy platform. And if that is not enough, the company has built a global payment system to rival the likes of PayPal and has gone global through community-driven translations.

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When I asked him why he has succeeded has as chief executive, he explained that “because I was the chief technology officer, I got to learn the entire business very intimately, from infrastructure to how we interacted with sellers and buyers.” It just so happens he completely loves the product — Dickerson does most of his shopping on Etsy — and believes in the higher purpose of Etsy.

Dickerson, who grew up in the tobacco growing part of North Carolina, was an English major in college interested in media and journalism. “I wanted to go to someplace else,” he quipped. While attending Duke University, he took math and science as minors and slowly fell in love with technology. “I am often surprised that I ended up in a tech career,” Dickerson told me a few months ago when we met for coffee in Manhattan. “I don’t think of myself as technologist but more as a student of human behavior who accidentally ended up in technology.”

Always be hustling

If anything, Dickerson is resourceful and makes the most of opportunities. As a 10-year-old kid, when he was trying to build a lawn mowing business, he tried to talk all the local realtors into giving him contracts to mow the lawns instead of trying to do one-off deals with homeowners. At one time he was helping mow 30 lawns a week — and a lot of money he made from that effort went towards his college fund. Upon leaving from college, Dickerson worked for the Raleigh News and Observer in Raleigh, N.C. and worked on its website in the early 1990s so he could hang around the newsroom.


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When Dickerson speaks, he speaks softly. You have to strain hard to understand the meaning of his carefully chosen words. He truly believes in the manifest destiny of Etsy. Dickerson is unwavering in his belief that his 450-employee company can become an engine of global trade like none before.

“Etsy, technologically and culturally, is a platform that provides meaning to people, and an opportunity to validate their art, their craft,” Dickerson said

Dickerson believes that Etsy is at the forefront of the maker movement and a new way of commerce that is the polar opposite of the mass-produced industrial economic system. An increasing number of people are looking to connect with those who make their products and want to find the story behind the products. “Back in 2005 when I was at Yahoo, we would have hackathons and they would bring together people in a pretty meaningful manner,” he recalled. Etsy, is a way of hacking commerce and bringing people together.

People, not math, are the key to commerce

“Most e-commerce tries to reduce everything to math, but I refuse to think of it as a math problem,” said Dickerson. All it takes is spending time with Etsy buyers and sellers to learn that all commerce is about real human interaction. “I was talking to two Etsy sellers about my son and they sent me a book to read to my son,” he said. “You learn a lot from talking to people and not looking at data.” Dickerson, who often is the first person in company’s DUMBO office and the last one out, has a great way of describing Etsy: “At the end of every transaction, you get something real from a real person. There is an existential satisfaction to that.”

But that doesn’t mean Dickerson isn’t paying respect to the tenets of any modern internet business — cloud, mobile, social and data. A few years ago, Etsy embraced data and used it to build a more informed platform. The CTO-turned-CEO also pushed the company to a modern infrastructure that is good for Etsy’s recent growth.

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And the focus for his team these days is to make mobile easier not only for buyers, but also for sellers. Etsy has embraced mobile completely, and things have picked up for the company because of it. “The reason we developed Direct Checkout (a payment system) is because we wanted to make it easy for people to not have to go to third-party websites and make payments,” Dickerson said. That is quite a painful experience. Mobile accounts for about 45 percent of company’s monthly visits and by next early next year, it will be the majority of Etsy’s traffic.

“The soul of our company is our marketplace and our community,” said Dickerson. “We succeed when we helps others succeed, and that is the core value of our company.” And that is why Etsy became a Certified B corporation (a kind of for-profit U.S. company that “considers society and the environment in addition to profit in their decision making process“) – much like Warby Parker and Patagonia. Etsy, which takes 3.5 percent of each sale on the platform, has been profitable for a few years.

The company raised $40 million in Series F funding last year(at a valuation exceeding $600 million) and is using those funds to become a global platform. (It has raised a total of $91.7 million in funds from Index Ventures, Union Square Ventures, Accel Partners, and others.)

“We are looking at international growth and hoping that in next four years, international sales will account for half of the total sales,” he said. At present, about 20 percent of Etsy’s sales volume is from international buyers and sellers.

Dickerson believes that the Etsy platform can play the role of a wholesale trade show and connect artisans to smaller/independent stores and help them growth their business. “When I started working in technology almost twenty years ago, it was about building something on the web,” he said. “It is now about building something with the web.” 

Click here for Chad Dickerson’s response to the comments

  1. The truth is Chad basically ignores the sellers. Customer service is non existent. If you say anything even remotely close to anything they dont like, they shut you up and even close your shop. If you point out the massive amount of problems, they shut you up, the resellers, the blatant copyright infringement that is allowed to exist ( yes they profit from it) they shut you up while those who continue to sell and break rules and laws are allowed to go along their merry way. If you e mail them for help or a problem (you cant call, no phone number exists that you can talk to someone) you are either ignored or wait days and even weeks for a response. They do absolutely NOTHING to promote the site. The sellers do all the work. Chad did not make Etsy what it is, its all the hard working sellers promoting and crafting that made the site what it is. Admin and Chad treat the sellers like trash.

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    1. elizasususweet Saturday, August 24, 2013

      True Fred. I sell on Etsy and am making moves to go out on my own. Etsy constantly changes their rules and has absolutely no consideration for the seller. No customer service. They should be ashamed of what they do on the forums. If a seller says something they don’t like about etsy, Etsy cuts them out of the forums. If a seller has their own website, Etsy does not allow the seller to let buyers know that.I get disgusted every time Dickerson says Etsy is a people company. That is a lie, unless the people he talks about are him, his ego and a handful of people on Etsy’s staff.

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      1. I totally agree. They just blast anyone off the forum who doesn’t like what they do and there are many of them. There is no worthwhile customer service from etsy, the sellers do it on the forums when they are allowed to.

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        1. Agreed! I have two shops on Etsy, and will be making the move out very soon! What made Etsy great is that is supported the little handmade companies. Companies with one person running the show. Now there are resellers from all over the world who have factory workers. Etsy doesn’t care at all about what made them great! Good job idiot, you sold out for all the money those resellers bring you. You can find us “real” seller on Zibbet and Craftstar.

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  2. Too bad he is not being careful about letting in so many factory made goods, because he is ruining it for the real artists, crafters, vintage curators and supply sellers. And the buyers who want genuine handmade, not Chinese sweatshop knockoffs.

    It’s fast becoming like that wonderful craft show that let in factory made stuff. After a short while the buyers get disenchanted and go elsewhere. Which leaves us who truly do handmade, sadly, watching our livelihoods evaporate.

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    1. Etsy is moving from craft show to flea market. There are so many re-sellers on the site it’s ridiculous.

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    2. I just read: “Etsy, technologically and culturally, is a platform that provides meaning to people, and an opportunity to validate their art, their craft,” Dickerson said.

      Now I read all of your comments and see how PR crafting can sway public opinion. it sounded like a bed of roses, after reading comments of good people like you, Annie, I see I was misled myself. Seems it does not smell of roses, Etsy just stinks.

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  3. yea, it’s all good unless you are a seller on their site and need to get in touch with their customer service – nowhere to be found. they haphazardly close well running stores without any explanation, don’t reply emails and push well meaning clients away .. may be it’s just their NY way.

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    1. Like when a sellers account got hacked a couple weeks ago, and Etsy was no where to be found! I don’t think that is a NY thing…I think it’s a a** thing

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  4. This article paints a rosy picture, but there’s a deep undercurrent of discontent in Etsy’s *legitimate* sellers – meaning, its customers – the sellers of handmade, supplies, and vintage. The number of shops that aren’t supposed to be there (resellers) grows daily and Etsy does little to nothing to stop it. They are aware of the problem and pay lip service to fixing it, but the reality is that the resellers make them money so they look the other way.

    Basically, Etsy is alienating its user base and slowly, willfully killing what it was originally intended to be.

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  5. If only they had, you know, a PHONE NUMBER to call when problems arise. Billion-dollar income and no customer service.

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  6. This is a nice tribute to Chad Dickerson. Online stores are so much friendlier than brick-and-mortar stores nowadays, whose “customer service reps” actually seem to have stepped up the meanness even as their core customer base declines. They just don’t get it. And Etsy has been able to bring great art and crafts to us that snobby corner stores never could. What a brilliant guy. He earns the “erson” in Dick, when most people in the retail industry just keep to being Dicks. Thanks for the profile.

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    1. elizasususweet Saturday, August 24, 2013

      I agree – this is a tribute piece on one man who is doing everything he can to get credit for 1000s and 1000s of crafters that he is taking credit for at the same time he is ruining their livelihood.

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    2. AoS LeatherWorks Monday, August 26, 2013

      I’ve been a seller on Etsy since 2008 and I’ve seen it go through a lot of changes and growing pains.
      Though there are certainly problems and issues, I feel that some of the criticisms here are overly harsh.
      The truth, as i see it, is that Etsy is an amazing platform that has allowed many artists, artisans and crafters, as well as vintage-goods vendors, to reach a global market.
      I’ve been plying my trade for over 40 years – until Etsy cam along I had NEVER sold to anyone on the other side of the world. Now my sales map has pins all over the planet!
      They’ve made the market accessible. Though there are sometimes issues and miscommunications (as with any enterprise that involves more than one person) and glitches (as with any internet site), Etsy stands alone in its field and I, for one, am a truly grateful user! – Kathy F, aosLeather

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  7. bubblenecklacehater Friday, August 23, 2013

    “Etsy, technologically and culturally, is a platform that provides meaning to people, and an opportunity to validate their art, their craft.”

    Really? Then why is the site over-run with resellers? Go ahead search for a bubble necklace and see what you find.

    Chad Dickerson is as far removed from this site as a “leader” could be. He has no idea what is really going on, and if he does – well shame on him. And neither does most of the administrators on the top level.

    Chad Dickerson is NOT the man behind Etsy. The thousands of sellers that are crying out for change are the men and women behind Etsy. Without us – Chad would be nothing more than a fart in the wind. And he hasn’t listened to “the people” in years. We don’t even have a valid shipping upgrade option to offer our customers!!

    Oh and by the way – the “your place to buy all things handmade” motto? It doesn’t exist any more. They do NOT in any way advertise or bring attention to specifically handmade products any more. They are embracing reseller goods. You might as well shop on Alibaba and save money.

    Rob Kalin probably cries himself to sleep every night knowing what his site, and his vision has become. It doesn’t matter what “alphabet letter” you put on it, I call Bullsh*t.

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    1. As a buyer who loves the original concept of Etsy, and the truly handmade, authentic vintage and the great supply sellers that sell on Etsy, I am aghast and saddened at what Etsy has become.

      The site is overrun with resellers, and copyright/trademark infringers. Etsy does not police its site, they expect the sellers and buyers on the site to do that for them. More and more I am seeing and hearing of buyers purchasing goods that they thought were handmade because Etsy touts itself as a venue for handmade, the resellers lie and say their goods are handmade, so the goods must be handmade right? Wrong! Etsy has Terms of Use but does not enforce them. Buyers are being duped, and the honest Etsy small business are being hurt by the lies and deceit. Many speculate that Etsy turns a blind eye to this problem because they make money from the resellers and infringers.

      Etsy makes up its own definitions for handmade, collectives, and vintage, and they are much different than the commonly used definitions of the words. Most buyers, and many sellers, are unaware of what they are actually buying when they buy “handmade” on Etsy. Don’t get me wrong, there are many actual handmade shops and truly vintage shops on Etsy but they are becoming harder to find, and harder to discern the real thing from the factory made.

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  8. Sure, it’s easy to make $$ hand over fist when you allow and even encourage rampant reselling and copyright infringement. But sellers don’t dare complain in the public forums, or they will be roundly slapped down and forbidden to post ever again. Silencing those who point out the very large elephant in Etsy’s room does not make the problem go away, Chad.

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  9. The society Etsy considers reminds me alternately of animal farm where some sellers are more equal than others. And I keep wondering if the fact that some features sellers have been asking for for years such as managing multiple stores from one account or more sections are intentionally not implemented in order for us to open more account and inflate the number of users. And the blind eye to resellers and redefinition of the term handmade indicates that Mr Dickerson might not listen to his own message.

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    1. I really, truly hope you are listening to your sellers, Chad and Etsy…

      The number one reason why you became what you are was because of the unique handcrafted items from artists, crafters, metalsmiths, quilters, sewers, stone setters…..the originality of the site. HANDMADE, VINTAGE, SUPPLIES…. no where in there was mentioned RESELLERS.

      It’s terrible to see resellers and manufacterers being pushed in handmade artisians’ eyes by the hundreds and thousands, pushing those who ARE going along with the original intention of the site. Time and time again it has been mentioned, questioned, brought up, but there it is…on the front pages, treasuries, listings, circling around and around.

      Instead of “fixing” feedback, can we please work on resellers? you’re going to turn into every other site online. such a very sad thing indeed. You really had a vision.

      …then again, I suppose that’s the idea, right? The new testing of the front page doesn’t indicate Handmade ANYWHERE. Where are the categories? Where IS the Etsy difference?

      I really really hope you are listening, sir.

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