Etsy is growing into what its CEO believes is an iconic Internet brand with its marketplace for handcrafted goods. And with 13 million registered users and 37 million unique visitors each month, it’s definitely on its way with a potential IPO in the works at some point.
But CEO Chad Dickerson told me in an interview the company sees a bigger vision beyond its marketplace, which currently has 800,000 active shops. While many artisans have made a good amount of money by selling through Etsy, Dickerson said the next step is to help them grow and expand in whatever way they want to. And that means rethinking what Etsy is and its value proposition for its sellers.
Esty as a way of doing business
“Etsy has been a platform to build business online in our marketplace but many sellers sell on different venues. I see us expanding to sell anywhere people want to be successful and extending our categories while keeping our handcrafted ethos,” Dickerson said. “That means thinking of Etsy as a way of doing business, not just Etsy.com.”
Dickerson doesn’t have a lot of firm details he wants to share at this point. But he said Etsy is going to expand in a number of ways. It could help merchants set up offline stores, building off Etsy’s experience starting at craft fairs. And it could offer important tools and services such as group health insurance for sellers. The larger idea seems to be to find what merchants need to grow into full independent creative businesses and look at ways to fill them.
One example of this is Etsy’s integration with Outright, which uses Etsy’s API to offer accounting services to Etsy sellers. Etsy is partnering with Outright for now but could look at acquiring other companies like it to help provide more merchant services, said Dickerson. The company has only made two acquisitions in its history including the mobile app Etsy Lovers last year, which became the basis for Etsy’s new iPhone and mobile web app. Dickerson said Etsy will be looking at more companies that tap its API for potential acquisition or partnership opportunities.
Partner for independent businesses
Will sellers naturally turn to Etsy if they move off the marketplace? Dickerson believes that many merchants will welcome the chance to have a provider help them through the growing process while they can focus on making products.
“It can be traumatic for a seller to move from one platform to another,” Dickerson said. “Etsy is a business platform and that’s what people are looking to us for. It’s short-sighted for us to think that Etsy as it exists today will be always be this way.”
Etsy has been quietly moving in this direction, not only with its API, which has gotten a lot more robust in the last eight months. It also staged its first small business summit in Berlin in September, providing merchants with a host of lessons on everything from branding, analytics and PR to sessions on how to “grow big while staying small.”
In some ways, this sounds like what eBay (s ebay) is trying to pull off with its X.commerce platform as it tries to help retailers and merchants by building a one-stop commerce operating system. Dickerson said Etsy will be focused on much smaller sellers, a market he thinks eBay and PayPal won’t get to for a while. “People want to own their own businesses and grow but they don’t to be as big as Home Depot (s hd),” he said. “They want to have an integrated partner to build with.”
The inevitable question for Etsy is when, if ever, does it want to go public. The company has been profitable since December 2009 and took its last funding, a $20 million round in 2010. It continues to grow quickly and has 275 employees, about 200 of them in Brooklyn. The new iPhone app has increased page views and engagement and is up to 800,000 downloads since launching in mid-November.
Dickerson said the company could go definitely public but it’s not a priority. He used to be at online magazine Salon (s slnm) when it went public in 1999 and is not anxious to go that route. “Honestly, there’s no hurry. We’re excited about building out our vision and going public ain’t what it used to be,” he said. “I feel like there’s a lot more to build first.”
Overall, Dickerson said that Etsy fills an expanding role in the economy which is going through upheaval as older institutions fade away. Even as manufacturing jobs wither, he said marketplaces like Etsy are helping people become their own manufacturers. And he said consumers are increasingly excited about Etsy not just for good prices but the ability to support and interact with artisans and sellers. Dickerson came over from Yahoo (s yhoo) in 2008 after serving as director of advanced products. Following a few years as CTO at Etsy, he replaced founder Rob Kalin. One of things Dickerson prides himself on is helping bolster Etsy’s tech culture, making sure its engineering prowess matched its strengths in business and community. That’s an important asset for Etsy and shows that the company is prepared to do some of the heavy lifting in the background to pull off its wider vision.
“It’s not just handcrafted goods but it’s a handcrafted experience,” he said. “You can get a message from a real seller. That’s different than Walmart.” Etsy is also benefiting from the rise, he said, of mass customization and the increasing trend of people expressing themselves through what they find, discover and curate online.
The trick now is to continue to hold on to Etsy’s spirit while expanding the company’s mission. But increasingly, it seems, the definition of Etsy is already changing and it’s just a matter of the company keeping up. “I was talking to my 11-year-old nephew and he saw that Etsy was synonymous with setting up a business; it was second nature to him. As people think about building businesses, Etsy is what we want them to think about,” Dickerson said.