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Meet the man behind New York’s other billion dollar internet company. This one makes money

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 (s ebay) and has gone global through community-driven translations.

etsy

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.


ChadDickerson20131-2

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.

Etsy

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

238 Responses to “Meet the man behind New York’s other billion dollar internet company. This one makes money”

  1. Tom Krazit

    I’m Tom Krazit, the executive editor of GigaOM. At this point, I’m closing the comments on this thread. I think everyone has had an opportunity to express their thoughts in the five days this article has been live.

    I want to make one thing very clear. The only change made to this post after it was published was to insert a link at the bottom of the post to Chad Dickerson’s comment, because we thought it was important to note that he had responded. Again: no other changes were made to any aspect of this post.

  2. changingthearticle

    Om, you never replied to those seeking the answer.

    Why did you change the wording in the Chad article after is was published? I find it curious that after the comments started you suddenly changed the wording in the article. You do know that many have the original copy so you are not fooling anyone. Is that what they teach you in “journalism” school?

  3. 1stcasualtyofnewFBsystem

    We just had our first casualty of the new feedback system. Though the customer loved her item, she only left a rating of 3.

    “Buyer who is in love with her purchase leaves a 3-star review
    .
    3:59 pm Aug 28, 2013 EDT

    This just happened to me today with the new system. I am reposting it in its own thread so it’s not buried in other threads. I would love to get other shops’ views on this now that it can happen to any of you.

    The first words in this 3-star rating are “I’m IN LOVE WITH THIS GUESTBOOK.”

    Then they say the item is smaller than it looks. The dimensions of the book are fully disclosed in the listing.

    They also add that they loved the personalization and that it shipped so fast.

    But they left me 3 stars.

    This previously would have been a positive rating, from experience.”

    Etsy: Your switch to the new feedback system is already causing headaches. Are you proud of yourself? No. Don’t answer that because we all know you could care less.

  4. ribasus

    To ArtFire we shall go. Sing with me people. To ArtFire we shall go~~~~~

    Anywhere but Etsy which is -BTW- about to implode under the weight of resellers, greed, bloated egos, “improvements” (hideous changes which have assured that not only is the shopping experience frustrating and too time consuming but the sellers can be assured now that none of their items will show up on the search engines), ongoing glitches, a permanently broken search, NO community, and other douchebaggery like the blowhard in this article and his comments.

    A word to Etsy shop owners: it is ok to come out of Etsy Trance now. This site is outright abusive to its sellers and provides zero customer service. It started out well but is now one big LIE! Bad karma, Chad. Bet you can feel the sting, smell the stink, because you are now spearheading it.

    • I’m already there and love it. The problem is when Etsy sellers come to ArtFire they usually refuse to do the ground work to make sales. Artfire doesn’t have internal traffic so it works differently than mighty Etsy. Read the Etsy forums, they are filled with sellers who trash AF because “I had an AF shop and didn’t make a sale, I get no views” and so on. Already I’m reading that they are opening up on af and will give it a month. No wonder they fail. They are firmly inducted into the Etsy cult and need reprogramed. they have to be willing but they aren’t, If AF sucks so bad how come there are wildly huge sales for some sellers, if they can do it so can others.

      They say they won’t come to the forum. But if they don’t learn how to sell on AF they will fail. Selling Etsy isn’t like selling other places, selling AF is like your own shop. It works wonderfully but only if you follow the help guides and make the effort. The best part is selling as much as you can with no fees except the low monthly rate, super exciting once you get that SEO in place. Not Etsy SEO, regular internet search engine SEO.

      I welcome new sellers to AF but not those who are angry and refuse to help themselves by working to succeed then spend their days whining.

      • Larissa Symbouras

        Handmadeartists.com faces the same problem occasionally. Jaded ex-Etsians show up, start a shop, don’t put up many listings or a banner or a profile, don’t do any work… then close up shop saying they haven’t sold anything. Honestly, if you’re not wiling to actually do work, you shouldn’t own a business. But hey, even if the disgruntled buyers want to shop Artfire & HandmadeArtists to know they’re getting handmade… well, terrific!

  5. or maybe chad speaks just like he writes which tells me either Om or Chad are not proficient in the English language, lol and so we are to trust a journo or a CEO that can’t write properly , either way what ever these two have to say, Etsy sellers have spoken.

    And guess what? The consensus is not in your Favor.

  6. EtsyAlternative

    I am a seller on Handmade Artists and I highly recommend that Etsy sellers consider selling there. NO resellers allowed, low monthly fee without a listing or final value fee and terrific management.

  7. Hello Om, are you reading this? I was not mud slinging there are many E sellers that are unhappy. I have told you I know many that have shops closed unduly. YOur still not interested in these facts?

    What kind of Journo are you anyways? Only rainbows, cupcakes and fairy dust?

    Etsy’s system doesn’t work, they want money from resellers,and the chosen few cupcakes of the moment. Trust me I have been one. I have been on the FP plenty of times, what good does that get you? it took them forever to implement multiple listings by then I had chosen to place most of my eggs in another basket.

    Etsy won’t let me run my business like I do , I live in India my mother is in Chicago I ship certain items to her she distributes within the USA I do the International shipping. Etsy told me my mother was a drop shipper LOL. Well then to hell with you, I have only 4 items listed on E.

    I still pay E over 20 bucks a month ( no renewing for me), however my AF sales far outweigh anything on E I pay 5.95 a month.

    If Etsy would have understood my way of doing business they would have gotten more money from me, instead they chose to threaten me with closure.

    I am that seller that somebody mentioned that makes a living from Artfire, I have the COO’s direct email and the only two times since 08 that I needed to call , I said it was a fluffyKaliya and he got on the phone right away. Artfire does business differently the vision still is Handmade first if it wasn’t why build Maker house Tuscon .
    Etsy is a joke where is the handmade you have to dig to find it. Why not feature a site that sellers can sell on if they work for it and make more money while doing it, but alas again AF no VC so not interesting.

  8. AS the child pointed out in the story” Look, the emperor is not wearing any clothes!”

    it’s truly sad that they refuse to see what is right in front of them or just blatantly ignore it..

  9. D Sherstone

    I am a fairly new Seller and still learning the ropes. I have been focused on setting up my shop, creating inventory – la la la – and then I became a part of the new format Listing Page experiment without any warning or notice. I didn’t know what to do, where to go for information; so I Googled “Etsy complaints”. After about an hour I stopped reading and made a cup tea.

    The last things I read were:
    http://orangeswan.blogspot.ca/2012/06/etsys-unique-and-handmade-problems.html
    http://blog.fanchimp.com/what-to-do-when-etsy-suspends-your-shop-and-how-to-prevent-it/

    While I understand that not everything that you google is reliable – there was just so much of it – there had to be some truth to it. Did this new CEO come up with his business plan based on Orson Welles’ “1984”? This book has haunted me since I was a teenager. I have had a lot of de ja vous moments from this book over the past 40 years. I read it again a couple of years ago hoping to let go of the whole thing but it didn’t help.

    So I went back to my Etsy shop and discovered the Forum. There it was – the business plan. Since I discovered the Threads I spend far too much time reading the never-ending paranoia and speculation. I try to stay away but I just can’t help it. I read and read but I do not participate because I do not want to lose my shop. I think there must be a lot of us – the ones that watch.

    The PayPal and Feedback issues combined with Mr. Malik’s article this past week have really left me with huge “1984” de ja vous; especially when I read Mr. Dickerson’s response in the comments.

    I am left feeling that the Feedback Seller Survey was only implemented so that Etsy can do what they want and tell us that we wanted this.

    I am also left feeling that the secret Direct Checkout “test” was implemented to see if the extra profits they would make from the Direct Checkout fees would outweigh the loss in sales if they eliminate PayPal. Unfortunately the Sellers discovered their test and turned off their Direct Checkout; thus ruining Etsy’s experiment.

    One of the things I read on Google – from an exiled Etsian – was a warning to only use PayPal. That way if you are closed down you will still be able to contact customers and process outstanding orders. This does not seem to concern Etsy when they close down a store. There are Buyers in the Forum all the time complaining of Sellers that have their money and the store is closed or gone. The Buyer assumes that the Seller has cheated them and everyone chimes in on the Thread with sympathy but no one points out that Etsy may have shut down the Seller. More “1984” de ja vous.

    Even if Etsy is not messing with us on a specific issue or topic it doesn’t matter – if Etsy starts rolling something out or we discover something the Forum go nuts. We are left to speculate and fend for ourselves as Etsy scrambles through the Threads editing, deleting, reprimanding and muting.

    Mr. Malik wants proof. Here is an example of customer service at Etsy. Here is an example of how much Sellers matter to Mr. Dickerson: https://www.etsy.com/teams/7720/bugs/discuss/12845303/page/1

    Thank you for this opportunity Mr. Malik. I could never have said these things in the Forum – I am certain that I would have been muted forever and they would be looking for a reason to close my shop. Does that sound paranoid? I am feeling a huge surge of “1984” de ja vous.

  10. Larissa Symbouras

    Anyone who no longer would like to (or who has been banned and cannot) buy and sell handmade NOT on Etsy, please check out handmadeartists.com. It’s small, but growing, and 100% handmade for real. Oh, and admin replies to you quickly when you have a question or concern.

  11. LifeDuringWartime

    Instead of addressing the serious reseller problem on Etsy in a business-like fashion, Chad chose to respond by attacking Etsy’s customers, the shop owners. What? When 10 or 15 or 20 different shops, shipping from 4 continents, are using the same photo to sell the same mass made product, the professional quality of those photos is not what is being reported to Marketplace Integrity. An Etsy shop owned by a mining-manufacturing corporation which employs thousands does not :”have help”. An Etsy shop owned by an import/export firm does not “have help”. Far from pricing their items too cheaply, resellers in the USA are misrepresenting their mass manufactured products made cheap materials as designed and handmade by them so they can charge 20 times the wholesale (or Ebay) price, for items they had nothing to do with designing or making. Chad seems to forget that inconvenient information about businesses (and their transactions) can often be found online, from credible sources. Chad clearly did not appreciate the implications of the exposure of Boatwood Barbie.

  12. In addition to Etsy implementing a feedback system that is completely unfair to sellers, they are now going to be harassing buyers to leave feedback. Etsy will now be sending “reminders” to buyers to leave feedback (or as it’s now known, a Star Review) for their purchases. Quite possibly, repeated reminders too. This is similar to what Amazon does. Sends repeated “reminders” to leave feedback. It IS annoying. We are adults. We are not children that need to be reminded to clean our rooms, do our homework, or leave feedback. Once again, Etsy implements something that is not only condescending to the buyer but also to the seller.

    As a buyer on Etsy, I find this kind of message extremely annoying and it leaves a bad taste in my mouth for the originating party (it also guarantees that I will NOT leave feedback!).

    As a seller on Etsy as well and because I don’t want my valued customers to be annoyed, harassed or think negatively of my shop, I’ve written into my Shop Policies and my Message to Buyers letting them know that it is not me harassing them for feedback but a system set up by Etsy to do the harassing for feedback. Hopefully it will be read and my customers will understand that any annoying messages regarding their transaction did not come from me.

  13. As a former seller on etsy, I can honestly say that the best thing that ever happened to me was getting banned from there. The lack of ethics they constantly show is horrific. The lack of concern they show their customers, i.e. the sellers, is appalling. Testing out features on a live venue without giving the sellers a heads up, supporting resellers openly, and the constant violating their own TOUs are just a few of the reasons I’m glad to be out of there.

    Mr. Malik, you really need to do some more research about this venue. You may just have your eyes opened. Just Google CoralGate and BaliGate for starters.

  14. An Etsy artist

    I have been reading this thread for the past two days, before and after Chad Dickerson’s comments. I am not jaded, vitriolic or revengeful. I neither want to criticize the journalist who filed the initial interview nor do I despise the Etsy CEO. I think you are both people believing you are doing your jobs well. As for me, I am a quiet, respectful visual artist who has sold on Etsy for the past two years–not a lot but enough for my heart and soul to be entirely engaged in my shop experience. I have not spent a lot of time in the forums in the past two years although I have spent enough time there and here this week to feel crushingly depressed.

    There is a huge disconnect between what exists on Etsy and what admin wants to believe exists or at least what they describe. What people are speaking about in this thread is not weird or crazy fiction. I know of artist friends who have had their images copied (without permission) and applied on fabric by Asian-based companies selling on Etsy. (There are several Etsy shops selling the same fabric with unlicensed artwork using the very same photos. Does that sound ‘handmade’? It’s described that way!) The original artists have contacted the shops and reported the shops to Etsy. I also reported these shops. The result? These shops are still open and operating months and months (actually more than a year) later. When I talked to the artists, they said they have given up hope of Etsy acting on the complaints and are ignoring it for the sake of moving on and not being paralyzed artistically. Does that sound like a company that stands behind its handmade artists? Does that sound like a company doing everything within its means to eradicate factory-made items from its site?

    Out of all of the turmoil and dissent in the forums this week over the unannounced experiments (the checkout experiment that hid the Paypal option), the feedback changes (satisfaction…1, 2, 3, 4 or 5 stars, who’s to say?), and sellers left with no recourse if buyers are unreasonable, the complaint that emerges again and again is that Etsy isn’t available in an immediate way to address important problems and issues with their customers (the sellers) or their customers’ customers (the buyers).

    Emails sent to the help center can take several days to be answered. In the forums, an admin response can take hours or days or it can be ignored. There is no phone number.

    When people have voiced emotional, distressed and critical opinions in the Etsy forums previously, some have been silenced.

    How is it that you can scratch your head and be surprised at the emotion being launched at you?

    People are feeling scared; they are feeling uneasy; they are feeling vulnerable. I feel that way and I’ve done nothing wrong. More is required than unsympathetic, scolding language. You are dealing with educated, sophisticated, amazing artists and artisans. Etsy, I believe in you. Do you believe in me?

  15. Katherine

    This was a letter from almost a year ago from a seller who was dissatisfied with the current feedback system and Marc Hedlund’s reply:

    Admin

    Marc Hedlund 5:28 pm Oct 19, 2012 EDT

    Kym writes:

    “Please change the feedback system. We are literally held hostage by our customers and their feedback should be visible.”

    Marc Hedlund states, “I absolutely agree that this needs to change, and that the needs of sellers *and* buyers are both not being served well in the current system. I also agree with the people who say that “Kiss and Make Up” needs to have a different name, and a different mechanism as well.

    I consider these very important changes for us to make. Obviously, since we are ramping down changes to stabilize things for the holidays, this will not be an immediate fix. The system needs to be designed carefully, as very small mistakes in design can have a big impact.

    But, I consider this a very high priority. (What does that mean? At Etsy’s board meeting this week, we discussed the need for this change and how important we all believe it is. Put another way, this discussion is going on across the company.)

    Thanks for the comment. I am personally frustrated by how much this hurts sellers and want it to be not just fixed but amazingly good.”

    Yeah, they fixed it all right! They have taken away everything from sellers. Sellers are not allowed to leave feedback, sellers cannot comment to someone that left them neutral or negative feedback and they stuck us with an EBay stupid 5 star rating system that sellers SPECIFICALLY stated that they did not want.

    Yeah Marc, I bet you are personally frustrated by how much this hurts sellers and want it to be not just fixed but amazingly good. See Om, we are clearly giving you facts about how sellers are being treated, lied to and not listened to.

  16. HatesKoolaide

    I’ve been selling on Etsy for seven years. While I still believe and live the original mission statement my starry eyes in regards to the company have long since glazed over. I don’t even blame the VC’s, Chad or his minions for padding their pockets or beefing up their resumes while they can, hey we all make personal life choices right? I do hold them accountable for raping and reaping from the honest and hardworking handmade community. Handmade items and the people making them do have value, worth and offer rewards and enrich our lives, communities and world, Etsy will come and go and that will still be true. To get rich or gain status off selling yourself as handmade when the purpose is of no interest to you or Etsy is reprehensible and only degrades and diminishes the people you propose to be ‘helping’. Heres an idea, cut out the bullshit, hipster greening marketing and present Etsy for what it is. A place to buy and sell whatever the hell you want. Oh, but then Etsy would be just like all the other online retailers except without a ‘niche’ I guess what I’m trying to say is, quit selling out the handmade community!