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The Other Corner: Open Etsy

Jul 31, 2007

by Rokali handmade and vintage goods

In the past several months as we’ve been building up our team of Etsy workers, the doors to what’s going on inside Etsy have been mostly closed.

I’m opening the doors right now.

Our vision has always been this: to enable people to make a living making things. How do we do this? Herein I hope to paint an idea or two that can work, and introduce the people who are working around the clock to make it happen.

First I’ll shine some light on who we are and what we our roles are at Etsy; second I’ll discuss our plans for the website; third I’ll review some lessons we’ve learned these past several months, and the particular challenges these highlight.

It is monumentally important that Etsy, Inc., the company that supports, keep up its exuberance and the individuality of everyone who works here. In the end our job is to be dependable and helpful hands for holding up all of you, the Etsy community. While this is always the goal that’s in our hearts, sometimes our hands are tangled up or busy with other things.

(And there are many, many other things that crop up during the average workday! For example, we flooded our entire office building month ago and I lost a weekend of work to mopping and apologizing & filling out insurance forms.)

To have our hands working in harmony, we have created Teams inside the company. We’ve deliberately ditched the corporate lexicon that cherishes its "Departments" and "Managers" and "Business Requirements Documents," There are exceptions to this, though: sometimes when talking to people from other companies it’s beneficial to call Matt something weighty like VP of Communications; and on paper for legal purposes I’m the CEO & President; and we certainly have a Budget!

A little bit of hierarchy is a good thing. As more people have come on, and especially when a new person joins the company, they need to know what’s expected of them, who they’re working with, who they need to keep abreast of their progress.

So each Team at Etsy has a Team Lead, the person who has to step back and be something like the first violinist in an orchestra: keeping everyone in tempo, signaling key changes, playing that middle A (thanks for the correction) up front to get everyone in tune.

Here is a picture in words of all the teams at Etsy (in no particular order). You can consult this visual guide for actual pictures. (The first person in each Team is the Lead for that Team, with the exception of Engineering & Biz Op, which are group-led.)


Lauren (stellaloella), Ashley (ashleywhitejacobsen), Sara (sarawearsskirts) and Rob White (RobWhite) work inside the Forums: helping to answer questions, gather information to help out other teams (e.g. suggestions for new features of site changes, or bug reporting) and bestow the occasional golden lock on threads.

We’re planning on expanding the forums into something like Groups on Flickr. We have Street Teams on Etsy but they currently lack a proper setup on the site itself. A new Teams section on Etsy will remedy this, giving each Team their own forum, group Treasury, profile, and list of members.


Emily, Erin, Tim, Adrian, Lori and Jim do all the heavy lifting behind the scenes. Their work is primarily answer questions and resolving problems via email, which we divide into support (general questions), abuse (policy violations), flagged (misplace items) and billing (um, billing). The Support team gets nice comfy chairs, an office with window treatments (courtesy of Tim), air conditioning, anything they need to keep up the tough task of dealing with supporting Etsy.

We’re working on Atlas, our codename for a new customer support admin panel. Atlas will boast many features making things more efficient and pleasant, not the least of which is an intelligent system for handling flagged items (something far superior to the current flag-via-email).


The Labs are why I wake up every day excited to get to the office. Anda (also stopsandstarts), Mary (contrary), Julie (yoursecretadmiral), Michelle (reconstructionist) and Danielle (preciouspups) are all rockstar Etsy sellers who we hired to help us help other sellers and to build an offline community through workshops in the Etsy office. Dealing with a physical space has a whole set of challenges all its own, and they’re done a tremendous job getting the Labs to a place where it’s a real resource to other crafters.

The Labs will be migrating onto the Etsy website, too. We’ll be conducting many work Workshops for sharing skills and giving advice about running an Etsy shop & DIY business. We realize that not everyone can make it to Brooklyn each weekend, so we’re working on virtualizing as much of the Labs magic as we can, with help from magician Jared Tarbell.


Go Sampler! Marie’s baby is now being run from inside Etsy, with help from Judieann, Lynn, Alison and Jennifer. Almost as exciting as the Sampler is the San Francsico office they’re setting up, which we hope to open up as an Etsy Labs West sometime next year (in a more limited fashion that Etsy Labs East in Brooklyn).

We’ll be working on overhauling, creating a Sampler Select with extra-special goods inside, and streamlining the process of creating Samplers. I have a lot of admiration for what Marie & co. have done, and major goal is for Etsy to help the Sampler grow into what she wants it to be.


The name "Product" is a silly holdover from the says when software used to be something you’d put in a box & ship. Anyhow, the Product team steers the direction of the Website from the front end: designing & prioritizing new features, pushing pixels around, improving the whole experience for everyone clicking around.

We have a mountain of new features & improvements to introduce, which we have every intention of doing in the upcoming months & years (never stop!). Eric is undertaking a supersecret rewrite of Etsy’s HTML for the purpose of Search Engine Optimization & reducing the filesize of the pages themselves. Eric will be working on guides for sellers on how to use keywords for the sake of attracting the right traffic from major search engines.

Christine is leading a much-needed overhaul of categories & subcategories on Etsy. She has been exhaustively researching the use of tags and how items are sorted, and will soon be conducting from interviews & surveys of the community for additional feedback. These changes will also lead to a redesign of Step 2 in the item listing process (sort your item), as we work on category-specific ways to shop. For example, when shopping for jewelry you might like to choose a stone or metal or ring size, which we’d like to facilitate.

I’m handling all the screen design, as I have done since way back in v1 days. Ashley & Lauren have been helping me put into neat piles the myriad suggestions & feedback on the current site, and I’m eager to start pushing out improvements & additions soon (a streamlined Alchemy!).


Ah, the visualizations on Etsy. Whenever I show Etsy to people, this is what they turn around and tell their friends about. But more than that, Jared, Drew and Marcos are creating new ways to slice through Etsy’s data. (Jared also just got a laser engraver, allowing him to slice through many other things as well.)

Some things on the stove for this team include: Fresh Shops (a way to see notable new sellers on Etsy); a totally reworked Geolocator; Shop Keeper (a multi-user chat room for every shop on Etsy; and some top secret things there’s no way I’ll tell you about.


Oh, the strong men who make the Etsy website actually do things. Chris and Haim helped build the original Etsy with me (and some cats) in my Brooklyn apartment. Jay joined Etsy via his wife, who’s an Etsy seller and thrust him into our world. Alex is creating a QA group at Etsy, which stands for Quality Assurance and acts a as kind of gatekeeper to make sure things the other engineers do don’t break the site. (Good luck, Alex!)

Mike has the inimitable task of helping Haim hold up the site in serverland. We didn’t think it was possible to find someone who could do this. Haim used to yell, “Find me someone who can do what I do that we can trust!” And now Haim yells, “Find me another Mike!”

Chris is the bridge between Engineering and the forums, taking the super-technical jargon from down below and relaying it to the community. Not an easy task.

We have just concluded hiring several key new engineers, whose names are on the visual guide. We’re all eager to bring them on and we’re setting up an Engineering workspace in the Labs. The first thing Haim asked while surveying room was, "Can we put black cloth over the windows?"


While at Law School, Sarah’s classmates would tease her, saying, "How will you ever find a job that supports both your legal interests and your metalworking?" Working at Etsy, Sarah can now send cease & desist letters to all of those naysayers. She is working on many helpful tools (including a book) on copyright issues for crafters.

Soon we hope to hire a “parasarah,” someone to help her field the many questions from the Etsy community, and the occasional legal notes we get from big corporations about things like crystals on pacifiers (dangerous! not allowed!). We’ll have a copyright quiz as well as forms to fill out for official use of the Etsy logo and such.

Marketing & Communications

Who are we? How do we appear to the many people who read about us? How do we get people to write about us? Matt wheels & deals and comes up with crazy ideas like a college tour (planned by Erin for this Fall). Vanessa is the editor of the soon-to-be-launched Storque, our very own newspaper which will highlight this handmade world. Alison will be helping Vanessa create, gather and edit the myriad content for the Storque.

Adam & Manoela do a lot of the heavy lifting, creating product spreads for press outlets (like cell phone charms for Teen Vogue) and making our very own Etsy Merch (with some help from the Labs crew). Manoela has been doing a lot of screen-printing, which means if you’re wearing an Etsy shirt or bandana, she probably made it.

You can peek at our new press page here.

Biz Op
One of the least publicly visible, but one of the most important teams, is Business Operations. This is where experience and expertise can save us our hide and our head and lots of money. Charles, or Uncle Chas as we call him, works with all the other Teams to help them plan and budget, and makes sure our paperwork is in proper order. (His real reason for working at Etsy, we all know, is so he can bring his kids by to play in the Labs.)

Beth & Enid have recently joined to help organize the thousand vital operations that make Etsy tick, from finance to business development to strategic planning. They’ll be introducing themselves to the community soon, promise!

So, that’s a bit about who we are and what we do. Next, what’s in store for the website.

The Website

Our topmost concern is keeping the site up, stable and speedy. This means fixing the bugs we know about, scaling the architecture & hardware to handle the always-increasing traffic load, and preparing for future features.

This set of tasks has been so all-consuming over the past several months (as traffic has more than quadrupled), and we’ve had so precious few people to do this work, that not many new features have seen the light of pixels.

Nothing gives us more please than releasing new features. Haim sheds a tear for Alchemy every night. Everything we’re doing now is in preparation for making a full sweep of the website, taking care of usability concerns, improving help text, and oh, oh all those new features.

We’re excited to have a team of engineers for each major set of tasks, which we’ll have once the new hires jump in on August 6th. There are no standard textbooks on how to scale a website, and it’s a constant learning process. Since a website is always public 24/7, it means we’re learning in public. We know this can be a bit frustrating at times, but I’m proud of how v2 has held up and I look forward to all the improvements in the works.

Briefly, we’re exploring an ORM layer, a proper application layer full of business logic, a templating engine for rendering HTML pages and separating markup language from code, a public API that will allow outside developers to build on top of Etsy, and much more. A looming task is prepping the site for internationalization, which is a monumental challenge and something we hope to tackle in early 2008.

Lastly, some of what we’ve learned.

Lessons from Hindsight

Building a business, running a massive website, supporting a community, trying to change the way world commerce works. These challenges and risks keep everything interesting, keep everything vital. This is no ordinary day job, and that’s the way I like it.

These are some particular challenges we’ve faced:

Having a consistent message vs. letting humans be human. There is no “Etsy” in the monolithic sense of a single identity or being. Etsy is the several dozen employees of Etsy, Inc. and even more, the several hundred thousand members of the community.

As I see it, large corporations try to sanitize all their outgoing messages for the sake of keeping face. It is very easy to identify this kind of behavior. Whenever you read something and it sounds like a series of pre-made phrases strung together, instead of a human being speaking, this is sanitized communication. To me, this stuff sounds inhuman.

I want Etsy to stay human. This means allowing each person’s voice to be heard, even if it’s squeaky or loud or soft. I will not put a glossy layer of PR over what we do. If we trip, let us learn from it instead of trying to hide it; when we leap, let’s show others how to leap. Hence the title of this whole blog post: Open Etsy.

We’ve got a ways to go. It’s 2:34am and I have to get back to polishing the new screen designs for Alchemy. To everyone out there, it’s been a good ride so far, and I’m looking forward to the next couple years more than anything.

Rob aka Rokali

Note: This was originally posted in the Etsy Garden.


  • dancingwithbeads

    dancingwithbeads said 8 years ago

    What a freaking article!!! Great!! clap clap clap clap bravo bravo!!! This is why i freaking love Etsy and will promote this site till i'm blue in the face! This article and the phioloshpy behind it gives me real hope that there are real people doing great great stuff out there! encore. Karen

  • zuul

    zuul said 8 years ago

    Has there been any progress on the Atlas flagging system? We'd love to have an update!

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