REMINDER: Rob and Maria will be in the Virtual Labs this evening July 9, at 7pm EDT. I’m moving the date up so this post sits on the top of the chronological heap. The following was originally posted on July 2, 2008.
In the following post, Rob Kalin aka rokali and then Maria Thomas aka pesmou speak their vision for the next phase of our company, our community and the marketplace. This was originally published on July 2, but I’m moving it up on the cue so it remains visible.
Hello out there,
Etsy just turned three, and we’re at a turning point. Some people reading this have been part of our community for all three of those years, and many are just arriving. This letter is the perspective of someone who’s been here for the full three years.
Etsy needs to change. Some of what worked for us two or three years ago doesn’t work now, and we need to shift how we do things. This seems obvious, but it’s easy to overlook that you can’t get to where we are now without the past three years.
Etsy up till now
In January of 2006. Etsy Inc. was just four people: myself, Chris, Haim and Jared. We were working for free, working day and night all the time, and there were about a hundred new forum posts each day. Etsy has changed since then: we’re now a company with 63 employees, a community that has seen 1,000,000 registrations in over a hundred countries, and now there are 15,000 new forum posts every day.
Looking at changes in numbers is easy. How can I articulate the other changes?
I remember when Etsy reached 10 employees: it was the first big shift in our work flow. When you’re starting a company, you do what works. It’s tautological: how do you know what works? It works. This meant working seven days a week, around the clock. It meant skipping out on rent, foregoing regular meals, not seeing family or friends. (There’s a reason that small groups of people are able to launch things that large companies can’t.)
Once we hit 20 employees, we created teams inside the company. (These teams have evolved over time, but they still exist, and it’s how we group employees on our About page.) At the next stage of growth, as each team grew, we needed team leads, and a shared space to keep track of what everyone was working on (we chose to use a wiki with a ticketing system).
When you have teams inside a company, you have to be careful that silos don’t develop. People tend to work heads down on what their immediate tasks are. When you have team leads, you need to setup a reporting structure. As new employees come on, they are oriented inside the company. This may all sound obvious, but when you’re in the trenches at a startup, without someone who has done this before, you learn as you go. We have certainly done a fair share of what Oscar Wilde would call "conducting our education in public."
Alongside the company growing, the community grew. This was wonderful to watch, and it added to our responsibilities: the more people using our service, the more ideas for how to improve it. This is the beauty of the Web; it’s a permanent focus group. The tough part is meeting everyone’s expectations, and that will always require attention.
What will change?
Etsy Inc. has new leadership. I have been working with Maria Thomas since she joined Etsy six weeks ago. We’ve been taking a clear look at what works and what doesn’t work right now, and planning what we need to move forward. Maria brings heaps of experience with her, and her arrival marks a change in how Etsy is run as a company.
Her arrival also marks a change in my own role at Etsy. I am 28 years old. Before Etsy, I worked many jobs: cashier at a Marshalls department store, stock boy at a camera shop, freelance carpenter, lowest rung on the ladder at a demolition company, minimum wage floor help at the Strand book store (saving up to go back to college), amanuensis for an eighty-year-old philosopher from Vienna.
All of these jobs prepared me for being an entrepreneur and starting a company. Maria has the skills and experience required to lead Etsy through the upcoming years, and that is what she’s here to do.
Right now we’re focused on getting the right people and the right process inside Etsy. We can’t make specific promises regarding when and what we will build – but I promise that your requests and suggestions and complaints and kudos have been heard. The proof will, of course, be in the pudding, and rather than offer any more promises, we want to let the results of our organizational and structural changes manifest themselves in the most important real result: a great product, a great seller experience, a great buyer experience, and great customer support.
A little over a month ago, after a year of watching and exploring, I joined Etsy to help lead the company. During that year I watched Etsy grow and its community evolve both as a marketplace for handmade items and as an intimate and sophisticated gathering place for people to connect, share ideas, learn, and experience joy in purposeful living.
I became an Etsy member in early 2007. My Etsy username is "Pesmou," which is Greek for "Tell Me.” I originally chose Pesmou because, as a Greek-American, it’s an easy word for me to remember. It now seems like a very fitting user name: I want the Etsy community to tell me what they want and need and how we can do better. In fact, I’ve spent most of my first month reading Forum posts and emails from Etsy members. But, I am getting ahead of myself.
My first Etsy purchase was a sterling silver Star of David pendant. I bought it as a Bat Mitzva gift for my college roommate’s daughter. I later learned that the maker is Etsy’s own in-house lawyer, Sarah Feingold!
That first purchase got me hooked. It was fun to browse Etsy’s pages and admire the high quality handmade items described so passionately by their makers. I experienced the joy of discovery and the satisfaction of offering a truly personal gift while also supporting someone’s craft. Over the next few months, I found myself visiting the Etsy site not only to buy beautiful things but also to participate in the burgeoning community and to read the engaging, creative content in the Storque blog.
Over the course of a year, I had the opportunity to on several occasions visit Etsy’s offices in Brooklyn, NY and get to know a few Etsians, including co-founder Rob Kalin. I was inspired by Rob’s vision of a global marketplace full of handmade items, stories, sights and sounds.
I also began to understand the challenges presented by trying to advance the young company beyond its start-up phase. It takes time, focus and investment to build a lasting and profitable company.
What do I bring with me to Etsy? Nearly ten years of experience operating consumer-oriented Web-based businesses at Amazon.com and NPR.org. I have learned that building a great company requires more than just a great idea. It requires an organization that knows what it wants to achieve, and is staffed properly to reach those goals. It requires a relentless, detailed focus on execution informed by constantly listening to customers.
My current goals at Etsy are:
* People: seek deeper experience to lead Etsy through things we’ve never done before.
* Process: create a disciplined approach to planning and execution.
* Product: build the best marketplace for connecting makers and buyers.
Above all, my goal is to get things done. This ranges from improving the user experience on Etsy, to communicating more consistently, to adding more sophisticated analytical tools so that we can measure our performance.
First, I am listening: to our members, our browsers, our fans, our critics, our staff, and our investors. I am actively reading the Etsy forums and sitting side-by-side with Etsy customer support representatives. I am reading emails and blogs to understand the needs and desires of people who sell on Etsy, who shop on Etsy, who browse Etsy, who love Etsy and who bash Etsy.
I am studying other companies that have successfully (or unsuccessfully) combined discipline and hard work with "keeping things human," as Rob says. I am talking to a lot of talented, experienced people and looking for a few of them to join Etsy and help us more quickly and successfully do things we’ve never done before, while continuing to celebrate Etsy’s creative, quirky and independent culture.
I am looking closely at how work is organized at Etsy. My experience in Web-based businesses is consistent with my early observations at Etsy: there’s always a giant list of things to be built to make a better Web site that people want to visit regularly. Many of these desired features or functionalities involve technical development and therefore draw on a limited pool of resources to help accomplish them.
Thus, another part of my early agenda is to develop a well-understood project prioritization process inside Etsy. That process should take into account the need to build a highly reliable and scalable technical infrastructure and one nimble enough to accommodate the dynamism of a business like Etsy’s.
It takes time and talent to fully realize the power of a great idea. Etsy is on its way, but there’s still much to do.
There are many great discussions going on about Etsy, both on our site and outside of it. We’d like to engage with them. To start, we’ll hold office hours in the Virtual Labs’s Treehouse Room on Wednesday, July 9th at 7-8 pm EDT. This will give everyone a chance to talk to us directly about what’s going, and share their thoughts.