In my post in May about Etsy’s Certified B Corporation status and our funding, I wrote: “We believe, more than ever, that Etsy can help fundamentally change the way the world works by making it possible for individuals to make and sell things to other people around the globe — a people-powered economy.”
To change how the world works, we have to engage with the political system and make sure that the powers-that-be understand the new people-powered economy we’re working together to build. Over the past several months, I’ve been working behind the scenes to make sure that the collective voice of Etsy is heard. These efforts are paying off. I was asked last week by US Senator Chuck Schumer of New York to come speak to a group of senators about Etsy and how Etsy contributes to the economy. I reported to the Mansfield Room in the US Capitol at 9 a.m. on Wednesday. I was excited to tell the story of the Etsy community to members of the most powerful legislative body in the world. There were ten other CEOs there, mostly representing much larger businesses — businesses that required millions (if not billions) of dollars to start — than the businesses you find on Etsy. My goal in speaking there was twofold: I wanted to make sure the senators understood the importance of the contributions you all make to the US (and world) economy, as well as the opportunities that an Internet platform like Etsy creates for people like you to start your own businesses.
I entered the room and sat to Sen. Schumer’s left. The senators in attendance represented many of the places where our US-based sellers live and work. They included Harry Reid (Nevada — the Senate majority leader), Mark Begich (Alaska), Richard Blumenthal (Connecticut), Jeff Merkley (Oregon), Daniel Akaka (Hawaii), Sherrod Brown (Ohio), Chris Coons (Delaware), Dick Durbin (Illinois — majority whip), Kay Hagan (North Carolina — my home state), Tom Udall (New Mexico), Jeanne Shaheen (New Hampshire), Sheldon Whitehouse (Rhode Island), Michael Bennet (Colorado), Jack Reed (Rhode Island), Mary Landrieu (Louisiana), and Amy Klobuchar (Minnesota). You can see photos of the session here (including a few of me with Sen. Schumer and speaking to the assembled group).
I was honored to be the first CEO asked to speak at the beginning of the session. Once everyone settled into the room, Sen. Schumer introduced me, and in his opening remarks said, “Chad and Etsy get entrepreneurship and innovation because that’s what they do and that’s who they work for.” With a portrait of George Washington to my left and one of Mike Mansfield (the namesake of the room) just behind me, I began my remarks. I focused on the Etsy community and called the senators’ attention to the economic value that Etsy sellers create around the country and the world and the importance of our real-world community. Below is my prepared statement:
I’d like to thank Senator Schumer for this opportunity and the support of our company and the technology industry in New York. Etsy is an online marketplace where you can buy handmade and vintage goods directly from artists, designers, and collectors around the world. Our company was founded in 2005, and is growing fast. We employ over 300 people directly and have been profitable since 2009. But I think the story of our community of entrepreneurs is a lot more remarkable than the story of our company. We have over 800,000 active sellers on our platform, more than three-quarters of whom are women entrepreneurs, many with home-based businesses. Our members sell everything from food to furniture. 40 million unique visitors come to our marketplace each month, and last year our sellers grossed more than $525 million in sales.
These sellers are riding two waves of change. One is that the barriers to bring a product to market have fallen very, very low. You can have an idea, manufacture it, and publicize it through social networks like Facebook and Twitter to a global market nearly instantaneously. At Etsy, we’re educating new entrepreneurs on how to run this new kind of business. In a school in Tempe, Arizona, a teacher is using Etsy to teach 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders about entrepreneurship, with lessons on wholesale versus retail, merchandising, and marketing.
The second wave of change is that platforms like Etsy have lowered the barriers for consumers to find and buy from independent, creative businesses. For the past 150 years, we’ve bought most of the provisions for our lives from big retailers, but it wasn’t always so. The new forms of commerce that the Internet is enabling are networks or communities, and they have huge efficiencies compared to old models. The staff of Etsy doesn’t decide what people make and how much or at what price. We enable lots of experimentation. On Etsy commerce is decentralized, and innovation is bottom-up.
You may not know it, but Etsy has real-world presence in local communities in the form of “street teams” — groups of sellers who self-organize. Nearly 7,000 street teams exist in cities and towns all over the world. Etsy is not a nameless, faceless Internet company. Etsy is a community of real people creating real economic value in the communities our senators represent. And we believe that platforms like Etsy are a model for a brighter economic future.
I don’t have one single policy recommendation but rather want to re-frame how we think about small business and policy in the legislative arena. We talk a lot about job creation and innovation in this country. Many of the entrepreneurs on Etsy don’t open up shop intending to grow to a payroll of 50 employees or hoping to patent a new technology they develop, yet they create work, traditional jobs, and overall value in the economy. Platforms like Etsy are injecting income directly into households, through the empowering opportunity to create a business with a few clicks of a mouse. To do this, they need the same free and open Internet that launched platforms like Etsy, to create more new businesses and economic opportunity for more people more quickly. When you saw the strong reaction to restrictive legislation like SOPA and PIPA on Etsy, you were seeing a united network of entrepreneurs standing up against an entrenched few. [Author’s Note: We stood up against this legislation — and won! — last year and early this year.]
This is not going to change any time soon. Networked platforms like Etsy are giving people choices they never had before and an amplified collective voice to make themselves heard. These platforms need to source high-skill talent in order to grow fast enough to meet the demand of our constituents, our users, so I’d also ask you to consider needed immigration reforms. [Author’s Note: In speaking about immigration reform, I was speaking to the need for more technical talent in the US to continue building the software behind web platforms like Etsy, a hot topic for technology-based companies and on Capitol Hill.] I appreciate the help in fostering a legislative environment where our company and community can thrive.
In my spoken remarks, I also referred to a tweet that I got on the way over to the Capitol from seller Sandra Lombardi in Florida: “Tell them I said Etsy has helped me feed my family for $0.20 + imagination.” I did tell them, and had the pleasure of tweeting back to Sandra that I passed her message on to the senators in attendance.
After the session, Sen. Schumer invited me to walk with him through the Capitol as he headed to the Senate Finance Committee meeting, and we took the special subway system beneath the Capitol together. He published a press release on his Senate website and tweeted about my visit. I’d like to thank Senator Schumer and his staff for their generosity in hosting me at the Capitol last week and their recognition that Etsy and the businesses Etsy represents are important to the American economy. After last week, a critical mass of US Senators now know the power of the Etsy community. I was really proud to represent you at the Capitol and will continue working to keep your interests top of mind in places like the US Senate and beyond.