Etsy CEO Chad Dickerson joined Esther Dyson to speak about creative communities. A lot can be said about Esther Dyson. She’s an angel investor, a digital age guru, a trained cosmonaut, and on a mission to make America healthier with her non-profit (Health Coordinating Council (HICCup). At DLD15, she sat in her signature relaxed style, with her moccasins kicked off and one foot tucked under.
As current CEO and former CTO of Etsy, Chad Dickerson is well placed to talk about creative communities. Etsy represents a new way of connecting handcraft makers to buyers, but is also rooted in the age-old tradition of “making things”, as Dickerson once put it. “Etsy was founded around and is still focused around “making things””. And with 45 million registered users, Etsy is certainly a community.
“As companies grow, communities get increasingly worried about selling out,” Dickerson said. ‘Is Etsy over?’ has been the drumbeat since 2007. But it wasn’t until 2013 - eight years after the company went into business – that its team began to think about all the different ways people ‘make things’. Not only hand-made products play a role at Etsy. Sculptures made with 3D-printers, for instance, also feature. “Creativity is the key,” Dickerson said.
When Dickerson joined Etsy, a skate ramp had just been removed from the office. The community was very vocal and "somewhat anarchic". Most of its community at the time consisted of your typical young, urban user living in Portland or Brooklyn.
In 2013, Etsy’s sales totalled at $1.35 billion. Eighty-eight percent of its sellers are woman. One out of every four transactions crosses a border. There are users registered in 200 countries. And Etsy takes 3.5 percent of every sale.
Picking up on this rather low percentage retained by Etsy, Dyson began to speak about the fact that Etsy is a B corporation. The basic idea behind B corporations, according to Dickerson, is that they can create social good and profit at the same time. As most of the profit (over 95 percent) goes to the creator or artist on Etsy, the company sees itself as creating social good.
Beyond that, Etsy has made efforts to reduce its waste by introducing recycling areas. Within one week, landfill waste produced by the offices had been reduced by 30 percent. “Our recycling area became like a water cooler. It’s where people hang out - while the stand in line to harvest their apple peels.”
Rumours have been circulating that Etsy may go public. Dyson did not ask about that (“I’ve been warned you’d call your lawyer on stage,” she quipped at Dickerson), but did ask what that would look like. However, Dickerson said he didn’t know, as no B corporation had yet gone public to his knowledge.
Next Dyson opened the discussion up to the floor. One DLD participant asked what Etsy is fighting against. Dickerson said they were working to bring humanity back to commerce. “We live in a world that is increasingly being ruled by price and convenience. A world where people fight to deliver diapers a little bit faster.” Following those aims we may be heading towards a future where drones drop packages in front of doorsteps, but where no one communicated anymore. According to Dickerson, on Etsy the “purchasing is nay incidental to the interaction.
Of course not all feedback from the community is positive. But this doesn’t deter Dickerson. He is very inspired by the writing of Jane Jacobs, an urban planner who penned “The Death and Life of Great American Cities” amongst other works. Jacobs writes a lot on the streets of New York, describing their grit and darkness but also the fluidity and interactions. She titles this as then “intricate ballet of the streets”.
“Community is sort of like that,” Dickerson said. “It’s not all positive, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t work.”