After a brief hiatus, the founder of Etsy Rob Kalin reclaimed the CEO title in January of this year. During a brief interview at Etsy’s Brooklyn headquarters, I asked Kalin, “Why do you think you deserve to be back as CEO?…Is there anything really unique about your vision that will take Etsy to the next stage?”
“Sure, so why do I deserve to be CEO is something that you gotta earn every day, so I definitely don’t take that title for granted. As far as where we want to go, to me the most important part of commerce is the social aspect of it. Social aspect drives the marketplace.”
The five-year old marketplace for handmade goods is growing quickly each year, last year it pulled in nearly $200 million in gross merchandise sales. This year, Kalin says they’re on track to reach approximately $400 million in gross merchandise sales. That doesn’t translate into significant profits for Etsy— which only takes about 3.5% of each transaction— but Kalin says profits are secondary to the more important goal of increasing traffic and dialogue on the site.
In the next few years, he expects gross merchandise sales to be in the multi-billion-dollar range, but in order to get there, he says they will need to succeed in their social ambitions.
In the next 12-18 months, Kalin plans to roll out a social strategy that will go beyond the site’s current offerings, which include forums and chat rooms for members. He didn’t want to give away all the details, but he did say:
“Markets are conversations. For us at Etsy we want to figure out how buying an item from someone is a conversation. So Facebook’s message is to connect and share, and so Etsy is taking that one further, where it’s connect, share and exchange things. We’re playing with ways to create more, more social layers inside that experience so one would be being able to have a conversation with people who you’re buying from inside of your shopping cart another one would be using search queries not just to connect people to items but to connect people to other people.
To me this is the power of the web, so you know that quote from Aristotle, ‘Man is a political animal?’ is actually mistranslated. It’s ‘Man is a polis making animal,’ and not man, humans. Humans are village making species and we want to connect with other people.”
In episode two of our company profiles series, Kalin gives us a tour of Etsy, discusses profits, his social vision and why he stepped down in the first place.