This week marks Josh Silverman’s one year anniversary as CEO of Etsy. On Tuesday Etsy released its first quarter 2018 earnings report so Josh is doing a bunch of interviews right now. On Wednesday he was on CNBC:
Josh has clearly had a ton of media training. He always says the same exact thing in every interview:
- We own special.
- We believe the market opportunity for special is huge.
- In a world where people are buying commodities, special is different and sets us apart.
- The thing about marketplaces is the bigger they get, the better they get.
But his interviews are still worth watching because he does reveal his overall understanding of who Etsy sellers are and what they want. Move your cursor to the 2:56 mark and you’ll hear it. “Our sellers want to spend their time making and serving customers,” Josh tell Jim Cramer. “They don’t want to spend their time being business people.”
Over the last 12 months has Josh actually talked to Etsy sellers? I mean sat down and talked to them? Not watched videos about them (he nicely references a video he’s watched), not typed up answers in a moderated forum discussion, but actually spoken at length with real sellers about what they do? I don’t know, but if I had to guess I would say no.
In my experience, Etsy sellers care very deeply about being business people. To imply that we are very happy to depend on Etsy for all of our business needs and that we don’t realize the vulnerability in that decision is condescension at its utmost. I can’t help but wonder if Etsy sellers were 87% male, rather than 87% female, whether he’d dare to belittle us the same way.
There was a time, not too long ago, when Etsy cared about helping sellers to develop business skills. That was a part of Etsy’s mission, part of its drive. It wasn’t just about growing Gross Marketplace Sales and increasing the amount of money made from Seller Services. It was also about creating a new economy by helping makers develop the skills they needed to grow their businesses. In comparison what I hear now sounds terribly hollow.
Josh, in year two I hope you will get out more, visit studios and come to a better understanding of who you’re serving. Although shareholders may be the ultimate master now, it’s the sellers that are out here furiously producing all that “special” and I don’t think you understand us very well.
Constance Petersen says
I couldn’t agree more! Perhaps he could join the Craft Industry Alliance to get a better sense of the business knowledge, interest, skills in the industry on which his company depends.
WELL SAID, Abby! This is paternalism at its worst. In fact, it isn’t even paternalism, just a true and complete, misunderstanding of the type of business PEOPLE (not just women!) who are part of Etsy. A large part of “making” in a business is knowing how to run your own business. I am debating about getting an Etsy account. If this is the way management views the people actually making money for Etsy, I’ll have to think twice about joining. Sure hope he takes the time to read what you read, and particularly the comments thread. Perhaps it will wake him up.
I guess I took that to mean Etsy sellers would rather practice their craft than blow a lot of time on marketing and managing an e-commerce site. In my case, that’s completely true. Otherwise I wouldn’t be an Etsy seller. I’d run my own site.
For so many Etsy sellers, though, Etsy is just one component.
becka rahn says
I couldn’t agree with you more. I was on the now cancelled Etsy Sellers Advisory Board, where we did go and talk to former-CEO Chad and many other execs and admin face to face. They were super interested to talk to us and we felt like they listened. I miss that a lot.
Lisa Smallridge says
Thanks Becka, the fact that the the Etsy Sellers advisory group no longer exusts says it all. I closed my store for a few months after recovering from a knee operation. I didn’t miss the stress caused by trying to keep up with Etsy’s frequent mandatory changes, designed to “help” us mainly female sellers. Just reading the forums would increase my blood pressure! We are not idiots, but are constantly boxed in with fewer & fewer choices of adoption dubious changes that seem to be devised by someone without a brain, or a business related degree. (Try Law & Accounting). Excellent article, Abby, let’s hope Josh reads it!
Cecilia Leibovitz says
That comment about sellers not wanting to spend our time being business people really blew me away. As a business owner specializing in handmade for over twenty years, and who has written for Etsy about the handmade market, that couldn’t be further from the truth for me. I’ve always had equal passion for both craftsmanship and marketing. My thought is that if Josh Silverman doesn’t find a way to get more in touch with who Etsy sellers are, the marketplace will be unrecognizable from its roots in just a few years time.
If it wasn’t for sellers who understood both the business nature of etsy and the business they run and their customer base etsy would be a yard sale site equivalent site. I found his statement as a business owner insulting in regards to the 10-16 hours a day I have put in for three years to grow my business. 1/3 of that product dedicated. If we were just hobbyists who didn’t care about business we couldn’t become the repeat sellers etsy needs. We couldn’t bring in the conversion rates they need. If that’s his attitude about his sellers he will not be able to bring this company to the level he wants. He’ll have a pretty packaged website with bad content. And it’s the sellers who will make or break their business.
He does not understand his buyer or his seller. If he did he would understand that a ready to ship structurednplayform as they have implemented with no visible text box for personalization causes confusion and abandoned carts. That two variations are for ready to ship as is products but custom for ease of use requires more. Hell I can buy custom easier on eBay from sellers that have multiple variations and websites of independent sellers. That hiding processing time frames visually only creates I’m satisfied customers. He’s making the mistake that most big ceo’s do. They don’t know what the ground floor level people do. We know the issues and the solutions because we deal with the buyers and we hear what they say. 20 seconds of delay in a purchase will cause abandoned cart rates of upwards of 60%. Want to capture those buyers looking for special make it easy to buy special. Want the industry standards of free shipping to pay off realize that a partnership between the two for lower costs ( because we can’t fulfill multiple ship orders like amazon) will take a financial give and take. Want 1-3 day processing give us the tools to make that possible so we don’t waste time with back and forth communications getting the information that could have been asked at order placement. Don’t be so full of yourself that you think you know the issues. Talk with the people that do.
whitney smith says
It’s all too common for people to think that you are either a businessperson or a creative. It’s a misunderstanding and it is unfortunate the CEO of Etsy seems to think the same way when he could have a much deeper knowledge of who he is dealing with. Business can be a creative undertaking and just as deeply satisfying as making. It really annoys me that Josh Silverman seems to think he knows what he’s talking about when he paints Etsy sellers with such a broad brush. And I agree that if men were the ones powering Etsy, Etsy would be working overtime to create more and better business tools for people to be successful.
Beth Reese says
“We make it so easy that with just a couple clicks of a button they can sell their products on Etsy” – Quote stated at 6:48.
Etsy sellers may take issue with that statement. First, all I ever read about Etsy is how they are constantly changing their policies and that it is difficult to navigate these changes. Second, that makes it seem like Etsy does all the work for you, and that you don’t have to know or understand how it works, or that you want to understand it.
I am not an Etsy seller, but I do know that there are some very successful Etsy businesses, and a lot that are not successful. The difference – how the seller manages their business. There is a lot of marketing strategy that goes into a successful business, and “a couple clicks of a button” does not produce sales.
Etsy makes their money by having more sellers on their site, so their focus is to gain more Etsy sellers. It does not sound like they are supporting their sellers to be more successful.
Kim W says
Also, did you catch when he said “if you can buy 1,000 pieces of any item it doesn’t belong on Etsy”. Really? Why don’t you police the site like they used to? There is product from china all over Etsy…like it’s EBAY all over again. People selling under the auspices of handmade. I used to turn them in but it’s gotten so bad I just cannot keep up.
While I love that Etsy created a venue for me to work on my product I long for a new site that was back to only handmade.
Lisa Smallridge says
Agreed! Etsy needs to get back to grass roots essentials – HAND MADE!
Have you checked out shophandmade.com? I just learned of it in another ‘discussion’ here, and will be looking into it further. Finally, a handmade shop that appears (so far) to be devoid of Chinese re-sellers. Check out the 3 Bird Nest discussion, also, from 2015. Outdated? I don’t think so. Different ‘players’, same MO. Plus, I think that TBN is still on Etsy, only under different, multiple guises.
That is quite funny! I don’t find Etsy works as well as a sellin* platform for me anymore, I’ve noticed huge changes in the past couple of years. I now have my own website BUT I still have an Etsy Shop…..Why? Because it’s a business decision. A lot of people still shop on Etsy, and I now try and see the Etsy fees as part of my advertising costs, rather than selling fees. I’ve talked to a lot of Etsy sellers….most of them are trying to make a business. The products are just the thing they are making to make that happen. And yes, we are passionate about what we do but that doesn’t mean we aren’t also business focussed. If you aren’t interested in business and just interested in ‘making and selling’ things then that is surely more of a hobby. Does Etsy want their sellers to only be hobbyists? And there is a huge part of Etsy that isn’t handmade so I don’t know why those people are on there if all Etsy sellers want is to make and sell stuff! What a silly thing to say! No wonder Etsy isn’t what she used to be!
You only need to have a brief look through the forums to get an insight into the frustration of those who do approach Etsy as a “business”. For example, the stats feature of the sellers dashboard is continually broken and certainly not “updated” or “live”. Why can’t they get this right?
While I do agree (very much) that Etsy sellers who are trying to make a full-time gig of their shop want to be business people, I think we’re assuming what Josh means and it’s wrong. It’s not that people who sell handmade don’t want to understand how to operate a business, it’s just that his perfect seller doesn’t. He’s building a selling site for his ideal customer, the seller who just wants to upload a picture, fill in the auto-completes, tick a few categories and boom – thing listed. No ‘hard stuff’ that might put you off selling in the first place.
He mentioned this in an earlier ‘chat’ video they’re moving toward removing tags, and making the listing process easier. I knew then what they’re working toward though I’ve known for a few years, ever since they allowed manufacturing. I feel Josh is trying to develop a system where the selling part is almost entirely automated.
You don’t have to worry about being found; just take great pics and make great stuff and the customer will come along and buy it and you can get the thing ‘made’, ship it out and everyone’s done. This is why he says ‘making things and customer service’. In Josh’s mind that translates to ‘taking orders and providing goods’. You are a micro fulfillment centre – a vending machine. Don’t worry about all the hard stuff, just drop-ship the print. Stamp the initials on the blank. Slide the decal on that mug. You’re just like cafe press! You know, but special. Somehow.
The thing is though, this whole vending machine still requires people to understand that professional photographs, a clear brand and a product people actually want is what gets you results if you’re expecting full-time sales to come entirely from etsy search. And that for me is what running a business is all about, it’s not just the nuts n bots of SEO. I wouldn’t be surprised in the slightest if -once the buying part is more streamlined and sales growth is stable – Etsy also revive the boot-camp courses; perhaps re-purposing the hibernating Studio site so they can teach people that broader aspect. Develop the stagnant shop updates for a built-in Instagram style platform, add automated book-keeping and the machine is complete; please insert your 20c piece and take your place as a cog.
The etsy dream is a handmade lover’s nightmare, but etsy don’t care, because the shoppers don’t either.
Penny, you’ve put something into words here better than I’ve seen it said anywhere else.
“In Josh’s mind that translates into ‘taking orders and providing goods’. You are a micro fulfillment centre – a vending machine. Don’t worry about all the hard stuff, just drop-ship the print. Stamp the initials on the blank. Slide the decal on the mug. You’re just like Cafe Press! You know, but special.”
Yes! This captures his understanding of what Etsy is all about. And think of the savings! Rather than having fulfillment centers, he has all these women in their homes all over the world, churning this stuff out for pennies. It’s truly brilliant. And totally disgusting.
Gayle Randa says
The first thing I want to say is……Abby I LOVE YOU!! I always look forward to reading your newsletter! Thank you for fighting for artists all over the world! I hope “what’s his name” reads your article and all the comments! Probably won’t though…he’s too busy making things easier for us. Cause we are just too stupid to do anything other than push buttons! Keep Fighting!
I really hope that we as Shop Owners can get back to being happy instead of constant worry. One size does not fit all but somehow I feel like we are all being given the size shoe.
I’m writing my business plan for my new handmade business and his statement is discouraging. I’m doing this because I want to create and run an independent business. Understanding and learning about every aspect of my business is essential to me. Otherwise I’d just make things for my friends and family. If Etsy is going to continue to attract sellers of ‘special ‘, they should respect the ambitious businesswomen (and men) who sell their platform. Otherwise they will lose the distinctiveness that brings customers to their site in the first place.
Ann Shal says
This is a very informative article! Thank you!
sarah costa says
Etsy’s CEO needs to stop ignoring sellers and start taking notice. Twice etsy have undermined my shop policies. They allowed one person to scam me, then they refunded another for no reason at all. I posted screen shots in the open case and resolved both issues out. They were both out of my control. Etsy didn’t even bother to read the case, they just refunded them and told me to work with my customers. I DO! I have high 5 star ratings and both these cases were uncalled for. Etsy needs to reform , they are hurting sellers, allowing people to scam sellers and etsy DO NOT read or listen to sellers concerns, they don’t even read your complaint, as the way they reply is totally nothing to do with what you complained about. Shocking behaviour. I cannot wait to get my website in a better busy place and leave etsy.
Even worse. They make it very hard to contact them. They used to have more options to get in touch, now they have taken the easy things away. Why is it so hard to contact Etsy’s CEO I wonder? This is unacceptable. And us sellers HAVE to have a contact number and email. The same rules SHOULD apply to Etsy’s CEO