FOWA07b: Robert Kalin

Founded Etsy, website for selling craft and hand made stuff. See it as a soap box for people who make things.

Moved to New York, faked ID in order to get classes at university. Wanted to remain unemployed and start a company. Started six, including carpentry. Did one year of art school in Boston, but had never used computers much.

Built Get Crafty for wife of a professor in NY, and then did client work, but didn’t like that. Got the idea to create a market place for people who made things on Get Crafty. Launched 2 years ago, 100k sellers, mainly US and UK. Haven’t had a hockey-stick, low growth. Only in US dollars but working to support multiple currencies. Mainly English-speaking countries. Visualisation clock, 24 hours, and show usage round the clock, quite overnight. 10k items a day are listed, 7k items selling per day.

Always a bump before Christmas, then it drops off afterwards. Usage jumps almost bi-monthly. People think Etsy is small, but it’s small now and part of something larger. Two paths the world can go down, one to go with shopping locally and buying hand-made goods, the other is petrol- and war-based.

Wants Etsy to be an organising principle, rather than a corporation. Wants to think about how can build businesses that are rewarding. Etsy has grown from 4 to 44 people, have learnt a lot on the way growing there, and the growth of the company has to stay in tandem with the growth of the market.

It’s not just a marketplace, it’s a community. Marketplaces have always been communities, people would go to the market not just to buy things but to gossip. Contrast that to what we have today, online or offline. Social aspect of knowing who made what you’re buying has been eradicated. Important part of Etsy is human contact between buyer and seller. Also a lot of alteration services, and items tend to come with stories. If you had to save 10 things from your burning house, you wouldn’t grab your flat-screen TV, you’d grab those things that would have meaning to you. Most stuff we have is actually easy to get rid of.

Make it playful – can shop by colour, so Etsy will show you all the things that are a particular shade of green, say. Seasoned Etsy shoppers don’t use that feature as much as new people. There’s also a ‘time machine’, that shows you stuff in the order it was posted.

The social side, stuff coming, where you can shop with your friends. (Demo was broken.)

Etsy – sees that as the first wave of hand-made people, most Etsy users are women, and most aren’t that into tech.

Sees Etsy itself as hand-made. Before industrial revolution, everything was handmade. If you needed a table, you’d go to your local artisan to get it made, or make it yourself. Now, if you talk about a group of people sitting around sewing, the image that comes to mind is of a sweatshop. Fallen into a Bladerunner future, where it’s all mass-produced. Mass production has it’s benefits, but there’s a human cost. Something that is baffling is how much more important that it is to put money over human life, and if that is the goal of your business then it’s a personality time that I think is very unhealthy and not sustainable in the long run.

When the Nazis were bombing London, their planes required a patented fuel, patent was owned by Rockefeller, and he sold that fuel to the Nazis. But people say “that’s business”. But what values does business have?

Need to look at long term growth. Google’s letter at IPO said “Our stocks should drop in the short term, because some of our investments will be puzzling”, and that’s an interesting way to go forward with a company but not sure if the US economy will go with that.

Created freeform virtual space, like a congress, with lots of additional options, and anytime they are teach a workshop, they beam it out, so you can see people talking to each other. Use it for their own remote developers, but also publicly for skill-shares.

In mass-production, there’s a lot of copying. That’s seen as a bad thing in the hand-made world, but it’s inevitable that people have similar ideas. Copying someone’s brand, though, is different.

Going to be able to request custom items. Most maps talking about social networks etc. never talk about commerce. Huge swath of people out there not thinking about it.

(Talks now about history of commerce, which I am not going to blog.)

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