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Reader Mail: June 2011

Readers respond to our cover story about Etsy founder Rob Kalin, a feature about spying on the competition, and Jason Fried's column about running a flat company.
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The World of Etsy
Our cover story about Etsy founder and CEO Rob Kalin ["Rob's World," April] sparked a lively online debate. On Twitter, Kalin wrote, "A good lesson from that Inc. piece. Mediocre journalism makes for sensationalist cringe-worthy copy, a handful of misquotes, and no wisdom." He later deleted the tweet. Venture capitalist Fred Wilson, an Etsy investor who serves on the company's board of directors, wrote about the article on his A VC blog. "If you click on the link and read the entire piece, you'll come away wondering how Etsy can be a successful business," Wilson wrote. "Rob does not come across as a business-oriented person. And Etsy comes across like a big, chaotic flea market. Both are sort of true. But Etsy is a very successful business, growing rapidly, making profits, cash flow, and very much a candidate to produce a lot more of both in the coming years."

Many Etsy sellers commented on the story on Inc.com. "Time will tell if that little snot-nosed dumbass will 'scale Etsy,' " wrote Jenny Mehlenbeck, an artist and crafter in Hartford, Michigan, who once had two Etsy shops. "How can any business stay in business by treating customers like dirt?" Erika Price, founder of Erika Price Designs, an Etsy store based in Hertfordshire, England, was alarmed by the fact that Kalin pointed a knife at Max Chafkin, the story's author, during an interview. "What sane person does things like that?" she wrote. "This has got me really worried and perhaps explains the odd nature of Etsy's apparent current strategy."

Other readers defended Kalin. "I don't understand the hate for Rob in the comments," wrote Charlie Corrigan, owner of Domestic Icing, an Etsy store based in Denver. "I've never met the guy, but I'm a seller on Etsy, and I am so grateful for the website, in all of its recent incarnations. It may not be the right place for a very successful seller, but Etsy gives those sellers a place to start and a place to learn." Melissa Fouch Machowski, owner of M Design Boutique in Marlborough, Massachusetts, echoed that sentiment: "I am an original 2005 seller, and Etsy has improved a whole lot since the beginning. The site isn't perfect, but I personally know six women, including myself, who can now make a living doing what we love, thanks to Etsy."

To Spy, or Not to Spy?
Readers were concerned that some of the strategies mentioned in our story about competitive intelligence ["Spy Games," April] crossed a moral or ethical line. "Gathering intelligence through social network data and eliciting the opinions or knowledge of our employees about competitors are quite appropriate," wrote Venkata Ramana Bh, CEO of EPM World in Hyderabad, India. "I am afraid if we should seek any information from our employees about their past employers, as suggested in the story, it might violate NDAs and professional ethics." Joanne Gucwa, president of Technology Management Associates and BioTech Circle in Mount Prospect, Illinois, agreed. "What's ethical isn't always moral—for example, pretending to be a prospective customer," she wrote. "There's a fine line between casually chatting up a salesperson at a trade show and feigning serious intent to buy." Wayne Spivak, consulting chief financial officer of SBA Consulting in Bellmore, New York, added, "Every good spy can become a double agent, by either a) leaving your employ or b) job dissatisfaction. Remember, what's good for the goose is good for the gander."

Is Flat Better?
Jason Fried's column about running a flat company [Get Real, April] drew a strong reaction from readers. "You've always been proud of being lean and small," wrote Cathy Iconis, president and founder of Iconis Group in Atlanta. "What scares me is that it sounds like it is starting to define you. Your business is a living, organic thing. I'm wondering if you are starting to keep yourself inside the box for the box's sake." Ted Pearlman, founder and CEO of Kuamua in Denver, wrote, "The potential problem with a managerless organization the size of 37signals is that it sometimes can't function emotionally. The first-line manager role is not about decision making. It's about empathizing and caring." David Gemmett, partner at LogicPint in Boston, offered a firsthand perspective. "Having been in a similar situation while working for a Web services company way back in 2000, I experienced the transition from flat to vertical hierarchy," he wrote. "Fried's company is very young and will have to face the music. The ugly truth is, the days of start-up fun will come to an end."

But Megan Ludwig, a writer at Careared.com in Cabot, Vermont, liked the idea of working in a hierarchy-free office. "As someone who used to be in the legal field, there's something really appealing about the notion of a model based on loving what you do and developing your skill as you progress," she wrote. "At law firms, young lawyers often put up with sweatshoplike conditions with the hopes that one day they will work their way up to become a partner. Starting off in a position that moves horizontally sounds so much more humane."

Correction
In our Blogger Logic item in the May issue, we misspelled the name of Posterous founder Sachin Agarwal.

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From the June 2011 issue of Inc. magazine




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