Editor's Note: Inc. Magazine announced its pick for Company of the Year on Monday, November 23. It's Slack! See which one Inc. readers chose as their favorite company of 2015. Here, we spotlight Etsy, one of the contenders for the title in 2015.
It wasn't your typical opening bell of the Nasdaq stock exchange. Instead of a clean, solitary clang, there was a whole chorus of bells, each unique, every one either handmade or vintage, and all sourced from sellers on Etsy. In the hands of more than two dozen at-home crafters, they surrounded Chad Dickerson, the company's chief executive. The gleeful Etsy sellers cheered on the cool company from Brooklyn, New York, that turned them each into entrepreneurs. After the affair, everyone flooded out into Times Square for a pop-up craft fair. Some men took off their collared shirts to have them screenprinted by an artisan.
This is precisely what you'd expect from a company that's banked its fortunes on the fates of millions of crafty people around the globe. The crafts marketplace, which booked $195 million in 2014 revenue, has always veered from the conventional, tread by so many fast-growing companies these days. Instead of a shiny-but-dull cafeteria with free catering for lunch, Etsy-ers invite in chefs for an "Eatsy," or make their own group lunches in a communal kitchen. While others strove to prove to investors they'd weathered the latest recession, in 2012 Etsy filed to become a B Corp.
In fact, being the rebel has kind of become Etsy's thing. It was one of the companies that pioneered the Brooklyn waterfront--specifically, the formerly warehouse-heavy area known as Dumbo--as a hip company locale. Today, it's bustling with startups, murals, food trucks, and all the other markers of urban renewal in 2015.
Despite its impact on the larger entrepreneurial community, Etsy hasn't actually had a fiscally rosy year. Its stock price soared after its April IPO, but then sank--and sank even more recently, upon the release of the company's less-than-stellar third-quarter earnings.
Then, in October--in a move seen as a direct assault on Etsy--Amazon opened its own crafts marketplace, dubbed Handmade at Amazon. Etsy also took a small beating in the press late this summer when it announced it would open a network that connects manufacturers with sellers--an act some consider at odds with its original "only handmade and vintage" policy.
Heather Jassy, Etsy's senior vice president of members and community, says there was a similar reaction in 2013, when Etsy changed its policy for sellers, allowing them to sell some manufactured goods. "We realized this stuff is really complex," she says. "We want to always be adaptive of how the world is changing around us and figure out how to let sellers keep growing on our platform."
Jassy adds that Etsy's goal isn't just to scale quickly, or even giving its sellers ammunition to do so. "It's about growing in a way that's responsible," she says, meaning that Etsy vets all manufacturing proposals to make sure they're sustainable and keep the spirit of "handmade" alive. The company now has more than 1.5 million active sellers. Lots are casual hobbyists, but others make a complete living selling handmade (and, now, handmade "in spirit," with some help from manufacturing processes) items, for which there are 36 million listings.
"No decision you make is ever going to make everyone happy," said Etsy's chief executive, Chad Dickerson, in an interview with Business Insider last month. "In the cases where you're going against conventional wisdom, you have to be prepared to take short-term criticism in the name of long-term growth and development."
Even though Etsy is a big company now, with more than 800 employees, it retains its spunk. That's in part because it can't help it: It's not a company that's purely ephemeral; it exists not just online but also in all its hand-knit, screenprinted splendor. More than 12,000 communities of Etsy sellers, based on geography or shared interests, exist around the globe. And these are powerful forces for organizing makers. Or just for setting up a super kick-ass weekend craft fair.
As Etsy confronts short-term criticism, and keeps its head up, prancing on, here's to the resilience of spirit of the hip rebel company from Brooklyn.