Woman working on laptop in Etsy headquarters.

Etsy and the New Economy

November 23, 2016

“We want to be a company that can set an example in the world — of how business can be different,” says Etsy’s SVP of Values-Aligned Business, Heather Jassy. For a company that brings crafted items to the world via the internet and roughly 1.7 million sellers and 27.1 million buyers, that model of difference has been evident since day one. As Etsy has expanded and become publicly traded, its initial dedication to craftsmanship and value has remained the thread through everything. “We really want to be a model for a profitable company that is values-driven.”

The Etsy online marketplace, as it’s known, connects sellers of all things artisanal to buyers worldwide. One might scour the site for the latest in hand-knit blankets, Halloween pet costumes, mid-century modern furniture, or wedding accessories, from an individual or small business owner — and then ask questions about how it was made. The site has enabled the handcrafted world of the maker to be reached by millions; its annual gross merchandise sales hover well over $2 billion.

True to its craftsman form, Etsy got its start in Brooklyn —a longtime maker hub — back in 2005. In mid-2016, it moved into its new headquarters at 117 Adams in DUMBO, amid Brooklyn’s growing Tech Triangle, which houses digital companies like MakerBot and Huge. “New York City is increasingly being seen as a tech hub,” says Jassy, who also oversaw the 2011 opening of Etsy’s Hudson office — a site dedicated to customer support for the company’s sizable community. “We wanted to build a whole [office] culture” around helping marketplace members, she says of the decision to house part of its operations upstate, just a short train ride from the NYC headquarters.

In April of 2015, Etsy went public as a certified B Corporation, a designation through the nonprofit B Lab, which promotes “people using business as a force for good™.” Etsy strives to encompass that model through treating employees well, implementing strong sustainable business practices, and being a positive force in the world. It now has 10 offices worldwide and hundreds of employees across cities including Berlin, London, Tokyo and Dublin.

Among Etsy’s notable initiatives is the Craft Entrepreneurship program, which encourages entrepreneurship in regions that need help building a stronger economy. “Teachers” — more experienced Etsy sellers — help individuals in underserved communities gain the skills to get products off the ground. Participating cities include Rockford, Ill. and Hazard, Ky.

In 2015, Etsy introduced Etsy Manufacturing, which pairs sellers in its communities with possible manufacturers to help foster additional partnerships among small businesses. As Etsy enters its second decade, it’s leading a new idea of commerce via the web, so that individuals and small businesses can support themselves, while Etsy works toward implementing its values-driven model across the world.

Championing the local in New York State
“We think that DUMBO reflects so many of the things that we cherish at Etsy — it’s filled with the kind of people that comprise our global marketplace: artists, makers, startups, small businesses,” Jassy says of Etsy’s commitment to New York State, explaining that even the aesthetic of “old factories and warehouses” in both DUMBO and Hudson, “provides an ideal space for our team.”

The Etsy Hudson annex may be filled with screens and support calls routed from all over the world, but it’s also located in a brick warehouse from the 1800s that was once the Traver & Sons’ mill. A former whaling town, Hudson was the center of the famed Hudson River School of mid-19th century painters. Today, it boasts a bevy of galleries, shops, and award-winning restaurants. Hudson has among the highest rates of self-employment in the state — an excellent match for Etsy’s focus on small-business success. It’s a place known for its local businesses and excellent quality of life, and Etsy is proud to have become a major employer for the area.

Etsy's decision to expand its workforce in DUMBO and Hudson was reinforced by state tax-based incentives that support job creation and growth in fields like biotech, tech, and green technology. As regions across New York become home to creative tech companies, and schools like Columbia, CUNY City College, and NYU — all of which Etsy works with — expand their work geared toward tech and design, the moment to be in tech in New York has arrived.

Jassy says that the company diligently focuses on areas including diversity; it also fosters a culture of giving for employees and organizations. On the company’s anniversary each year, Etsy employees are given the day to volunteer. They’re also provided 40 hours of paid time to perform volunteer work annually, while Etsy itself partners with dozens of local organizations and schools.

Etsy also looks closely at its diversity efforts in fields across the company, including engineering — an area that has suffered from a lack of diversity at many companies. To foster a more diverse tech world, Etsy pledges needs-based grants to The Recurse Center — an educational retreat that enables people to get better at programming — and works with Lesbians Who Tech, and the National Center for Women & Information Technology. It also partners with Jopwell, which promotes hiring for underrepresented minorities, and Digital Undivided, which fosters a network for women of color entrepreneurs.

Crafting a better globe
Today, in keeping with its mission, Etsy is focusing on “being thoughtful consumers,” across the board Jassy says, explaining that same careful approach they apply toward craftsmanship “is very tied to sustainability.” 117 Adams is participating in the Living Building Challenge℠, which calls for the highest and most rigorous demonstration of sustainability across areas like energy use and chemical products used.

Both offices source much of their furniture from local makers, and power their buildings in part through the energy generated from solar panels on their roofs. The company’s global HQ in DUMBO is also looking into nearby solar sources so it can fulfill its aim of transitioning to renewable electricity by 2020. Inside the offices, local food is also a part of the mission through Eatsy, a twice-weekly lunch program coordinated to bring in local products to each office worldwide so that employees can get to know the source of their food. Even Etsy’s in-house snacks come from local vendors.

To support its employees holistically, in 2016 Etsy instituted a gender-blind parental leave policy that provides a full 26 weeks off after the birth or adoption of a child, and can be used across the first two years of childhood. Etsy’s Code as Craft blog — instituted by its CEO Chad Dickerson — looks not only at its technical work, but also social issues of inclusion, diversity throughout office culture, and collaboration.

As Etsy grows, it hopes to develop an operational plan around its values so that other businesses inspired by its mission can adopt a similar model. “We build for the long-term,” Jassy explains, referring to the company’s commitment to both its New York centers, and its global communities.

The company’s success is, ultimately, tied to the success of its sellers — something Jassy thinks distinguishes Etsy’s culture, and has made it suited to its Brooklyn and Hudson locations. Like its maker products and so much of its experience growing from its Brooklyn founding, Etsy’s values are homespun for global reach. That small-product-with-big-reach model is one it intends to share with the world.

For more information on the software and digital media industry in New York State, contact Patricia Bayley at [email protected] or (212) 803-3133.