When Cute Meets Corporate
November 26, 2017 8:56 PM   Subscribe

Inside the Revolution at Etsy Etsy’s founders believed its business model — helping mostly female entrepreneurs make a living online — was inherently just. Employees shared their emotions freely, often crying at the office. Perks included generous paid parental leave, free organic food and a pet-friendly workplace. Etsy was certified as a B Corp by a nonprofit called B Lab, denoting its particularly high social and environmental standards. But once Etsy went public in 2015, it was evaluated just like any other company traded on the stock market.

Previously, Etsy had been criticized for shifting from a place for small scale makers to selling mass produced goods like Ebay or Amazon. This was before their public offering of stock in 2015, which ended up being the worst IPO in 2015.

And if you are in a shopping mood this weekend, Sea Turtles are trending.
posted by Toddles (124 comments total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
 
True to form, Etsy found ways to make its initial public offering inclusive. It marketed shares to small investors and Etsy sellers

Or perhaps they took advantage of starry eyed individuals who associated the concept of an IPO with gaining wealth without understanding the risks.
posted by Candleman at 9:25 PM on November 26 [11 favorites]


Do companies often lose their B Corp status?
posted by oceanjesse at 9:26 PM on November 26 [2 favorites]


"In the first nine months after the offering, the stock fell 75 percent. Etsy was still spending heavily on growth and marketing, and while revenues were up in early quarters, the company was unprofitable."

"The emotional, individualistic culture had its drawbacks. The emphasis on go-it-alone craftsmanship meant Etsy managed its own data centers, instead of using more efficient options like Amazon Web Services or Google Cloud. With everyone empowered to express themselves, there was a lot of sharing going on. Inboxes were stuffed with unnecessary emails, which dragged on productivity."

You can't expect any investors to support an unprofitable company when there are obvious flaws in the operation of the company. As a corollary, any employee that expects their employer to do nothing different when faced with losses is a bit na?ve. Regardless of how much you value "culture" at an organization, profit is necessary for the organization to sustain itself.

In other words - what else do you expect to happen? The company is being made more efficient. The employees will actually have a plausible case for their jobs being sustainable in the future. This is a good thing. If you want your job to be sustained by fluff and a lot of crying, you're going to have a bad time in life.
posted by saeculorum at 9:33 PM on November 26 [16 favorites]


Isn't this the predicable outcome of going public? Certainly the founders must have expected this, right?
posted by Beholder at 9:42 PM on November 26 [14 favorites]


“There was not a sense of crisis,” Mr. Silverman said.

No crisis, you say?! Well thank god you were there to create one.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 9:46 PM on November 26 [23 favorites]


Candleman,
Describing etsy sellers, who are overwhelming females acting as sole proprietors, as naive and out of their depth in the world of "high finance" is selling both women and members of the 99% class short. Etsy might be compromising its standards in negative ways and I won't begin to defend that, but opening the door for more people to participate in the ipo was a progressive move and should be applauded.
posted by forgettable at 9:47 PM on November 26 [71 favorites]


What do gender neutral restrooms have to do with corporate profitability? That's some shaky logic there, along the lines of "they let people wear yoga pants to the office...and now their shares are tanking!"
posted by roger ackroyd at 9:49 PM on November 26 [58 favorites]


Do companies often lose their B Corp status?

According to the article, I wouldn't say lose so much as declined to continue.
posted by Samizdata at 9:52 PM on November 26 [1 favorite]


Etsy corrupted itself when it sold its destiny in endless rounds of venture capital funding. This wasn’t inevitable, it was a choice. One made by founders and executives who found it easier to ask investors for money than to develop the habits and skills to ask customers.

May the next Etsy learn its lessons
posted by maupuia at 9:54 PM on November 26 [9 favorites]


The employees will actually have a plausible case for their jobs being sustainable in the future. This is a good thing.

Now that's a smuggled value judgment. Perhaps the employees chose these jobs over some other because of the working culture? And to change that culture is to replace their jobs with different ones, piecemeal and by degrees.
posted by traveler_ at 9:58 PM on November 26 [36 favorites]


Etsy corrupted itself when it sold its destiny in endless rounds of venture capital funding. This wasn’t inevitable, it was a choice. One made by founders and executives who found it easier to ask investors for money than to develop the habits and skills to ask customers.

May the next Etsy learn its lessons


That made the point I wanted to make. Capitalism and charity don't mix, sadly enough.
posted by Samizdata at 9:59 PM on November 26


Roger,
I imagine the issue is liability. Logic being the writing was on the wall that the company's plan to grow would eventually kill the current creep-free culture at which point gender netural bathrooms would become a potential vector for harassment.
posted by forgettable at 9:59 PM on November 26


There is nothing in the article indicating Etsy has abandoned their gender free bathroom signs. There is no evidence elsewhere I can find indicating Etsy has abandoned their gender free bathroom signs. I'm not sure why this is being brought up as a discussion point.

Perhaps the employees chose these jobs over some other because of the working culture

An employee that expects their job to stay exactly the same despite the company losing money is an employee that will either be disappointed when that expectation is not met or will be made redundant in the future. I'd rather them be disappointed than unemployed.
posted by saeculorum at 10:03 PM on November 26 [9 favorites]


Capitalism and charity don't mix, sadly enough.

Capitalism doesn't mix with anything, and that's the problem.
posted by Beholder at 10:19 PM on November 26 [75 favorites]


Now that's a smuggled value judgment. Perhaps the employees chose these jobs over some other because of the working culture?

Perhaps they did. Perhaps that's also not a very realistic expectation to have of any job other than one you have the luxury of creating for yourself.

It sounds like the character of the company changed. It also sounds like the company is in a stronger position to last than it had been. Weigh the advantages and disadvantages. Decide if you can live with the expectations or not.

Capitalism doesn't mix with anything, and that's the problem.

Capitalism doesn't have to mix with anything. Everything has to mix with capitalism. Like it or not.
posted by 2N2222 at 10:19 PM on November 26 [6 favorites]


From the article: The idealism was infectious, and many people turned down higher salaries from other companies to work for Etsy.

This comes secondhand, but the thing I heard was that this wasn't just "many people"--it was many women in particular who could have scored better jobs because of other corporations pushing to fix their diversity problems. Etsy's got to be walking a fine line at this point, because if it's not going to be the relaxed do-good place it was before, it doesn't just have to start making enough money to cover its current expenses. It has to start making enough money to start covering salaries that actually keep the staff there when they aren't being paid partially in quality-of-life.

It is in fact possible for a company to be struggling financially AND for many of its employees to have far better opportunities available elsewhere. Tech is not a "be thankful you can put food on the table" industry. Virtually nobody in a technical or management capacity at Etsy is in serious danger of extended unemployment. Many of the employees do in fact have plenty of room to say that if they don't either get more cash or better treatment, they're going to leave. I'm skeptical that the changes made so far actually foreshadow an Etsy that's ready to go head-to-head in hiring with every other major tech firm in the US on salary and benefits alone, which means that yes, they should be very concerned with how happy the employees are just now.
posted by Sequence at 10:20 PM on November 26 [64 favorites]


Capitalism doesn't have to mix with anything. Everything has to mix with capitalism. Like it or not.

It may interest you to learn that capitalism is neither a law of nature nor a commandment of a deity, but rather a structure created by and for human beings. Capitalism exists to serve the people, not the people capitalism, and if you think frantically prostrating yourself before it will somehow save you from its destructive force, you are mistaken.
posted by praemunire at 10:35 PM on November 26 [155 favorites]


Etsy’s biggest problem, though, is that its expenses grew even faster, up 72% from the quarter a year ago, than its sales. And when that happens, you typically lose more money; except, apparently, when Etsy does the counting, probably on an abacus or something like that.
Now that's just mean.
posted by BigHeartedGuy at 10:39 PM on November 26 [7 favorites]


Bummer. I was hoping to work at Etsy at some point, since they are part of my early teenage years, and I quite liked their website overhaul. It was a place that praised femininity and cuteness and crafts in an otherwise incredibly hostile, toxic masculine sphere.
posted by yueliang at 10:45 PM on November 26 [5 favorites]


Everything has to mix with capitalism. Like it or not.

It won't happen overnight, but capitalism will not survive this century. It's days are numbered.
posted by Beholder at 10:46 PM on November 26 [14 favorites]


Etsy’s biggest problem, though, is that its expenses grew even faster, up 72% from the quarter a year ago, than its sales. And when that happens, you typically lose more money; except, apparently, when Etsy does the counting, probably on an abacus or something like that.

Now that's just mean.


Not if the abacus is handcrafted from semi-precious stones and coprolites on a sustainably grown redwood frame covered in artisanally hand collected shellac harvested by fair trade lac farmers from cruelty free, free range lac bugs.
posted by Samizdata at 10:48 PM on November 26 [11 favorites]


A new focus on profitability has sapped many employees of their enthusiasm.

Letting in venture capital to the tune of $85 million while pretending to operate as a non profit was a non starter.

That’s what happens when one tries to defy the laws of nature capitalism. I think it serves them right.
posted by Kwadeng at 10:59 PM on November 26 [8 favorites]


I don't see any sign that they ever pretended to operate as a non-profit? They were a B corp. It would be entirely possible for an entity organized in that fashion to grow large enough to be worth that kind of funding, which is kind of a drop in the bucket at Etsy's scale. I don't think, at the end of the day, that Etsy was squandering money on social justice stuff--they just have never really hit on a way to realize their initial vision and be profitable doing it. In the absence of that, they're now trying to pinch every last penny, thus the B corp goes. Plenty of purely profit-driven companies in online retail have gone bust. Contrast Patagonia, which is much more settled in its niche and doing very well there, despite the B corp commitments.
posted by Sequence at 11:36 PM on November 26 [9 favorites]


Kickstarter is still a B Corp and has 12 job openings available.
posted by gwint at 12:24 AM on November 27 [4 favorites]


they just have never really hit on a way to realize their initial vision and be profitable doing it.

Hmmmmm... what were the owners then bringing venture capital in for, if not to make a lot of money through a subsequent IPO? I don't see how you reconcile that with squandering money on being painted as an "ethical" company (free organic food? really?).

They should not have subjected their company to the cut-throat world of Wall Street and, if they couldn't afford to play the long game, maybe that means the business model was not right.
posted by Kwadeng at 12:53 AM on November 27 [2 favorites]


Capitalism exists to serve the people, not the people capitalism,...

That's quite the a priori. I think the phrasing of "like it or not" merits swift and pointed contradiction, but the rhetoric of metaphysical promulgation and prostration is conveniently interpretative. And to even begin from, "It may interest you to know," sufficiently broadcasts a considerable degree of presumption.

Serves? As I say, quite the idyll. How Etsy struggles to preserve its priorities and negotiate fiat currency and a stock exchange listing to secure means to expand is all the expression required to dispel so quaint an algebra. Lots of very meaningful questions in this thread can be seduced by framings that aren't required.

I can offer analogues and parallels by means of description because it's what I do for a living...

A broker once related, "Unions are an indication of a failure of management to address the value of their employees," but they were speaking more to enterprise outside government and societal functions. If Etsy wanted greater control of prioritizing very, very meaningful aspects of a working environment, securing capital for growth might have avoided the conditions and demands of speculators largely uninterested in those aspects.
posted by lazycomputerkids at 1:04 AM on November 27 [4 favorites]


A few threads down we have MeFits excoriating management jargon as classist performance of power and indicative of the evils of too-large companies.

But when given an example of an ethically-minded company going big, we get snark about small companies not having what it takes to grow and jokes about ethics in capitalism.

What's being lost is the middle: management and ethics can go hand in hand. Big does not necessarily mean evil: we prefer big auto makers and IT companies because they generally involve known, accepted standards. Big places have their downsides too, but throwing the baby out with the bathwater is never a solution.

Patagonia, as mentioned above, is a great example of a company that manages to find a balance. There are management approaches that focus on the need for profit to benefit people. And indeed, in Etsy's case, it sounds like they needed to look into which management practices would fit their values while allowing them to grow healthily. Instead they went for cutthroat, when it wasn't a given.

I'm wondering why they didn't try to find an executive more in line with their values.
posted by fraula at 1:56 AM on November 27 [44 favorites]


I'm wondering why they didn't try to find an executive more in line with their values.

Well, I get the feeling that their efforts were too little, too late at the point when the VC/investment crowd came knocking at their door. They waited a little too long to find someone that could ethically bridge the gap between their goals and those of their investors. The root of the word investors is invest, which means they expect a return on their investment of a fiscal nature. Had they manage to avoid the outside money, they could have done whatever they wanted.
posted by Samizdata at 2:07 AM on November 27 [5 favorites]


> I'm wondering why they didn't try to find an executive more in line with their values.

The VC may have driven the selection process by telling Etsy who to put on the short list.
posted by at by at 2:22 AM on November 27 [10 favorites]


I think it was Steve Albini, of all people, who suggested something like (and I'm fairly sure I'm paraphrasing, but I'm definitely in agreement with my paraphrase): Small and privately owned companies exist to do whatever it is they were intended to do. So, in his case, he has a recording studio which is a business which has the purpose of recording music; he has a record label, and the purpose of that is to release records, and so forth.

All publicly listed companies exist for the same purpose: to return as much money as possible to their shareholders. Any action on the part of the management that gets in the way of fulfilling that purpose - such as paying unnecessarily high wages to the employees, or choosing materials on any other metric than cost, or investing in R&D - are to be considered aberrant behaviours to be rooted out and punished. Even the core business can be abandoned if moving to another business will increase dividends, which is why so many automobile manufacturers have essentially become loan sharks.

It's not enough to be merely profitable.

The IPO is the payoff for the VC funders. They don't expect to get money from investing in a business long term, but from building an interesting product that can be sold to Wall Street, as overvalued as possible. After that, it's a question of turning it into something that the most powerful investors can suck as much juice out of as possible. The people running the company are only required to make decisions that will maximise that flow of juice while keeping the company alive as long as possible.

It really doesn't matter what Etsy's ethics are. After being floated on the market they only exist as a source of investment dividends.
posted by Grangousier at 2:25 AM on November 27 [70 favorites]


Meditation and yoga classes were offered during the workday. Companywide meetings, known as “Y’all Hands,” featured musical performances by employees. New mothers and fathers got six months of fully paid parental leave.

The parental leave bit is quite a record-scratch moment there. For context legal entitlement to maternity leave in my country is 12 months, of which 9 have sort of statutory pay from the government, and employers topping that up to 4 or 6 or more months of full pay is not at all unusual. Unilever for example offer 9 months on full pay; they don't do this because they're capitalism-averse hippies, they do this because it's just understood that you need to offer over and above the standard if you want to attract and retain the best employees.

But it is also a useful record-scratch moment, because it's easy otherwise to classify a lot of the Etsy corporate culture outlined here as "woolly, idealistic, thus probably totally opposed to making any sort of profit" (pets at work! crying in the work place!), and forget just how much of corporate culture has made the same kind of tradeoffs. You're a mid-level internal finance person who wants to sing at corporate meetings? Your employer's not here to coddle you, snowflake, get on with the job. You're the CEO and you want pay that's 100x what your employees get and on a trajectory that's rapidly rising? Well OBVIOUSLY, you need to be given whatever incentives you need, how on earth can capitalism work without you. Crying at work? Leave your emotions at home, snowflake. Shouting at work? Not ideal, Bob, but it's a high-stress environment, what can you do [manly clap on shoulder]. Yoga? Waste of time. Golfing? Absolutely, valuable networking opportunity.

(Also this reminds me of something that happened eighteen years ago and isn't even that relevant but I am still cross about it so I'm going to rant anyway. I worked as a waitress in a golf club and we used to get the company golf team types in every month on a Wednesday, with their expensive cars and their expensive shoes and their aversion to tipping SEE I'M STILL CROSS but anyway. One Wednesday we had a tournament on which meant really busy days. I'd been working flat out without a break since 7.30am and by mid-afternoon the chef told me to go and sit down at the bar and get a (soft, we're not made of money) drink and a break for ten minutes. While I was sat there, one of the fancy-car corporate club types walked past and said "Sitting down on the job, eh? All right for some" and laughed and elbowed his friend until he laughed too. It's 3pm on a weekday and you're playing golf, you fucker.)
posted by Catseye at 2:45 AM on November 27 [162 favorites]


All publicly listed companies exist for the same purpose [...]

A corporation created to earn profits strictly from sustainable power generation could be forced to invest in generating electricity by burning coal and oil and kittens if that was more profitable for its shareholders?
posted by pracowity at 2:51 AM on November 27 [1 favorite]


A corporation created to earn profits strictly from sustainable power generation could be forced to invest in generating electricity by burning coal and oil and kittens if that was more profitable for its shareholders?

Depends on the articles of incorporation. If the company exists to invest in renewable power & that’s written into the company articles, then shareholders knew what they were buying when they invested in the company: No individual minority shareholder would be able to force the company to change it’s investment choices on the grounds that investing in coal would give a greater return. A majority of shareholders might be able to do so, but you could structure the company in ways that made that legally complicated.
posted by pharm at 3:14 AM on November 27 [1 favorite]


It may interest you to learn that capitalism is neither a law of nature

There may be some dispute there.
posted by sammyo at 3:29 AM on November 27 [3 favorites]


A corporation created to earn profits strictly from sustainable power generation could be forced to invest in generating electricity by burning coal and oil and kittens if that was more profitable for its shareholders?
No.

Sometime in the 1980s an idiot stated that "A corporation's sole duty is to maximise shareholder value." This ridiculous statement took on an aura of credibility, then unquestioned fact, then became an article of belief for the Morons with Money.

It's completely untrue. The executive of any corporation - private, public, not-for-profit or whatever - can lead the company in any direction they choose, and optimise any measure they want.

The shareholders can elect any board they want, and that board can hire or fire the executive.

A corporation dedicated to social good can happily work towards that goal right up until the point the shareholders decide to do something else.
posted by Combat Wombat at 3:40 AM on November 27 [33 favorites]


This ridiculous statement took on an aura of credibility, then unquestioned fact, then became an article of belief for the Morons with Money.

I have seen it a million times in excuses for why corporations have to be shitty. It always boils down to "If being shitty [to people, to animals, to the environment, etc.] makes more money for shareholders, then the corporation has no choice but to be shitty and you cannot fault the corporate officers for being such shitty people."
posted by pracowity at 4:05 AM on November 27 [7 favorites]


Sometime in the 1980s an idiot stated that "A corporation's sole duty is to maximise shareholder value."

IIRC it was the 70s and the "individual" in question was Milton Friedman. The Chicago school has a lot to answer for...
posted by pharm at 4:10 AM on November 27 [8 favorites]



But it is also a useful record-scratch moment, because it's easy otherwise to classify a lot of the Etsy corporate culture outlined here as "woolly, idealistic, thus probably totally opposed to making any sort of profit" (pets at work! crying in the work place!), and forget just how much of corporate culture has made the same kind of tradeoffs.


Yes! How many thousands of companies with more "traditional" corporate values have failed? And yet we never see articles positing that those failures are due to those values.
posted by sevenyearlurk at 4:11 AM on November 27 [38 favorites]


It won't happen overnight, but capitalism will not survive this century. It's days are numbered.

Citation needed.


It may interest you to learn that capitalism is neither a law of nature nor a commandment of a deity, but rather a structure created by and for human beings. Capitalism exists to serve the people, not the people capitalism, and if you think frantically prostrating yourself before it will somehow save you from its destructive force, you are mistaken.


I have a feeling capitalism may be closer to law of nature than many here might want to admit. It's sort of native mode for human economic activity. You don't have to prostrate yourself to it to accept the fact of its existence. Even under the most repressive regimes intended to eliminate it. Structure created to counteract capitalism needs to be very deliberate, and many have insisted, brutal.
posted by 2N2222 at 4:54 AM on November 27 [12 favorites]


This comes secondhand, but the thing I heard was that this wasn't just "many people"--it was many women in particular who could have scored better jobs because of other corporations pushing to fix their diversity problems.

I interviewed for a (non-tech) job at Etsy about 10 years ago, and about halfway through talking with them, we both realized I was too senior for the position they were hiring for, and it wasn't going to be a match. But it was the only time I ever remember looking back over my shoulder at a job I wouldn't have been compensated enough for, and wondered if maybe I should have compromised. The workplace and ethos just seemed phenomenal. I don't have it in me to settle at work (at least not when it comes to salary or title), but I can totally see how other women - especially anyone who wasn't taught that that's not how business negotiations are supposed to work - might have done.

I'm not sure a job exists where "you're lucky to work here" actually applies, but it's hard not to want to believe in it. I don't think "make the site more profitable" and "cut everything of value about the company" are an automatic correlation. Especially when there are other things that could be fixed (Etsy's search function is terrible, especially when compared with Ebay's - when you have so many sellers selling difficult-to-differentiate items whose key difference is their hard-to-quantify artistry, that makes a huge difference).
posted by Mchelly at 4:55 AM on November 27 [17 favorites]


Describing etsy sellers, who are overwhelming females acting as sole proprietors, as naive and out of their depth in the world of "high finance" is selling both women and members of the 99% class short. Etsy might be compromising its standards in negative ways and I won't begin to defend that, but opening the door for more people to participate in the ipo was a progressive move and should be applauded.

If you applaud what happened as progressive, then you are naive. An investor that bought VOO instead of ETSY at the IPO price on April 16, 2015 would have 23.47% more money now and if they'd had a cash crunch and needed to liquidate stock would not have faced a 60% decline in value in the first year.

What was going to happen was pretty clear and I am correct that reading a prospectus is not something that anything other than a tiny minority of small traders know how to do (and would bet that a substantial portion of the individuals that bought into it didn't do). It's nothing to do with gender, it's that finance is complex and some IPOs are designed to extract money from suckers.

There's reasons why Warren Buffet advises that almost every one should stick to index funds and why those that do almost always do better than individuals that try to pick stocks.

Lending Club and Snapchat did a similar thing with their friends and family allocations when they IPOed if you want similar examples with more even gender distributions.
posted by Candleman at 5:11 AM on November 27 [2 favorites]


I miss April Winchell's Regretsy.
posted by scruss at 5:12 AM on November 27 [21 favorites]


If Regretsy still existed it would be unable to breathe under the weight of mass produced imports being pawned off as hand-crafted items from small artisans. 2 or 3 years running, I've looked through Etsy for some interesting things to buy someone for an anniversary or for Christmas and found loads of stuff that through really cursory checking was available in lots by the thousand on Alibaba.

I kinda assume at this point that Etsy is like 90% commercial resellers of factory-produced kitsch.
posted by tocts at 5:39 AM on November 27 [21 favorites]


I flagged Catseye's comment as excellent - regardless of what one thinks about Etsy, there is a distinct double standard with regard to anything coded "female" (yoga, organic food, crying at work, etc.) which is dismissed with a "LOL woo snowflake bullshit" and things coded male (golf, steak dinners, yelling at work, etc.) which is "just doing business." I hate it, and think it's toxic and misogynist, and wish it would stop.

The fact that so many women were willing to take a pay cut to work for Etsy, and Mchelly's comment about interviewing there, drives home to me that the reason we don't have many women in certain professions and sectors isn't children, or an innate female drive to do good and nurture, but that so many workplaces are unwelcoming to downright hostile to women. More Etsy-type workplaces would mean more equal gender representation in tech. At least it would be a start.

I have friends who sell on Etsy, and I love shopping there and finding handcrafted items that I used to have to go to crafts fairs to get and hope they had what I wanted. What went wrong there I think is a failure in execution, not ideas.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 5:48 AM on November 27 [60 favorites]


Sometime in the 1980s an idiot stated that "A corporation's sole duty is to maximise shareholder value."
IIRC it was the 70s and the "individual" in question was Milton Friedman. The Chicago school has a lot to answer for...


Caselaw and the Order of St. Precedent whose motto is “Look Backwards,” and whose watchword is “That Which Has Not Been, Cannot Be.” are to be blamed.

Go back to 1919 Dodge Bros. (10% owners) VS Ford Motor Company.
posted by rough ashlar at 5:56 AM on November 27 [2 favorites]


I kinda assume at this point that Etsy is like 90% commercial resellers of factory-produced kitsch.

I've only bought a few items from Etsy, but I have really noticed the change in the last couple of years. To find the one interesting/unique item, you have to wade through pages and pages of things that are obviously not just factory made, but cheap or shoddy factory made.

I assume that they are going to have (if it hasn't already started) a lot of attrition from the change in culture, and I wonder what their plan is for that.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:57 AM on November 27 [1 favorite]


Isn't this the predicable outcome of going public? Certainly the founders must have expected this, right?

Yeah, the basic lesson here is, if you don't want to be corporate... don't be corporate.

The moment you go public, you can no longer be an organization devoted to meeting some need and making money for it. You are now, and forever will be an organization devoted to making money by meeting some need. In my own (admittedly already a LOT less touchy feely) field, I've worked for more than one employee-owned company that's sold itself to outside VC guys. It always ends badly.
posted by Naberius at 6:02 AM on November 27 [10 favorites]


The emphasis on go-it-alone craftsmanship meant Etsy managed its own data centers, instead of using more efficient options like Amazon Web Services or Google Cloud. With everyone empowered to express themselves, there was a lot of sharing going on. Inboxes were stuffed with unnecessary emails, which dragged on productivity.

Yeah, this article might be entirely accurate, but it definitely feels like it's written with a specific, and possibly unconscious, ideological slant. I once worked at a major corporation that is possibly the antithesis of individualistic and touchy-feely, but reading the excerpt above brought back memories: at that company it also felt like there was a deep commitment to both drowning everyone in pointless, verbose, and endless emails and creating every tool from scratch in-house. Were Etsy's problems really due to a lack of individual productivity (and was that in turn because of people feeling free to cry)? The article doesn't make that case, it just sort of hand-waves towards it.
posted by trig at 6:04 AM on November 27 [7 favorites]


What went wrong there I think is a failure in execution, not ideas.

So much execution failure. I have been a seller on Etsy since the beginning and it has only been in the past couple years that my shop supports itself on digital downloads. I used to be a web developer and worked on many an e-commerce website back in the day and there were so many teeth gnashing moments when I knew the site could be better. Old timers might remember that Etsy's treasuries were very exclusive and you had to constantly refresh to create one. Mind you, this was before "promoting" your Etsy shop was "spamming friends" :-D The wonky search...argh! Etsy's website has always been a few years behind other e-commerce websites and it's only now that sellers have real time stats and a dashboard that provides everything in a coherent place. Yet the other handmade sites that have popped up still don't have all the traction that Etsy has.

Describing etsy sellers, who are overwhelming females acting as sole proprietors, as naive and out of their depth in the world of "high finance" is selling both women and members of the 99% class short.

I don't know, there was some truth in the original statement. I haunt a lot of Etsy FB groups and the same questions get asked over and over again and the majority of askers have female names. Questions around collecting taxes, marketing, business licencing, etc, abound. A little business training would go a long way for a lot of sellers, yet Etsy doesn't really provide it. Helpful articles are always short and cute and don't highlight the persistence or entrepreneurship required to have a successful Etsy shop. In the end, it's mostly sellers supporting sellers with actual help and advice. I always think of Etsy as a sort of weird MLM where you provide the product and they provide the platform, along with heavy emphasis on quitting your day job. That's what Etsy is really selling :-D
posted by Calzephyr at 6:10 AM on November 27 [3 favorites]


Blah blah "The emphasis on go-it-alone craftsmanship meant Etsy managed its own data centers, instead of using more efficient options like Amazon Web Services or Google Cloud."

Huh? Go it alone? At Etsy about 150 engineers deploy a single monolithic application more than 60 times a day.

How, exactly, is paying another company to be profitable "more efficient" in the capitalist model? Because having 150ish developers sure doesn't SOUND like 'go it alone'.

Add in security watching the packets going in and out of your datacenter AND to the datacenter of someone else. Now you've added the cost of getting those packets to the security people VS having the packet cost to your datacenter and security gets 'em as part of the operation.
posted by rough ashlar at 6:13 AM on November 27 [1 favorite]


Now that's a smuggled value judgment. Perhaps the employees chose these jobs over some other because of the working culture?

Perhaps they did. Perhaps that's also not a very realistic expectation to have of any job other than one you have the luxury of creating for yourself.


This is literally true. When I got off the treadmill of a pension plan and paidup healthcare (a university director level position) I knew I was going on a harder, longer, hungrier path of creating a future job for myself. I've made mistakes and there's stuff that shouldn't have had to take 10 years to happen and I got derailed into making egregiously bad decisions a couple of times.

However, I one thing I learnt rather rapidly in the very first year was that if I were to center the value system of my work around my own values and beliefs, it would make finding paid work that much harder since I'd be saying No to work as often as I'd be said No to.

Meaning I wasn't going to do a project for the sake of the money alone. Who it was, where the money came from, what their stated and hidden agendas were, what they wanted to do and why, all of these had to make sense + there had to be chemistry and respect. I was 40 when I got on this path and wasn't in any mood to deal with gender race bullshit either - "think of your health insurance" - as my last fulltime employer told me.

Looking back 12 years, I have now learnt that there are bumper harvests and lean times, a rhythm very different to a regular paycheck, or simply taking any and all paid work that comes your way.

The point is that its a trade-off you make consciously, and not a one time decision. And yes, its a luxury because you have live frugally in fat times in order to get through the unpredictable and irregular lean ones. Else you'll find yourself jumping to sell out. As has seemed to have happened here.

Do I think Etsy could have continued their own way? As many have said above, not if they took VC money. Name a single successful values based community oriented internet platform that's not internally funded.
posted by infini at 6:16 AM on November 27 [4 favorites]


Public investors were willing to let Amazon lose money for years and years and years and years because they had faith that an aggressive growth strategy would surely pay off eventually. They had faith in aggressiveness.

They wrote off a non-aggressive company, Etsy, almost immediately. They had no interest in giving it a try to see if a socially responsible approach might work out eventually.

Visibly aggressive? You get 20 years to prove that you're a viable, profitable business. Socially responsible? You better get a sense of urgency now, because if the next quarters' results don't look good...

See also: Uber.
posted by clawsoon at 6:17 AM on November 27 [36 favorites]


Visibly aggressive? You get 20 years to prove that you're a viable, profitable business. Socially responsible? You better get a sense of urgency now, because if the next quarters' results don't look good...

Almost as though corporations were stereotypically gendered... ::pondering face emoji::
posted by infini at 6:40 AM on November 27 [11 favorites]


I have a feeling capitalism may be closer to law of nature than many here might want to admit.

When you can produce a survey, let me know. Feels are not substantial and "closer" to a "law of nature" is absurd to assert as is any metaphor where failing to articulate the history, development, factions, instances (on and on) of a topic... that in this case happens to be enterprise. MF's value is grounded in its membership that often speak from direct experience to share and seek information and support all as we stumble through the dark.

And snark...we value snark. Have some snark, get some snark.
posted by lazycomputerkids at 6:43 AM on November 27 [3 favorites]


I'm not sure a job exists where "you're lucky to work here" actually applies, but it's hard not to want to believe in it.

I'm pretty sure a lot of business owners, both big and small, have that exact attitude toward their employees and completely believe it.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:43 AM on November 27 [3 favorites]




I kinda assume at this point that Etsy is like 90% commercial resellers of factory-produced kitsch.

Hi. I'm a female sole-owner of a (small) Etsy shop. My shop has been open since 2012 and while I'll never be in the "quit your day job" category, my shop does all the volume I can handle.

First, let me tell you that the vast majority of Etsy sellers are still just like me. Small scale crafters who will never do the volume of business to make it a full time gig, but who pull in an extra two or three thousand a year making stuff and selling it.

That being said, the thing the article touches on ("A move to display all-inclusive pricing, instead of the cost of the good and shipping separately, hurt sales and upset sellers. And a new way of displaying search filters didn’t move the needle.") but doesn't really address is how, over the past year, Etsy has really pissed off the seller base.

They continue to make changes, particularly with search, that are completely opaque to the seller base, and its a constant fight to change the text and tags of your listings to stay current in the search. Basically, if your product doesn't appear in the first three pages of a search term, nobody will ever see it. The very reliable formula sellers had used for years to make their listings search friendly changed just under a year ago, but they didn't tell us how it changed, so many sellers saw their sales drop from hundreds a week to almost zero overnight, simply because of the changes to search.

Being successful on Etsy is hard to begin with -- you have to have a lot of skills beyond crafting, including being able to get good photos of your products and having at least a basic understanding of how things like tags work -- but the constant changes have made it harder and more frustrating.

My sales have declined in the past year, and I know many formerly very successful sellers who are moving off the platform simply because they were spending more time fiddling with listings than actually making products.

So, yeah, mass produced items are part of the problem, but not the whole problem. The biggest problem is that the platform is increasingly unfriendly to entry level sellers. Plus, a number of basic tools we really need on the back end still aren't available.

... and yet. New sellers continue to come to Etsy every day, because there just isn't anything else like it.

So, check the box limiting your search to the US (or US and Canada, or your home country), and please continue to shop Etsy. Mass produced sellers are a minority, and with a little bit of filtering you can still find some amazing things made by people pretty local to you.
posted by anastasiav at 7:09 AM on November 27 [41 favorites]


One of the things I find most interesting about the dominant conceptual model of capitalism is the need to win absolutely. Number 1 or quit is such a strange model for investing and business. Yet you hear it relentlessly in the investing and business media. It is almost as if they are trying force the economy into power law distributions even when they needn't be. Kind of like the way lotteries will pay out $400 million dollars and then the next prize is $1 million and then after that is $1000, $50, $5 and then $2.

Yet when you look at small business they often don't buy into this ruthlessness. Small breweries will have guest taps for other breweries and do collaborative brewing. Restaurants often pair up or group together for special dinners or events. Some places have living wages and paid sick leave policies.

It feels so much like high school where the ultra-competitive jocks are at the top of self-created pecking order garnering absurd levels of resources from the school environment and the people at the lower levels get along by just ignoring them, cooperating with each other and making do.

I really feel like a lot of companies have turned into abstract speculative financial instruments completely divorced from the real world. That auto manufactures are less profitable than Facebook is absurd. Businesses that build actual real world things have less value than a virtual card catalog? absurd. University professors getting paid less than web developers? Absurd.

I don't think a reasonable person can look at the current market and think it is anything other than insane.
posted by srboisvert at 7:11 AM on November 27 [25 favorites]


How, exactly, is paying another company to be profitable "more efficient" in the capitalist model?

I'm confused by this question. It's been entirely normal for companies to pay other companies to do stuff that isn't within the realm of things those companies want to do themselves. Server maintenance is a huge one. The "go it alone" they're talking about is Etsy tackling these problems themselves instead of paying for cloud services, not about the number of engineers involved in development at Etsy. I'm not super keen on capitalism, but it's not just capitalism that says it makes more sense for me to get my clothes from someone who knows how to do clothes well rather than to learn to weave and sew myself. Etsy's continuous integration strategy as described in your link there has nothing to do with whether it's financially sensible for them to maintain their own server infrastructure or not.
posted by Sequence at 7:12 AM on November 27 [7 favorites]


How, exactly, is paying another company to be profitable "more efficient" in the capitalist model? Because having 150ish developers sure doesn't SOUND like 'go it alone'.

The fad for cloud computing hasn't abated quite yet, and even tho a lot more places are switching to "hybrid clouds" and "private clouds" as the long term economics aren't shaking out, Etsy is completely backward looking rather than forward looking by having a competitor like Amazon run their entire server infrastructure for a ton of money.
posted by Slap*Happy at 7:32 AM on November 27 [3 favorites]


Server maintenance is a huge one. The "go it alone" they're talking about is Etsy tackling these problems themselves instead of paying for cloud services,

"cloud services" typically don't get you the software patches applied. And applied patches can break your environment if it is complex enough that you have 100+ engineers on it.

At the point where there are 100+ engineers on the stack of software (and hardware) - the idea that "the cloud" is going to somehow solve problems associated with patching servers when you already have the tech talent to do 60+ cycles of test and deploy a day and manage 100+ engineers on your technology stack does not make sense. Due to the nature of the internet backbone you are kinda stuck at meetpoint colos for the cross connects. (The old Aldelphia buildings have great bandwidth - but only 1 provider....spectrum. That sorrta sucks as a colo.)

Do articles like this one sound like somehow "the cloud" is going to improve things? How about one from 2017? The firm has had a bunch of turnover as of late - but somehow "cloud" is gonna stop poaching of DevOps staff to salesforce?

But by all means, buzzword bingo "to the cloud!". It is great MBA speak. The next management consulting gig will think you are wise. And while doing that - keep making out the checks to keep other firms profitable.
posted by rough ashlar at 7:41 AM on November 27 [6 favorites]


I'm sad about this. Etsy did a few things right that almost no companies did, that aren't even mentioned in this article. They funded grants to get women into technology by paying for their tuition to Hacker School (now Recurse center). They hired excellent people - I hung out with the CTO once, and he was overjoyed I had a belt from Etsy, and has gone on to work at more great companies. Etsy was well-known as a less misogynistic workplace, somewhere I'd recommend my friends apply to.

By the numbers, their IPO was bad. Their finances look bad. To the general public, most startup finances should look bad: because they're a product of a particular funding + growth mentality that doesn't leave the tech industry. I agree with 37signals that this is an endemic problem around startup funding, but the 37signals "just don't take funding" strategy is unpopular for a reason.

Anyway, seeing and being in this scene: we desperately need good examples. You can find toxic companies everywhere, but companies that are even trying to be good are rare. And people follow examples and make generalizations vigorously: I really hope this press - and this outcome - doesn't convince more founders that decency is something they can do without.
posted by tmcw at 7:42 AM on November 27 [13 favorites]


I really feel like a lot of companies have turned into abstract speculative financial instruments completely divorced from the real world. That auto manufactures are less profitable than Facebook is absurd. Businesses that build actual real world things have less value than a virtual card catalog? absurd. University professors getting paid less than web developers? Absurd.

I don't think a reasonable person can look at the current market and think it is anything other than insane.


Capitalism is like gravity, don't you know? Sucking every spark of light into the black hole.
posted by infini at 7:50 AM on November 27 [1 favorite]


fraula: "What's being lost is the middle: management"

Yes that's how it usually goes when layoffs begin
posted by caution live frogs at 7:52 AM on November 27


All publicly listed companies exist for the same purpose: to return as much money as possible to their shareholders

Just want to add that this is not necessarily true in the non-Anglo world. In a number of European countries, for example, companies do have an obligation to the shareholders, but also to the employees, and to a lesser extent even to suppliers and customers. It's well worth keeping in mind that "capitalism" comes in many forms and shapes. It's just that the Anglo version really capitalizes on miserliness.
posted by dmh at 8:11 AM on November 27 [13 favorites]


"private clouds" as the long term economics aren't shaking out

Having in-house talent who understand the 'full stack' your software runs on is a good plan. The ability to shift resources outside your datacenter in reaction to demand or disaster is also a good plan. If one wants to call that private clouds....sure...why not.

The press release "Etsy's CTO to Boost Machine Learning" - that strikes me as more buzzword bingo and if it is to place items in front of shoppers like the machine learning Facebook does to give you what posts of your friends for you to look at - it is no wonder the complaints about keyword management by the sellers on the platform are a thing.
posted by rough ashlar at 8:12 AM on November 27


I am interested in the seller back-end comments, in part because earlier this year my roommate started up her own Etsy shop based on her side-hobby of painting Vulcan calligraphy (among other conlangs) on fabric. Niche is a bit of an understatement, but people kept saying they were interested, and I figured she ought to set out a hat and offer some commissions for people who wanted that particular skillset. And Etsy seemed like the place to put that.

Anyway, I was helping her set up the store and work out her business model when she got started, and I was really startled at how poorly designed the system was in particular for digital commissions and commissioned art in general: you'd think that this would be something the system would know how to handle, particularly given that it's not uncommon for people to have commissions open for digital-only pieces in art more generally.

I will say I'm really pleased at the note to restrict my searches by people on my continent--that should have occurred to me before, because I frequently browse Etsy and wind up utterly delighted by the beautiful and hilarious things I find and would love to own--a thylacine-themed set of dog pajamas! a pair of earrings etched with trilobites! a decorative glass plate modeling a gorgeous larval fish! a necklace sporting a phylogenetic tree! swearwolves for life! How can you not love a place where you can find things like that?

So the increasing filler of all the alibaba mass-produced things really bugged me (as did the 'vintage' stuff which is often just old and not something I would be interested in), since it made it harder to find things when I was scrolling through the same octopus pendant presented eighty bajillion times. It helps to be looking for niche things, but niche doesn't always mean you escape the resellers, either. The idea of filtering to my own continent does mean I'd miss some of the really gorgeous stuff I've seen and loved, but it also means I would have a better shot finding more of the artist-made pieces I really go to Etsy looking for.
posted by sciatrix at 9:00 AM on November 27 [6 favorites]


I have a feeling capitalism may be closer to law of nature than many here might want to admit. It's sort of native mode for human economic activity.

This is a troll, right? It cannot possibly be that you are unaware that human history goes back (being generous) more than about five hundred years. No one feeling sufficiently confident to pronounce about "native modes for human economic activity" could be that catastrophically ignorant.

Serves? As I say, quite the idyll. How Etsy struggles to preserve its priorities and negotiate fiat currency and a stock exchange listing to secure means to expand is all the expression required to dispel so quaint an algebra. Lots of very meaningful questions in this thread can be seduced by framings that aren't required.

I've been a securities lawyer; I have a fairly good grasp of how all these dynamics play out. (For one, I don't find "negotiating fiat currency" some kind of incredible corporate challenge, inasmuch as most of us do it several times a day.) But, precisely because I see how much corruption and stupidity goes into the system, I am not so naive or weak-minded as to surrender my values to it. That you consider it a quaint idyll that the economic system people live under should be for their benefit is genuinely sad. Especially since you don't seem to understand that you're a person, too, and have your own interest in leading a decently-comfortable life. But licking capitalism's boots really won't prevent it from kicking you in the face if and when convenient.

I don't think attempts at hybridizing or softening the present structure with things like B-Corps really stand much of a chance, but that's a critique of the present structure, not of people trying to do things in a less destructive manner (or trying to sound like they're doing...).
posted by praemunire at 9:49 AM on November 27 [16 favorites]


I interviewed for a job in the communications department at Etsy in 2015, shortly after they went public. When it was my turn to ask questions, I asked the woman who would have been my manager - the head of the communications department -

"In my experience, publicly traded companies eventually have to make a choice between serving their shareholders/stock price or their customers. It's not something I like, but it seems to be a reality of doing business in America. When this happens at Etsy, will the communications team be at the table to be a part of the decision, or will it be made without our input and we'll be expected to message this after the fact?"

We had spent some time talking about my experience in corporate communications at a Fortune 150 company, and this was well within context.

Her face took on a look I can best describe as irritated shock, and she told me "We would NEVER make a decision that goes against our customer or user base, that's not even possible here."

In hindsight, that's when I knew I wasn't going to be invited to work at Etsy.
posted by chinese_fashion at 9:52 AM on November 27 [14 favorites]


Reading through this, it seems like Etsy was far too eager to grow at all costs, and lost focus on its core business (which sure seems like it has the right ingredients to be sustainable and profitable).

The lavish perks and commitment to social responsibility really seem like they're being scapegoated here, when the real story is much more boring. Etsy didn't have a realistic business plan. It spent more money than it was making. They had no plan to correct that imbalance. Then they went public.

It's not that different from the reasons that any business fails. Etsy is in a difficult industry with small margins, and they were spending way too much.

Before the IPO, there was probably a path forward for Etsy to retain its virtues while also becoming profitable. Etsy could exist in its niche as a profitable (albeit small) business that treated its employees exceptionally well. However, I'm highly skeptical that any version of this path involves 1,000 employees and multiple simultaneous high-risk expansions into entirely new lines of business.

I don't understand why the perks and culture get all the blame when the company was employing 4-5x as many people as it needed to. (Incidentally, the perks and culture sound pretty great, but also seem like they're completely at odds with the hyper-aggressive expansion strategy that the company pursued)

* Also, don't get me started about the number of misogynistic dog whistles in this story. The (probably well-justified) decision to host their own datacenters is hinted at being "emotional," which is a grossly-unfair dig at the company's workers. If you're as big as Etsy, AWS ain't cheap.
posted by schmod at 10:34 AM on November 27 [18 favorites]


To be fair to laws of nature, they're often more complex than capitalists make them out to be, too.
posted by clawsoon at 10:39 AM on November 27 [3 favorites]


I don't understand why the perks and culture get all the blame when the company was employing 4-5x as many people as it needed to.

Come now, we all know that unbridled expansionism to push up short-term stock prices is an unqualified good, and cannot be blamed for any failings a business may encounter. A company surviving well within its niche is simply a sign of a company that has not been properly expanded into as many lines of business as possible to speculatively pump up the st ... err ... serve the shareholders.
posted by tocts at 10:48 AM on November 27


That auto manufactures are less profitable than Facebook is absurd. Businesses that build actual real world things have less value than a virtual card catalog? absurd. University professors getting paid less than web developers? Absurd.

I wouldn't say it's absurd, or at least that's why capitalism is absurd. Commodification, organizational structure, economies of scale, international trade/competition, and a bunch of other factors all have different push/pull effects depending on the industry. 400 years ago, one of the most profitable companies on earth made it's money transporting black pepper. Now, I can get packets of the stuff at any diner for free.
posted by FJT at 10:51 AM on November 27 [2 favorites]


The natural state of humans is that everyone takes care of all of their needs themselves. Catch, grow, and make your own food, clothing, shelter, etc. etc. Everyone is an island.

At some point we figured out that some people are better at things than others and maybe if I do the things that I'm good at and you do the things you're good at and we share a little bit less work has to be done for the same result. We started to specialize and organize. That's more or less what civilization is.

But now we have new problems. We need ways of figuring out who should specialize in what and how the products of their work should be distributed. It's off-shoot of civilization and if civilization were a "natural" state, other creatures than humans would have developed one.

There is no "natural order" when talking about economics. The natural order is that you live a short, hard, lonely life as a wild animal and then you die a painful death.
posted by VTX at 10:55 AM on November 27 [1 favorite]


srboisvert: "Businesses that build actual real world things have less value than a virtual card catalog? absurd."

Businesses in established industries with credible competition tend to have very small margins. (Arguably one capitalism's better consequences in the long-run)

Etsy easily falls into this category (albeit as fairly unique entrant in the category).

Ford and GM also fall in this category. Tesla is also painfully realizing that it's this same category.

Facebook does not.
posted by schmod at 10:57 AM on November 27 [2 favorites]


VTX: The natural state of humans is that everyone takes care of all of their needs themselves. Catch, grow, and make your own food, clothing, shelter, etc. etc. Everyone is an island.

Wut? We're social animals, and we evolved from social animals. We've been gathering and hunting together, and picking bugs out of each other's fur, for millions of years, for longer than we've existed as a species. The natural state of humans is definitely not radical libertarian independence.
posted by clawsoon at 11:03 AM on November 27 [14 favorites]


f you're as big as Etsy, AWS ain't cheap.

If you take the actual cost of a data center (probably at least two for failover) equipment that amortizes in a bad way, bandwidth costs and employee costs, if it's done right AWS could be quite a bargain. Converting systems is really hard and knowing how to optimize the resources of Google's or AWS's "cloud" systems is non-trivial. Seems to be working well for a lot of online companies.
posted by sammyo at 11:05 AM on November 27 [1 favorite]


What other than capitalism is a natural system (that's not inherently abusive and evil)?

It's math, take that the human animal scurrying around finally has excess resources (grain, chickens) what does he do? Trade for something. It soon becomes complicated but the supply and demand equation or the more detailed Nash equilibrium theory are not just science but Math. Unforgiving and very complex in practice it's not socialism or central planning that falls out over time.

Capitalism certainly needs regulation, but the math will happen.
posted by sammyo at 11:14 AM on November 27 [1 favorite]


the math will happen.

Mathematics can describe an infinite number of systems, depending on which assumptions are chosen. Figuring out which mathematical system applies is what science is about. In my experience, when someone says that "the math makes X inevitable in a biological system", they don't realize how many untested assumptions underlie the mathematical conclusions they've come to. (People who've read Richard Dawkins and none of the other literature on cooperation and human evolution are especially bad for this, in my experience.)
posted by clawsoon at 11:29 AM on November 27 [8 favorites]


That you consider it a quaint idyll that the economic system people live under should be for their benefit is genuinely sad. Especially since you don't seem to understand that you're a person, too, and have your own interest in leading a decently-comfortable life. But licking capitalism's boots really won't prevent it from kicking you in the face if and when convenient.

The difference between our posts is I address meanings and you assert implications. You assert what I don't personally "understand" and are prone (on this topic only I've noticed) to derogation with flourishes of rhetorical device-- metaphors and images like "licking boots" and "kicking you in the face"-- instead of substantiation. It's performative and beneath numerous posts of yours I read with delight. It does inform me what you feel so strongly about that you're reduced to contrivances and despite this disagreement is important to know.

I'll contend all day long the differences of live "under" versus "by" and maybe that's not significant to you and I'll have failed to communicate why it is to me. Okay. The live long day I'll contend an example of a thing is not evidence of its prevalence. That Capitalism does not benefit a substantial proportion of a whole is your conclusion and not my own. Okay.
posted by lazycomputerkids at 11:35 AM on November 27 [1 favorite]


Wut? We're social animals, and we evolved from social animals.

Well sure, but where you draw the line on the continuum between "pre-civilization" and "civilization" is arbitrary and it didn't happen to all peoples in all places at the same time. I've just chosen some really extreme criteria for where to draw that line.

I mean, by my definition all social animals have at least a rudimentary civilization which is kind of absurd but isn't totally wrong. Wasn't there an experiment where chimps started using currency?

The point is that economics is a feature of civilization and civilization itself is an unnatural state of affairs. There is no natural economic order as economics is unnatural. And that's fine because the natural order or things is a shitty way to live. Human's ability to change the natural order to suit our desires is one of the defining features of humanity. I give exactly zero fucks about what's "natural".
posted by VTX at 11:35 AM on November 27 [2 favorites]


Converting systems is really hard and knowing how to optimize the resources of Google's or AWS's "cloud" systems is non-trivial. Seems to be working well for a lot of online companies.

It follows then, that converting away is also hard and that's the lock-in part of vendor lock-in. Not to mention that when you give someone else your data, someone else has your data. Also, Amazon is a competitor to Etsy.

There are times where outsourcing makes sense. There are times when it does not. I've spent 22 years doing IT shit and I can confidently say that I do not know if Etsy should have outsourced or not. The Fine Article certainly doesn't make the case.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 11:37 AM on November 27 [8 favorites]


he math makes X inevitable in a biological system", they don't realize how many untested assumptions underlie

Absofooknlutely, math is often poorly used prescriptively, but find an example where the descriptiveness of supply and demand fails to hold without highly restrictive forces. Look at the price of blue jeans in the very restrictive soviet union in the 70's. Many examples to the point where it's more a "law" (like gravity) than "theory".

Capitalism SHOULD be restricted to protect the folks in need of protection but like water and gravity it's math.
posted by sammyo at 11:40 AM on November 27


My decision to execute sixty percent of the global population was also simple math, and this is why nobody will be able to stop me. At least, not without being vile, hateful anti-math hypocrites.
posted by aramaic at 11:43 AM on November 27 [1 favorite]


VTX: I give exactly zero fucks about what's "natural".

And yet you used a made-up "natural" state of affairs as a justification for your viewpoint. :-)
posted by clawsoon at 11:43 AM on November 27 [1 favorite]


It's math, take that the human animal scurrying around finally has excess resources (grain, chickens) what does he do? Trade for something

This is absolutely not what he does.
posted by Space Coyote at 11:44 AM on November 27 [8 favorites]


This is absolutely not what he does.

Well the article is about some form of currency token over (prior to) direct barter so I think it supports the supply&demand idea really well.

My decision to execute sixty

Yes, an example of "prescriptive" use of math, not good.
posted by sammyo at 11:50 AM on November 27


This is absolutely not what he does.

Amen.

The argument about what's "natural" is an important one. There's an effort to cast a stripped-down pure-exchange society as "natural", because it means that's all you need to create a functioning society and economy. But that's *not* all you need, and the societies which have succeeded best at stripping away everything else that's complicated and rich from human economies have been brutal and horrid. They're not the only horrid societies, but they're among them. Human economies do not live on currency-mediated exchanges alone. Free market exchanges are part of the mix, but they are only one part.

What we see in the case of Etsy is that management which did not view the world in a brutal, stripped-down way was not given the chance to succeed - even though it well might've - while management which does view the world that way is given the expectation of success. This is a problem.
posted by clawsoon at 11:57 AM on November 27 [8 favorites]


He identified 30 projects that had the best chance of boosting sales on the site.

See season two of "Silicon Valley". Money vultures (venture) saw a way to take something that may or may not have been working "ok" or just good enough and use it to leverage (gamble with the little peoples money) to make a huge profit. By their definition (and the Chicago school of economists):

Well, I’m sorry about that. Going public was the best thing that ever happened to this company.”
posted by sammyo at 11:59 AM on November 27


To chime in with Space Coyote: that's not even what the non-human animal necessarily does; an animal may cache resources or consume them as quickly as possible when faced with a surplus, but the gift economy style of resource sharing is visible in many social species ranging from vampire bats, many primate species, and even symbiotic mutualisms between species. You don't keep giving gifts if you aren't rewarded by gifts in the future, but you don't necessarily demand anything at the time of transaction.

You misunderstand a gift economy when you frame it in terms of supply and demand: it is less "creating resources based on how much people want them" and more "trading current need against future need." Gift economies trade in a currency of social networks and social capital, not hard capital; to be wealthy is to be well-connected and to take care of many other people's needs and debts. To be wealthy is to give things away to many people, so that when you need something people line up to give it to you.

I can say this as an active participant in a modern gift economy; media fandom works this way, and it is a different system from the capitalistic system you're so hungrily yearning for. The wealthy and well respected are the people who give away time and attention to many people, who pay them back in time and attention too. And these people create demand for their time and attention by becoming central to the social networks they build and inhabit.
posted by sciatrix at 12:06 PM on November 27 [12 favorites]


the case of Etsy is that management which did not view the world in a brutal, stripped-down way was not given the chance to succeed - even though it well might've

How is this done?

Subsidies? A King or Prince that sees art or craft markets as a wonderful hobby? Legislation? Those and more will work, to a point and that's when there is a crack in the system that someone sees how to exploit. How is the good stuff run at a low profit long term? Not years or a generation or two but centuries?

One idea for some things was on the early internet was the idea of micro-transactions. Allow folks to by digital stuff at a low enough cost (1/1000th of a penny) that paying would not be a burden and the vast span of the web would add up to a reasonable income for many. Some still are trying but probably not in the most altruistic way. sigh cybercurrency sigh.
posted by sammyo at 12:07 PM on November 27


I have a feeling capitalism may be closer to law of nature than many here might want to admit.

Well, sure, gravity is a law of nature which we regulate through the judicious use of things like tables and chairs. Free-market fetishists (like the ones that often seem to pop up in these threads) seem to believe that capitalism is a law of nature that is unique among all others in the sense that it cannot and should not be mitigated through technology.

Which is horse hockey, obviously. The human relations that give rise to capitalism may indeed be underpinned by laws of nature, but capitalism itself -- as a system -- is technology. We invented it, and we can do whatever the fuck we want with it.

You're perfectly welcome to sit on the floor and entertain your "feelings", 2N2222, but I think most other people would prefer to live a more sophisticated and equitable life.
posted by klanawa at 12:08 PM on November 27 [2 favorites]


As a note, the problem with trying to be a company that prioritizes ethics over profits is not going public itself but accepting large amounts of venture capital from investors that are not aligned with those values.

At that point you've ceded control of your company to outsiders that are interested in driving it to a profitable IPO or be acquired by a larger company. To borrow from Burroughs, watch whose money you pick up.
posted by Candleman at 12:09 PM on November 27 [4 favorites]


To add to all of this: gift economies are, within Western contexts, almost exclusively associated with communities of women. Even Space Coyote's linked article itself frames a gift economy's transactions as being conducted through women in opposition to the example of the monetary economy presented, in which the transactions necessary for a family's health and happiness are conducted through men.

If you haven't participated in systems like this (and if you're male, I'm betting you haven't), either do some research or be quiet rather than assuming that you can pontificate about how an economy like this works without having done the necessary reading.
posted by sciatrix at 12:10 PM on November 27 [9 favorites]


I have participated in gift economy very slightly and it's great on so many levels. But it's a very small portion of the world, a quite wonderful portion but just imagine how wrong it goes when certain folks get access/control.
posted by sammyo at 12:15 PM on November 27


And yet you used a made-up "natural" state of affairs as a justification for your viewpoint. :-)

You're misreading what I wrote then.

My point is that capitalism isn't the "natural" economic system as economics is not a part of the natural order. Then I go on to assert that whether or not something is part of the natural order is irrelevant.

Either capitalism is somehow the "natural" state of economics or it isn't. If it is, humans don't' seem to have a problem blowing holes through the natural order when it suits them and the claim that it's the natural order is therefore irrelevant. If it isn't, then we can just move on.
posted by VTX at 12:23 PM on November 27


I'm not saying that gift economies are inherently good or bad. I am saying that your insistence that capitalism is inherently the most natural system of economy is dubious at best. I say this because the evidence from both cross-cultural anthropological studies of actual human systems that don't use money and from non-human social animals suggests that gift economies are extremely common and seem to be fairly functional systems, at least at close range.

I am also saying that your comments betray a consistent and high-volume failure to understand what people are saying when they say that capitalism is not the only functional system by which people agree that they are fairly allocating resources within a community.
posted by sciatrix at 12:24 PM on November 27 [8 favorites]


I have a feeling capitalism may be closer to law of nature than many here might want to admit. It's sort of native mode for human economic activity. You don't have to prostrate yourself to it to accept the fact of its existence.

“We live in capitalism, its power seems inescapable – but then, so did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings.” - Ursula K. Le Guin, speech
posted by Celsius1414 at 12:31 PM on November 27 [10 favorites]


I think the definition of capitalism is being extended to include exchange and market economies here which is not correct, capitalism is when an economy becomes structured to permit the extraction of wealth from labour, and the hoarding of that wealth. So gift economies exist as a more 'natural' (I'd rather say common than natural, natural isn't a very useful word in this context), but even where bartering and strict exchange happens, that isn't capitalism either. A whole lot of structures have to be allowed to be built up before actual capitalism happens.
posted by Space Coyote at 12:38 PM on November 27 [9 favorites]


So how about that Etsy company, eh?
posted by sciatrix at 12:40 PM on November 27 [4 favorites]


I have an artisanal hand-made economy for sale on Etsy right now, as it happens!
posted by clawsoon at 12:43 PM on November 27 [12 favorites]


Visibly aggressive? You get 20 years to prove that you're a viable, profitable business. Socially responsible? You better get a sense of urgency now, because if the next quarters' results don't look good...

Almost as though corporations were stereotypically gendered... ::pondering face emoji::


Or we skip assigning gender and just point of centuries and centuries and centuries of Darwinistic evolution. The strong, fast, and hungry survive.
posted by Samizdata at 1:07 PM on November 27


Hi, were you listening when I pointed out that thing about gift economies in the animal kingdom, and what being a high-status, wealthy individual in a gift-economy-style network looks like?

The strong, fast, and hungry may survive in your particular selection milieu. They may also die, replaced by the small, well-connected, and social, or the large, slow, and armored, or the fat, foul-smelling and metabolically efficient. It depends what niche your particular line is trying to inhabit, and what niches can be created in the context you find yourself in.

Shut the fuck up about Darwinistic evolution if you aren't willing to talk about your selection criteria.
posted by sciatrix at 1:12 PM on November 27 [26 favorites]


Samizdata: Or we skip assigning gender and just point of centuries and centuries and centuries of Darwinistic evolution. The strong, fast, and hungry survive.

And yet the world is full of weak, slow cooperators who are nonetheless successful from a Darwinian point of view. Somehow "beta" men and women - according to the tooth-and-claw definition popular among the dog-eats-dog crowd - keep on filling the world up with their babies. Cooperation and kindness don't always win, but they win a lot.

(That's a slight on dogs. They're also remarkably good cooperators.)

On preview, what sciatrix said.
posted by clawsoon at 1:20 PM on November 27 [9 favorites]


Wasn't there an experiment where chimps started using currency?


You might be thinking of something along the lines of the capuchin monkey cucumber/grape experiments, which showed that taking umbrage at scarcity and unequal distribution of resources is something which is probably pretty deeply-rooted in humans' evolution.
posted by ChuraChura at 1:22 PM on November 27 [4 favorites]


I have a feeling capitalism may be closer to law of nature than many here might want to admit.

I'm happy to admit it as a law of nature: capitalism is a recursively turbocharged and almost self aware form of the Second law of thermodynamics, and has caused us to burn through a legacy of natural resources which could have and should have sustained us until the next big asteroid strike in less than thirty human generations.
posted by jamjam at 1:24 PM on November 27 [2 favorites]


The strong, fast, and hungry survive.

Which is itself a misreading of Darwin's theory. They'll survive IF being strong, fast, and hungry happens to be a successful trait in that environment.

Misogyny is what turns "survival of the fittest" (IE: Those that FIT BEST in their environment survive) into "the strong, fast, and hungry survive while the weak die off."
posted by VTX at 1:24 PM on November 27 [6 favorites]


Hey now, I wasn't the one that brought aggressiveness to the table. I was just trying to show there was another way to look at aggressive companies.
posted by Samizdata at 1:44 PM on November 27


AWS is expensive as hell yall. It’s cheaper WAY cheaper to build and operate your own Datacenter. Now the issue becomes elastic scaling which is why AWS is pretty rad, that said IMO the most efficient way to leverage AWS is get a direct connect to AWS and use elasticity to scale your loads during the holiday crunch times. Outside that...lemme tell ya AWS COSTS LOADS MORE MONEY than doing it yourself at a certain scale. (For reference: where I work is spending 250 million dollars a year on AWS where we spent 50 million a year on physical Datacenter compute prior, this is all in the name of “developer velocity” but that bullshit, what it’s really about is converting everything to software so you can capitalize and depreciate all tech labor costs as opposed to just your developer labor costs)

short form: AWS at corporate scale is a taxing and accounting trick.
posted by Annika Cicada at 1:54 PM on November 27 [10 favorites]


You might be thinking of something along the lines of the capuchin monkey cucumber/grape experiments

Well, now I'm thinking of the joke about the monkey and the billiard ball.
posted by pracowity at 2:41 PM on November 27


Ah, Etsy. It doesn't surprise me to hear that they have problems with their internal culture/organization, because they certainly have had a lot of customer satisfaction issues. There was that whole brou-ha-ha back in 2012 when a featured seller turned out to be importing her supposedly handmade furniture in direct violation Etsy's policy of only allowing vintage and handmade goods. I wrote a piece about the user problems with Etsy for my blog shortly after that.
posted by orange swan at 3:12 PM on November 27 [3 favorites]


What other than capitalism is a natural system (that's not inherently abusive and evil)?

communism (with a small c) is a natural system used to great success by social insects such as bees and ants.
posted by Mayhembob at 3:42 PM on November 27


Many of the employees do in fact have plenty of room to say that if they don't either get more cash or better treatment, they're going to leave

Many of them were already invited to do so.

Etsy's engineering team has been kinda heavyweight for a long long time, so much so that I assume the name was a pun on /etc/. They have the inventor of PHP on their payroll, for example. Their github features a lot of useful stuff for startups and engineers like this fast and efficient code search implemented in Golang, or this time-series stats collection engine, or this all in one weekly report tracker, on call categorization and reporting tool, sleep tracker, meeting organizer and a coffee maker." For a company of under a thousand employees total to have so many open source projects on top of their actual customer facing app is a problem bordering on absurd.

I mean, their engineer's output has been a boon for me and others, but they're under no obligation to bankrupt the company for my benefit. Plus it's making me look bad -- all their engineers present shiny new tools at conferences and blogs they wrote while I struggle to keep on top of customer and service reliability.
posted by pwnguin at 3:43 PM on November 27 [5 favorites]


In fact I would argue trading excess resources os very unnatural and can only develop to any significant extent in a species that can keep accurate, long-term records. Most animals will hoard excess resources or share them with pack mates without seeking profit.
posted by Mayhembob at 3:46 PM on November 27


If we really want to get into economic history - corporate responsibility to the shareholders is not a free-market concept. It's a legal structure that arose from the market failures in the 1500s. European governments were winding down the large tradition of patronage, so adventurers and inventors were trying to figure out how to get funding for their ideas.

The problem was that a large group of investors does not have the same leverage as the Crown. Grifters and terrible businessmen wasted a whole lot of money. So legal protections evolved in common law to require the stock issuers to live up to their responsibilities to stock holders.

The study of economics started as an attempt to quantify happiness and well-being. Money happened to be an quantifiable metric to assess how much people value a thing or experience. Shareholder returns became a similar metric. It is not an economic driver, but a legal one. Focusing on shareholder value above everything else is the safest legal defense you aren't defrauding your investors.
posted by politikitty at 3:51 PM on November 27 [3 favorites]


I actually visited Etsy's office. They had men and women's rooms, with a disclaimer beneath that you're welcome to use whichever one aligns best with your gender expression. Nice to see it explicit, at least. And honestly not much different in practice than "All Genders with Urinals" and "All Genders without Urinals," which always sounds like a terrifying body mod.
posted by ikea_femme at 4:10 PM on November 27 [1 favorite]


I recently moved jobs and my new employer keeps banging a really interesting drum: Companies that have more women in senior management roles make more money. Racially diverse companies outperform industry norms..

It's really interesting that Wall Street doesn't seem to be forcing companies to be more diverse if diversity is linked to higher revenues. It's almost like they look for companies they think will do well, rather than trying to find factors that tend to produce good companies.
posted by caphector at 4:27 PM on November 27 [6 favorites]


Looks like it's way late in the conversation to really say much about the core topic, but I'm hot under the collar (and subsequently incoherent), so here goes.

Something I haven't seen touched on is the fact that Etsy (like eBay) is a vendor marketplace. It's customers-- the people paying the bills--are the crafters who open shops and pay for sponsored listings, not the folks who browse the site and buy handmade goods.

The way for most companies to make more money is to charge more for their services. The service that Etsy provides is the listing of a handmade item. Ergo, to make more money, Etsy tells small part-time business owners (who are already busting their butts to make crafts and get buyers to their storefronts) that their costs are going up. Essentially raising the rent of their storefront.

Sure, sellers can raise their prices and make it a matter of pass-through costs to their customers (business is business after all), and many of them do, but so so so many new sellers are young, desperate for sales, and terrible at valuing their time appropriately (or making intelligent decisions about their income vs costs).

The individuals that Etsy wants to support and promote are exactly the same as the people Etsy needs to get money from to pay their bills. It's not an out-and-out conflict of interest, but it is far from a simple economic relationship.
posted by itesser at 6:00 PM on November 27 [3 favorites]


It’s actually impossible to tell what is going on from a business perspective in this article. So many of these company profiles are written very much with the results in mind - so you get glowing profiles of Uber until it’s clear that Uber is a toxic waste dump, and here you have a dismissive profile of Etsy where people do yoga and are respectful of feelings because Etsy is perceived as not doing well now. When Etsy was the hot new thing there were plenty of glowing profiles (like this one in Fortune in 2015). It’s easy to be smart about what a company has done wrong in hindsight. Business press is pretty useless since the reporters seem to have so little idea about what good management looks like and are easily taken in by shallow insights. Personally I think luck is a highly underrated factor in most companies success, though having an extremely well defined and specific mission and target audience also seems effective. The new guy seems to be squandering some goodwill and doesn’t seem very impressive.

As an aside, many corporate offices offer yoga, it’s not that ridiculous. I just took a class on mindfulness sponsored by my fortune 50 company. Six months of parental leave is pretty standard in tech as I understand it, I think Google and Facebook both do it. Basically the writer is being lazy and blaming the culture for a complicated business question (like, it’s very unclear that any of the prior CEOs were any good, whether they were kind or not. The new one seems pretty bad to me.)
posted by rainydayfilms at 6:53 PM on November 27 [2 favorites]


I think the number one takeaway from the troubles at Etsy is about our human tendency to extrapolate general principles from specific cases, without much justification.
posted by happyroach at 8:23 PM on November 27 [6 favorites]


Oh, FFS, people. What's with all this nonsense about natural law? When I said:

I have a feeling capitalism may be closer to law of nature than many here might want to admit.

It was in response to this:

It may interest you to learn that capitalism is neither a law of nature nor a commandment of a deity, but rather a structure created by and for human beings. Capitalism exists to serve the people, not the people capitalism, and if you think frantically prostrating yourself before it will somehow save you from its destructive force, you are mistaken.


Which strikes me as not even wrong. Claiming that "Capitalism exists to serve people, not the people capitalism" sounds like the argument is that capitalism may very well be law of nature or commandment of a deity. But only in a way that praemunire approves of, because it's been perverted from the way nature/praemunire intended.

Many people here are mad at capitalism, and subsequently went on to get all kinds of pedantic over its definition, it's place in natural law, and NO SIR IT IS NOT! But the fact is that markets easily described as capitalistic often arise spontaneously when people have goods and services to offer, and people have need for those goods and services. Which is why I said "I have a feeling capitalism may be closer to law of nature than many here might want to admit." Because it's an easy to understand system that can arise, survive, and even thrive without any centralized control. And the neat thing is, you don't even have to like it to acknowledge it's existence and significance. Which is the silly thing, because people seem to have such an issue with capitalism, that my simple recognition of its existence and significance as a matter of fact was met with what sounded like a pissed off "nuh uh" response about the nature of capitalism. With all the subsequent beanplating, I have yet to read an actual refutation to my assertion that everything has to mix with capitalism, like it or not. You simply can't get away from it. Even the most isolated anti-capitalist societies occasionally have to deal with the rest of the world on the world's terms, which runs more or less by capitalism.

Anyhow, back to Etsy and its corporate transformation...
posted by 2N2222 at 9:58 PM on November 27 [1 favorite]


Pragmatically speaking from a realpolitik perspective you are saying nothing untrue.

/me listens to The Way It Is and ponders a different future instead.
posted by Annika Cicada at 10:51 PM on November 27


(Recognizing that the nature of capitalism may or may not be a derail from the original post...)

I would offer that 2N2222's description of capitalism, and the likelihood of it evolving spontaneously, possibly overlooks that it is, by definition, a human institution, and therefore not necessarily inevitable, depending on one's view on human psychology and our ability (or lack of) to have agency and choice.

Personally, I've been thinking a lot lately about how, while trade seems not only universal among humans, but among most primates, and maybe other species as well, Capitalism (the economic definition that differentiates it from other economic systems) seems to be primarily a Western invention (IANAEconomist or Historian, I may be wrong about that), and seems heavily influenced at least by Western (that is, ancestrally European) culture and language, and that other cultures may have a very different relationship to the notions of property and wealth.

None of which precludes the truth that, if you're operating in this early 21st century American economy, expecting to not be impacted by the forces of rampant unrestrained capitalism is, well, perhaps naive. Though if more pushed back against it... who knows?
posted by Kelrichen at 1:09 PM on November 28 [2 favorites]


Apologies in advance for the length and the lateness, but for once I have a lot of information on the topic.

Full disclosure: I worked at Etsy from shortly after IPO to several months after layoffs/leadership change. It was only about 2 years, but I got a good sense for the company and how it was changing. In the end I quit because what was an excellent fit when I started became less so and I thought I could find a better one elsewhere. I had concerns and complaints about the way certain things were handled during my time there, but overall I leave with very positive feelings about the culture and community.

To me, it seems the main issue is that Etsy didn't focus enough attention on core business metrics soon enough and they were especially punished for this by Wall St. on account of being unique and (as mentioned previously), not in the aggressive expansion categories of Amazon or Uber. They've definitely improved their focus on those fundamentals and I think may do okay in the long run, but it's come at a cost in terms of values and talent. Etsy may never be the same pioneer it was technically and culturally, but it still provides a very useful service to its buyers and sellers that is not easy to reproduce. Amazon's Etsy-killer "Homemade" hasn't really made much of a difference to Etsy's business, which I think points to the real reasons why people use Etsy.

The article gets some things right:
  • Silverman's mixed reception
  • The gutting of the Values-Aligned Business team
  • Overstaffing and a high managers:reports ratio
some things wrong:
  • Aside from the layoffs and CEO firing, there was no more crying than at any other job
  • go-it-alone craftsmanship had nothing to do with Etsy running its own servers; there was no cloud in 2005
  • There were holiday promotions before
and makes some surprising omissions. Notably, there's no discussion of the voluntary departure of the CTO (when the CEO was forced out) who was fundamental in defining much of Etsy's technical culture. Or the sudden drop in diversity among engineering leadership after the CEO/CTO change. It's especially notable since Etsy was a leader in improving diversity within tech going back to well before it was popular across the industry.

I also found the explanation of the B-corp situation a bit weird. To sum up: in many states you can have the commitment to social good be a fundamental part of your articles of incorporation. Notably Kickstarter reincorporated in 2015 to do so. This is distinct from the evaluation and certifications provided by B Lab, though they're often confused. One of B Lab's requirements is that public companies reincorporate as public benefit corporations within a couple years of IPO. As much as I would've liked for that to happen, I think even Dickerson realized the shareholders weren't going to get behind such a big move. Kickstarter had an easier road as a private company with little VC funding and one majority stakeholder.

Some comments above I think I can provide some context to:
The press release "Etsy's CTO to Boost Machine Learning" - that strikes me as more buzzword bingo and if it is to place items in front of shoppers like the machine learning Facebook does to give you what posts of your friends for you to look at - it is no wonder the complaints about keyword management by the sellers on the platform are a thing.
I think that headline is pretty legitimate. Etsy acquired Blackbird to improve search (a surprisingly tricky issue with such an eclectic mix of seller-supplied goods). But Etsy used machine learning before and there are also lots of other good applications for that when you're running a large marketplace with several billion dollars a year flowing through it. I'd elaborate, but I don't think further details are public.
Etsy's engineering team has been kinda heavyweight for a long long time, so much so that I assume the name was a pun on /etc/.
I'd tend to agree, but show me a tech company 10+ years old that's never seen layoffs and I'm confident I'd find some positive headcount reduction opportunities. That said, I've been a lot of places and the average level of quality of employees there was very high.
For a company of under a thousand employees total to have so many open source projects on top of their actual customer facing app is a problem bordering on absurd
I have to disagree. I don't know of any OSS that Etsy put out that wasn't created specifically for Etsy's internal needs. When a tool was created that had use beyond Etsy, there was a culture to try to share, both for the good of the company image and because it's in line with the values. In my time there, there was very little OSS work going on. The most notable project was phan, a static analyzer for PHP, and that was probably less than one full time engineer and Etsy reaped significant benefit as most of their stack is PHP. For a company of its size, is modest. Compare Chef, Kickstarter, Uber, Meetup and Microsoft.
Something I haven't seen touched on is the fact that Etsy (like eBay) is a vendor marketplace. It's customers-- the people paying the bills--are the crafters who open shops and pay for sponsored listings, not the folks who browse the site and buy handmade goods.
Etsy has multiple revenue streams: they charge $0.20 for each listing and take 3.5% of each sale. Additionally, there are services like sponsored listings, payment processing and shipping facilitation which generate revenue, but it would be a mischaracterization to say that the sellers are the only real customers. They're vitally important, but large growth must be driven by more buyers making more purchases. There's no lack of things on Etsy, but there's a potentially large number of untapped customer potential. Silverman thinks so, which is why the article mentions His sole focus, he said, was speeding up the pace of sales growth. This has the benefit of also being good for sellers overall, but when that good is not uniformly distributed, some sellers will be hurt and understandably upset.
The way for most companies to make more money is to charge more for their services. The service that Etsy provides is the listing of a handmade item. Ergo, to make more money, Etsy tells small part-time business owners (who are already busting their butts to make crafts and get buyers to their storefronts) that their costs are going up. Essentially raising the rent of their storefront.
I'm really surprised to read this given that Etsy hasn't changed it's $0.20/3.5% model in ages. In fact, I'm not sure it ever has. The oldest Wikipedia page I can find that specifies them is from 2007. By comparison, at that time in 2007 eBay charged $0.20 to $80 per listing and up to 5.25% of the sale price and they've since increased to $0.10 to $2 per listing and 10% or more of the total sale amount (including shipping). Etsy has kept its prices incredibly low and reasonable for access to a large market of consumers and deserves credit for that. However, they've been getting flak for the rates being too high as far back as 2008.
Six months of parental leave is pretty standard in tech as I understand it, I think Google and Facebook both do it
It's far from standard in the same way that Google and Facebook's overall compensation are outliers for the industry. Even so, Facebook provides 17 weeks and Google 18–22 (only for biological mothers though) compared to Etsy's 26 weeks for both parents whether biological or adoptive.

Finally, I'd just like to say that humans are inclined to simple explanations and we love to snark (me especially), but the depiction of Etsy as an extravagant or ridiculously emotional place to work are really overblown. Aside from the outstanding parental leave, the compensation and perks are pretty standard for the industry. The office is quite nice, but most employees I've talked to agree at this point that it was too expensive and probably a mistake based on a future vision of continued staffing growth. And though Etsy made the mistake of taking on too many people too fast, I'm happy to say they did so without choosing high-performing assholes. That's a remarkable achievement. I think Etsy is still a good company to support and I'm sad they're no longer quite such an amazing place to work. But in the future, who knows?
posted by Cogito at 11:20 PM on November 28 [16 favorites]


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