Spacefem (spacefem) wrote,

My Visit to Etsy

Cross-posted to my arts & crafts blog

Last week I visiting New York when I get this tweet from @ansate asking if I'd want to swing by the Etsy offices in Brooklyn for a visit. My response was "seriously?!" Well, seriously! I guess she'd been following me because we're both women in tech and cool like that, happened to be in town instead of remoting in from portland, and wanted to learn to give official Etsy tours anyway and this was a great opportunity. I was thrilled!

The thing is, I spent a LOT of time on Etsy because I run a shop ( that pulls me into shipping 2-3 bags of fabric around the world every day, and I'm in way too many Etsy Teams, and I dink with the API all the time... so the idea of visiting in person almost threw me, I was like "Am I in trouble? Too weird? Will I be able to act normal?"

Well I totally acted normal, it went great! And I learned some things by visiting the office and seeing a cool trendy tech company at work. There are some similarities between Etsy and any workplace, I certainly saw things that are the same as where I work. There are totally unique things too.

I should mention here that I am a "glass half full" seller. Most of my interactions with other sellers is in the Etsy teams and forums, where everyone constantly acts like THE SKY IS FALLING if Etsy chooses to move a link five pixels to the left... so I on purpose did not tell my Etsy friends that I was visiting Etsy. I felt a little awful about that. But I was afraid they'd just be on me to complain and that was not my goal, I guess because as a person who runs websites I know that things have to change but users always hate change. I wasn't going to ask for the "complain-in-person" department.

On to the trip!

Etsy's offices are very open, just big tables and everyone has lots of desk space decorated with nifty things... in fact they all have a small budget to decorate their personal desks with things from Etsy shops!

There's art everywhere. It feels like you're IN Etsy. Well, except I don't think I saw so many bubble necklaces. But the knitted mug cozies you guys... they're everywhere.

Oh and you know how if you hit a bad page on Etsy you get to this funny "A stitch has gone awry!" page and there's a picture of someone knitting a 3-armed sweater? There's a real 3-armed sweater hanging up. It just adds to the feel that you are in Etsy.

Photo by @jeffrigram

For an open workspace though it's pretty quiet, there are no desk phones and people are encouraged to go elsewhere if they need to talk on the phone, there are cute little closet-sized "phone booth" workspaces. I love it... in fact I'm going to steal this idea for my team and encourage them to drift elsewhere for phone conversations, for sure.

CEO Chad Dickerson has a nice office right smack in the middle of the floor with multiple breaks in the partitions around it. No corner window office. Employees can see the windows, the CEO sees people!

We were there at 10 am and there were a lot of empty desks. It was "early". Lots of people arriving too... I asked about that, and apparently a company's start time is a complicated formula involving of local, corporate, and industry culture, and maybe even time zones. Startups tend to start later, people wake up, chill out, check their email from home, drift in and work until 7 or 8pm. Where I work there are employees asking "Can I come to work at 6am every day so I can punch out at 2:30?" and as an upper manager now, it would look terrible if I came in at 8:05.

My tour was given by a data person so the other "data person" groups were pointed out and there are LOTS of people there whose job it is to gather and interpret data. This is one place where a website company is very different from where I work at the airplane company. We can't move the wings back three feet on all our customers' airplanes at once to see if it changes fleet utilization instantly. That number is what it is. So I asked Melissa who the "experimenters" were who changed things, and she said "Everyone is an experimenter!" with the goal being to change the numbers for the better, and that most important piece of data seems to be how many visitors end up making a purchase. It's HUGE.

I am kinda wondering if they look at diversity of business... how many different shop owners they can get sales for. Maybe I'll send her a follow up question.

I saw the integrity team, which was a sizable flurry taking up several tables, trying to win the whack-a-mole game challenge of keeping people from selling totally non-handmade factory crap. This is a place where a lot of Etsy sellers feel like Etsy doesn't do enough, it'd be interesting to sit there in the flurry for a week, it's a science drawing that fine line and they obviously have a big team dedicated to it. Etsy is not a huge company, only 600 employees or so. Just the engineering department where I work is twice that size. So the numbers of busy people in market integrity were noticeable.

There does not appear to be a busy hive of forum readers responding to every concern that comes up in a thread, sorry friends. There was one forum person pointed out during my visit, and it was not someone I recognized. But I relate to this, because at my company we have dedicated "customer facing" types handling the communication, and us engineers are separated from all that by entire buildings, and while some of the customer feedback gets to it, not all of it does. In six sigma class we watched a clip of The Simpsons where Homer gets to design a car however he wants, and it's a disaster, to illustrate what happens when you get too much "voice of the customer" and not enough looking at data to see what actually works.

Etsy is a B Corporation, meaning that they incorporate social and environmental responsibility into the things they do, and we saw lots of examples of that. Biking their compost out to the farm sorts of things. They have educational events, really try to reach out to the community, and I love their efforts to encourage women and girls in the community.

They let Cate and me use the photo booth where they take all those black background admin profile pics, ha ha!

Cate actually teaches organizational behavior at a local university so she had a lot more good questions than I did (or maybe she's just friendlier and less nerdy) - as we were leaving she said the tough thing is that everyone in her classes imagines they'll work at a cool trendy startup like the one we'd just seen. Sadly this is not the case. But even the big huge giant airplane maker I'm at has been doing some new things - shifting to open workspaces, creating mobile applications, encouraging personality. And I love our fun little side interest groups, that's the best part of working someplace gigantic.

On average I pay Etsy a little over $100 a month in listing, renewal and transaction fees... about 6-7% of my total revenue. The tour actually made me feel pretty darn good about that! I'm supporting a company that supports women in technology, the environment, their community. And without them I would not have this little side business I've got going on, because the items I sell really need that unique marketplace and brand association that Etsy has grown to be.

If you're a seller and in Brooklyn, you might consider contacting them a week or two in advance to see if their tour giving people will be around, they like having sellers in sometimes. There are no guarantees but if I got a tour, it could happen to you! It might give you some perspective and definitely made me appreciate everything going on behind the scenes, since I just went in wanting to learn and have a good time, and I did. It's a neat office and a really nice group of people, it'll be interesting to see where the future takes us all.
Tags: etsy, travel
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