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Chad Dickerson

chad-dickerson-100Handmade is big business now with online marketplace Etsy a global phenomenon valued at $688 million, but chief executive Chad Dickerson tells us how he is keeping the online marketplace’s “hacker spirit” alive.

Dickerson was in Australia last week to launch Etsy’s first showroom in Melbourne and I met Chad for a chat about Etsy’s plans for Australia at entrepreneur hub the White House in St Kilda.

The man at the helm of the handmade eCommerce marketplace has an all-American enthusiasm for all things Etsy.

I understand Etsy has the focus of getting staff on the ground in both Australia and Canada, so what are the plans for Australia?

So we're actually putting the bigger plans together right now. I think with Australia being our number one market, we're obviously going to be investing more.

We think that there's a lot more awareness that can be raised here in Australia about what Etsy is. So, personally, I'm going to be spending more time, more of my own time investing in those markets.

Why Australia?

Obviously the language difference is very minor! We're both English-speaking countries and I think there's a very tech-savvy population with high internet penetration, and also people in Australia really understand online shopping.

Australia really demonstrates what a global marketplace Etsy is. When you look at the stats for Australian sellers for example, Australian sellers export 70% of what they sell. So when we look at Australia, it's a really great demonstration of the global marketplace, and how setting up a shop on Etsy really gives you access to the entire world and buyers everywhere.

Is the attraction as well that Australia's one of the few developed countries that's actually got money at the moment?

That is attractive. I know the Australian economy is doing the best, from what I've seen, of any of the US, UK and first-world English speaking countries. So yeah, the Australian economy is relatively strong, and the rest of the world is struggling a bit, which is an attraction.

So if the Etsy Showroom is the start of your plans in Australia, and you're going to be spending more time here personally, what else is in store for Australia?

I think more investment in Australia, more events and more interaction with the local community. We had a local event in Sydney last week called Etsy Success and 273 people attended. It was all about helping Etsy sellers, both from an inspiration standpoint and a practical standpoint to become more successful on Etsy.

So when you add people on the ground, and you see more people like me coming into town and spending more time, we're going to be putting on more events and being out and meeting with the community here much more than we have in the past.

Are you looking to acquire other Australian online companies?

We have no specific plans but one of the reasons I'm here is to learn about the market, and we would absolutely be open if we found a company that provided tools for our sellers or fit in really well with what Etsy's all about. We would definitely consider an acquisition.

How did you end up at Etsy?

From the time I was a kid, I've always been an entrepreneur. So one of the things I talked about at the Etsy Success Sydney event is how when I was eight years old, my brother and I started a lawn care business – so we were out sort of mowing people's lawns. And we both actually made quite a bit of money. We were working five or six days a week and had 25 or 30 clients, and this was in the mid-80s, we actually had computerised billing and all kinds of stuff. So it was very entrepreneurial.

I went to university and studied English literature and then, right after that, I went to work for a newspaper in the States, in Raleigh, North Carolina, which happened to be the first daily newspaper on the web. I got really interested in the web, and I taught myself how to write code and software, which I had no experience in.

I then worked at some really early-stage web companies, in the 90s, and became more and more a technology and software developer; I became a technology executive. Before Etsy, I was at Yahoo! working on innovation programs inside the company, building new products and businesses like start-up businesses. A former colleague of mine, who invested in Etsy really early on, Caterina Fake, who started Flickr, called me up one day and said, “Hey, Etsy needs a chief technology officer”.

So in the summer of 2008 I came out to Brooklyn from California, where I was living at the time and where I was working for Yahoo!, and I was talking to Etsy, frankly with no intention of coming to Etsy. But I was so inspired and excited by the Etsy community, and what Etsy meant to the world, that my wife and I made the decision to move out to Brooklyn.

Was it hard to leave Yahoo! after achieving a lot of success developing initiatives like Hack Days, which gave developers the freedom to build whatever they wanted and which has been adopted as a model at lots of internet companies?

I did a lot of the Hack Days at Yahoo! but one of the things that excited me about Etsy was that Etsy was sort of like a Hack Day for the world. It’s like hacking the world, and instead of giving developers inside a company the freedom to build whatever they wanted, what Etsy does is it gives anybody in the world the freedom to make their own lives and make things that they really care about.

So the thing that attracted me to Etsy was sort of that the hacker spirit was alive in a much more tangible and compelling way. And so Etsy has sellers in 150 countries and 875,000 sellers in the world. I feel this economy, this Etsy economy, represented a new way of thinking about the world itself, and that was super exciting. It was much smaller when I joined, and now it's even bigger.

Is that an issue for Etsy? When you are a very successful worldwide business, is that independent and underground hacker spirit something that is compromised in some ways?

I actually don't think so. What we're seeing at Etsy is a change in the way the economy is working. So I think the internet's allowing people like Etsy sellers to really take control of their lives, and to work on things they really care about. When I think about Etsy with 875,000 and $520 million dollars sold on the platform, when you look at that against what the world economy represents, it's incredibly, incredibly tiny.

So if you look at worldwide gross domestic product for example, and you compare that to the sales on Etsy by the community, I think, with the math I did, you end up with 8.75 ten-thousandths of one per cent, is what Etsy represents. So Etsy, as successful as it's been, it is actually very small. So there's a huge amount of growth.

After starting at Etsy as chief technology officer, you were appointed as chief executive last July and took over from the founder Rob Kalin. What's his involvement in the business still, and has that been difficult?

So Rob started Etsy and we have a massive amount of respect for what Rob's done, but Rob's off doing other projects now, so he isn't involved.