How craft market site Etsy offers a window to the future of entrepreneurialism

Nicole Vanderbilt has worked all over the world in digital businesses as diverse as Google, Bebo and Once told she’s “really good at maths for a girl”, she knows what it’s like to be the only woman in the room.

But the trained architect and structural engineer is happiest in roles where she believes she can make a real and noticeable contribution, and believes she can achieve just that as Etsy’s recently appointed country manager for Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the United Kingdom.

Etsy is a community of online suppliers selling handmade or vintage items, art and supplies. Started back in 2005, it has around one and a half million users a month in Australia alone, and facilitates transactions through 800,000 stores in more than 200 countries.

Although rare, some sellers can take home the equivalent of a full-time income from the goods they sell on the website, others use it as a means to supplement part-time work or even simply to create a secondary income stream.

For the London-based, American-born Vanderbilt, her new job marketing the brand all over the world is an opportunity to make a real difference to the way women work.

“I think Etsy offers a future of work that’s different to what we’ve seen in the past and that addresses an issue that women often face around wanting a family and pursuing flexible work,” she said during an interview with Women’s Agenda while visiting Australia this week.

“Women and men no longer have to have these in-person careers where they’re in the one place for 20 or 30 years. That’s already gone,” she adds.

“But I think this next wave is about people who can use sites like Etsy even just for supplemental income – being able to go out for dinner that week or take a holiday – through to people who can actually make a living or can afford to work part-time because of their Etsy income, that’s attractive to women.”

Vanderbilt’s always been passionate about what can be achieved online and how the internet can change the way we work. She graduated from university just as Netscape came to life and started her digital career in a world where few people knew just what the internet could offer. In her twenties, she worked for a research company where her job was to “sit around all day imaging what the internet could do”.

With a self-described “analytical and creative” brain, Vanderbilt went on to develop a career in what are some of the world’s best known digital brands, including in the marketing department of Google in the UK and India (where she encountered the “smartest group of people in her life”).

But it wasn’t enough. She was frustrated by not being able to see the direct contribution she was making. She became the CEO of start-up and later made the move across to Etsy.

Throughout her career she’s seen more and more women entering the digital space, something that’s noticeable at Etsy, where 100% of its five-person Australian team (including Vanderbilt) is female.

“I certainly think that as technology has gone more mainstream; it’s become more relevant to a wider audience. When I was first working in the internet a lot of those businesses were skewed to early adopters – and people often thought they were men, which they weren’t necessarily. There’s something for everyone now online.”

So how can you become a successful seller on Etsy? Vanderbilt says it starts, like all great businesses, with developing something people really want. Then it’s about being voracious in learning how to best use the online tools available to market the product and finally getting involved emotionally.

“The people who are successful are those who can find the extra fire in their belly to really get involved in the community,” she says.

This article first appeared on Women’s Agenda.


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