E-commerce innovator Chad Dickerson: Crafting sales

August 1, 2016 10:00 AM

The do-it-yourself ethos well known to Etsy sellers was seeded in the online marketplace’s CEO Chad Dickerson long ago, when he worked at a city newspaper in the early days of the internet.

With an English degree from Duke University in hand, Dickerson joined the Raleigh News & Observer in North Carolina in 1993, where he checked print articles from the paper against their electronic versions. The News & Observer was one of the first daily newspapers in the United States on the web, and Dickerson’s colleagues were pioneers in what was then called computer-assisted reporting, Dickerson says. His time at the paper spurred his interest in technology and internet retailing.

“The early experience at Raleigh’s News & Observer really taught me about the power of the internet, and I’ve been championing the internet as a disruptive platform for information delivery and connection since then,” Dickerson says.

When he joined Inc. from Yahoo Inc. as chief technology officer in 2008, the Etsy marketplace was just three years old and already disrupting how artisans sold their handmade goods. Crafters flocked to Etsy to market their wares to a vastly larger audience than what they could otherwise find themselves, either online or locally. Etsy was using the internet to rewrite a business model that usually relied on craft shows and street fairs. The total value of goods sold through Etsy in 2008 was $88 million. By 2009, it was $181 million.

Dickerson had a trial-by-fire start at Etsy. “The site went down for an hour the first week I was on the job,” Dickerson says. “[Etsy] needed someone with technology and management experience to make the overall platform functional so the core creative spirit could be channeled the right way,” he says.

Etsy promoted Dickerson to CEO in 2011, started a concerted international push in 2012 and raised $267 million when it went public in April 2015. Today, the marketplace has 1.6 million sellers, 25 million buyers and more than 35 million product listings, the company says. The total value of goods sold on the marketplace—the fuel propelling what the company calls the “Etsy economy”—increased 23.6% to $2.39 billion in 2015 from $1.93 billion in 2014. Total revenue grew 40% in 2015.

Under Dickerson’s leadership, Etsy began offering services to its marketplace merchants, and financial analysts call this area one of Etsy’s biggest growth opportunities. In 2015, revenue from seller services represented 50% of total revenue, compared with 42% in 2014. The marketplace in April launched Pattern by Etsy, a service that helps sellers create custom websites in addition to their Etsy shops. More than a third of Etsy sellers are interested in opening their own e-commerce site and more than half sell in other online channels, Dickerson said on a call discussing first quarter 2016 earnings results. In addition to Pattern, Etsy’s four seller services include: Direct Checkout, a payment processing service, Promoted Listings and Shipping Labels.

“We introduced our first seller service in 2011 and in five years have successfully built a revenue stream that accounted for nearly half of our revenue in 2015, with approximately 48% of our active sellers using at least one service during that year,” Dickerson wrote in a blog post in February. “We believe this rapid growth demonstrates our ability to address sellers’ business needs whether they are just starting out or growing.”

Having harnessed the power of the internet to take often very small businesses global, Dickerson and Etsy are now focused on developing services that can make these businesses even more successful.

Internet Retailer staffers profiled six e-commerce innovators for the July edition of Internet Retailer magazine. For more information on how you can get your free monthly subscription to Internet Retailer magazine, click here.




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