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You can buy almost anything on Etsy these days and, shaking off its crochet connotations, the online marketplace is now a veritable breeding ground for Australian small businesses who are selling their wares all over the globe. We spoke to American CEO Chad Dickerson on his recent visit to the country.

With more than 15 million members, almost 900,000 active shops and three million items sold in March alone, Etsy should not be underestimated. And Australian sellers are definitely cottoning on. In fact, the marketplace’s popularity here, and potential for growth, has led to the company setting up a permanent presence in Melbourne.

Started in 2005 in New York, former Yahoo senior exec Chad Dickerson has been Etsy’s CEO since July last year. Etsy is a multi-million dollar concern, receiving $40 million in series F funding in May this year alone from Index Ventures (DropBox, Skype and ASOS investors), Accel Partners (Facebook) and others. Highlighting Australia’s importance to Etsy, Dickerson recently visited Melbourne and Sydney for a series of meetings and events, culminating in the Etsy Success Sydney conference at the MCA.

When I meet Dickerson, who is wearing a jacket he bought on Etsy, of course, he tells me the beauty of the Etsy model is that for them to make money, their sellers (the hundreds of thousands of small businesses all over the world) have to make money. Etsy receives 20 cents from every listing.

“It’s always been big in Australia,” he adds. “From a buyer perspective, Australia is number four out of 150 countries, just behind the US, the UK and Canada.” That equates to almost three percent of Etsy sales globally. What’s really interesting to him though is that although Australia is also number four from a seller perspective, a whopping 70 percent of those sales are exports. Like a convenient case study, his sister-in-law in the States happened to buy her wedding dress from an Etsy seller in Adelaide. “By launching a shop on Etsy, you have access to everyone,” he adds. And maybe it works so well for Australians because we’re such a big country and so far away from the rest of the world.

A lot of sellers are using Etsy as their exclusive sales channel while others use it to complement a bricks and mortar store or their own website. Top Australian seller Able and Game (see case study) sell their greetings cards and stationery through Etsy alone. “And you’ve got people running a fully fledged small business or those just saving up for a holiday with what they make on Etsy from their hobby, and everything in between,” says Dickerson. “There are full-time furniture makers and mothers doing it from home. The nature of employment and jobs is changing. With the internet, people are able to piece together the type of life they want. Etsy allows you to choose.”

So what are the main benefits for sellers thinking of setting up their eCommerce business on Etsy? As well as the instant global marketplace, Dickerson says many people are attracted to the strong sense of community and collaboration. “While in some cases people are competing with each other, there are plenty of groups collaborating and giving each other tips. It’s not purely economic.

“We also provide SEO, marketing and PR. If you’re going out on your own in eCommerce, you have to figure out how to get people to your site. We equip sellers with the tools to help them market themselves and we have our own analytics within Etsy.” There’s also a relatively new service similar to Google AdWords which sellers can choose to pay extra for. Other than that, they just give Etsy 20 cents per listing and 3.5 percent of each sale they make. “Etsy is an inexpensive way to test your product and maybe earn you the funds you need to really get started,” says Dickerson.

Etsy is an umbrella brand with many other brands underneath it. “We really try hard to let them shine through and make it easy for them to express their personalities” says Dickerson. “For Etsy to do well, the sellers have to do well. Inside the company we use gross merchant sales as our overall indicator of how things are going.” That figure has been steadily growing too: 71 percent in 2010/11 for example. “The exciting thing about Australia in particular is how vibrant the community is.”

It’s no secret that Etsy has, in the past, had a pretty hipster or kitsch reputation, but these days that’s a misconception. “It’s not just crocheting and knitting, although there is a lot of that and there’s nothing wrong with that,” says Dickerson. “But there’s so much more on Etsy these days. There’s amazing furniture, fashion, housewares and more.” The runaway success of Etsy Weddings, launched this year, is testament to a new era. “Your wedding’s the most important day of your life. It’s not a kitsch thing. Etsy Weddings really showcases some of the very best of what we have which is one of the reasons we decided to launch it. You can find everything on Etsy from something really fashion forward that nobody else has to beautiful wooden toys made using traditional techniques.”

Etsy is definitely going from strength to strength and under Dickerson’s leadership, and with a commitment to Australia, if you’ve previously found too many barrier to entry in setting up an online business, this could be just what you’ve been looking for.

Seller case study: Anna and Gareth Blandford, Able and Game.

Able & Game produce greetings cards and localised photo calendars and are one of Etsy’s top Australian sellers.

Q: How has using Etsy helped develop your business? 

A: We started selling the cards on Etsy and it was a good way to get customer reactions right away without spending too much money. For any small business that is getting started you can start selling products without having to spend too much money, which is always handy..

Q: What are the major benefits of using Etsy? 

A: It is very easy to use, and once you have spent the time to set it up correctly, it is very straightforward to maintain. The fees are very reasonable for what you get. It is tightly integrated with PayPal, so receiving payment is very straightforward. They support Google Analytics for tracking your hits and they have quite a rich set of other stats you can look at, and use to improve your business model.

Q: Why do you enjoy being an Etsy seller? 

A: When I first joined Etsy in 2005 I found this enormous community of really friendly people. It is like a support system where if you have a question you know there will be someone out there willing to help you out.

Q: How would you describe the Melbourne Etsy community?

A: It has changed a lot since I first joined and there were a handful of sellers, now so many Melbourne makers know about Etsy it has grown really big, which is fantastic.

Q: Where are your Etsy customers located? (ie. Countries and cities you’ve sold to)

A: The majority of our customers are in Australia, although the USA and the UK do feature prominently. However, we have sold to lots of other countries via Etsy and it is always exciting selling to places you dream of visiting like Japan, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Germany, Switzerland and Brazil. You wish you could jump in the envelope with the cards and go along for the ride!

Seller case study: PIRDY 

Juliet Carr is the creator of PIRDY, a home-based small business she’s been running for five years. She sells homewares and jewellery and Etsy sales form a large part of her business. She has sold things to customers all over the world and says it’s fun to wake up having sold things in her sleep!

Q: Apart from creating things, what do you do?

A: When I’m not covered in resin or enamel, I’m on mummy duties. Oh, and a little bit of gardening.

Q: Where would you like to be in ten years?

A: Exactly where I am.

Q: Where are your customers located?

A: They are all over the place! Lots in Australia, Japan, Germany and America and some places I’ve never heard of.

Q: Why do you enjoy being an Etsy seller?

A: My favorite thing about Etsy selling is waking up in the morning to see you have sold items in your sleep. How easy.

Q: What are your future plans?

A: I want to launch new products towards the end of the year and to keep going how I have been. I’m always looking for new stockists and I am looking at outsourcing some of the casting. Someone once said to me “if your business cant run without you, you’re not in business” so I need to get someone else in to help me keep up with demand now and to take a bit of the load off, so I can spend more time on developing the business.

Q: Why did you choose the particular products that you sell?

A: They are always something I would wear personally or put in my own home. I put together all my skills and tools and my products are a result of that.

Q: When did you know you were an artist/maker?

A: I will never forget it. I was walking across the street and a girl came toward me wearing my Flower Bird brooch. I had sold a lot of things before that, and to see someone wearing what I made, well it changed how I felt about myself and PIRDY.

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Jen Bishop

Jen Bishop

Jen was the publisher at Loyalty Media and editor of Dynamic Business, Australia's largest circulating small business magazine, from 2008 until 2012. She is now a full-time blogger at The Interiors Addict.

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