Umair Haque / Bubblegeneration
umair haque  


Design principles for 21st century companies, markets, and economies. Foreword by Gary Hamel. Coming January 4th. Pre-order at Amazon.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Is Etsy the Next Google?

So let's discuss a topic people seem to be quite interested in.

Is Etsy the next Google?

I think it just might be.

I'll save the reasons for tomorrow - suffice it to say that the amount of value Etsy can potentially unlock is absolutely world-changing. Those of you who've followed bubblegen for a while know it's been my favorite play for a very, very long time.

Just like Goog solved a Very Big Problem, so can Etsy...I'm just not sure the Etsy kru fully sees it yet. But then, neither did Google, from 1997-2002.

For now, fire away and let everyone know what you think.

NB -

Guys, if this post makes you angry, take a deep breath, ask someone for a hug, and chill out. There are way (way) more important things to get emotional about.

Here's Kottke, for example, spectacularly missing the point.

Kottke kind of absurdly suggests that there been only three revolutionary companies since 1960 anyways, so comparing Etsy to Google is meaningless. Actually, there have been hundreds of revolutonaries. Starbucks, LVMH, H&M, MySQL...the list is enormous, and the value of the Dow/Nasdaq/etc vs something like the Ghana Stock Exchange Index confirms it.

Why so much heat/irrationality? Because I think a lot of you, like Kottke, are either new to bubblegen, and/or aren't actually seriously reading the post.

I'm not telling you Etsy is 100% for sure going to achieve Google's revenues 2 years from now. That's a superficial, not a serious, discussion; that's not what we discuss here.

Rather, I'm pointing out that Etsy has the potential to be as revolutionary as Google in terms of DNA, and that new DNA might just let it solve a Very Big Problem. That's the deeper discussion we are gonna have shortly.

It's economic causes - not finanical outcomes - that we want to discuss.

Thanks for all the comments so far, I think a couple of them have come kind of close.

-- umair // 11:58 PM // 24 comments


Are you serious? Wow!
// Anonymous Anonymous // 12:14 AM


I'm going to eagerly wait for your thoughts on this one.....
// Blogger preetam // 5:37 AM

I don't know about Google, but certainly the ability to dwarf eBay. The companies that survive and thrive in this industry are those that create commerce opportunities for others - reason being, they're deeply integrated into their value chain (Google with ads, Microsoft with a software platform, etc.). Etsy has the potential to do that on such scale (long tail - unlocking global supply and matching it with global demand) that they stand at the forefront of aggregating one of the most fragmented markets in the world.

And that's just on a retail level - imagine when wholesalers step in and start buying inventory in bulk...companies could be born and raised on this platform.

So I guess I'm sold, just not sure to what degree, which might mean I'm not looking at this right.
// Blogger Wayne Mulligan // 5:51 AM

Or the next ebay? All of a sudden people realise that they can actually make money from their shell-encrusted matchboxes.
// Anonymous vermooten // 8:35 AM

Maybe Etsy can parlay their "core" ability to build and maintain trust at the edge into the best place for connected consumers to create context and community.

If they can extend their platform a la somehow...

Markets, networks, and communities...GOOG leads with the Adwords market...MySpace/Facebook with networks, and now communities.

I see why you've said that communities are the hardest to build...Etsy could be huge because it seems like a place where gift economies meet transactions...

(Sorry for the ramble ;-)
// Blogger Ethan Bauley // 10:28 AM

I am going to take you off my feed reader. Is Esty the new Google, seriously? Are you that dumb? Wow...

Even the backers of Esty, even the management of Etsy would not claim they are the new Google. Incredibly dumb...
// Anonymous Anonymous // 12:40 PM

Hey Anon 2,

Thx for the comment.

I agree - you should unsub asap.

For everyone's reference - if you wanna comment here, there are two rules. 1) Say something constructive; 2) Be civil. Anon is clearly capable of neither.

Everyone else, discuss away, I'm enjoying your comments a lot.
// Blogger umair // 1:05 PM

erm dunno about the deeper level stuff (good vs evil etc - purpose beats profit - i'm new to your site). so i'll be a lot more superficial. There's two sides of incredible value being unleashed here.

buy side:
FORGET ABOUT THE SPECIFICS OF WHAT THEY SELL. It's more about the deeper meaning of the value they unlock. lets look at their psychological/emotional touchpoints. they're solving a latent need, which no retail store/ebay clone could ever solve. by taking authenticity to its natural possible limit. haute couture is the only way i can describe its context and deeper set of touchpoints.

Couture. Unique. Custom-made. These are the bywords of super-weaLth spending. And etsy is catering to such whims (in spirit anyway )haute couture is about human relationships and artistry. In haute couture a valuable touchpoint is the enduring bond with the artist. The complexity of human relationships plays out **read as community interaction**. Again, this authentic ephemeral spirit is captured by etsy.

The world will love them for it..

In many ways it could be the ultimate shopping experience. Combine this with scale (they'll need to be careful about this) , online utility and generous sprinkling of fairy dust on the brand **read as brand innovation**

sell side: the ultimate in self expression (media). The same emotive touch points as myspace etc. the kicker you make money as well!

you could be right...this is a real innovation sweetspot.

My question is?

Is etsy a (open) platform? If so, do we want one big etsy (under their umbrella) or do we want lots of atomised micro-etsy's types which might be more authentic (assuming authenticity is the driver here).
// Anonymous Anonymous // 1:22 PM

etsy today is a juried street fair, online, and does that very well, just as do the higher-end streetfairs in america ...

its potential is global, linking up with the people supporting dying handicrafts here in india is one possibility...

where does it end up, pier 1 imports online? not if they keep their quality, and have a biiiig server farm...

but i don't think they should emulate ebay, it is a different kind of consciousness that they embody, and will hopefully create a different kind of system...
// Blogger gregory // 7:05 PM

Etsy is not the next Google.

Etsy is the next (sans lawsuits, of course).

Etsy has the same problem that had, back in the day. When the barrier to entry is so amazingly low, individuals become commoditized in a hurry. Out of the hundreds of thousands of artists, you could count on one hand the number of artists who actually made a living off of their work on

Etsy will be the same way. Some enterprising person will put their homemade goods up for sale on Etsy, and they will get lost in the noise of everything else in their category. That is to say, once people are on page 27 of a search result listing, they aren't going to be selling much of anything. That will, in turn, discourage people, which will cause the inevitable backlash against Etsy.

Look at Etsy's homepage. There are a dozen different ways to slice up the thousands of search results, but none of them solve the problem: there are just too many damned items for sale to be able to see what's good or not.

Etsy can fix this problem in one of three ways: the good, the bad, and the ugly.

The good: encourage a decentralized Etsy for custom stores. Give the entire functionality to the store owners, so I can browse, view, and buy Bubblegeneration's Etsy items directly from the Bubblegeneration homepage.

The bad: Try to be more like have "guides" that pick out the "best" products to be highlighted for sale.

The ugly: Same as the bad, with the addition of fees based upon where you want to be in the search results, a la Adwords. That may make Etsy a lot of money initially, but will cost them dearly in long-term relationships.
// Blogger Mark // 7:41 PM

Quick question/clarification - are you thinking of Etsy's value from the perspective of how many billions of people engage in the type of transactions Etsy supports? If so, I would agree that Etsy has the potential to be the next Google, except the billions of people trading in handmade goods in Asia and Africa do not use internet and will not for a while, if ever.
// Anonymous Anonymous // 7:47 PM

'The ugly: Same as the bad, with the addition of fees based upon where you want to be in the search results, a la Adwords.'

Etsy already charges for slots on the front page. Its legal department just banned sellers from using the Etsy trademark. It just shut down data feeds sellers were using to generate useful stats on when to list stuff. Vintage and handmade have always been at each others throats. Everyone hates supplies that flood the listings and which aren't even hand made but make up about a third of sales. Are any of you sellers on Etsy? I don't think so.
// Anonymous Anonymous // 12:22 AM

Actually just wrote about Etsy's acceptance of $27 million dollars in investment, read about it here (plus more on what they plan to use it on):

I think you're getting a little ahead of yourself by saying they're the next google... or even that they'd dwarf ebay.. both are comparing apples to oranges. Etsy doesn't auction, and the whole platform is based off of homemade wares... unlike ebay where 99% is just resold garbage... (and that's the niche that is making them so popular)

Also - Etsy's markup is rather small, they aren't making all the back-end profits like Ebay is everytime a user uses paypall or any of the other "licensed ebay services"... right now it is what it looks like - A community driven p2p commerce site. Yes, I did just use a peer-2-peer reference and am no way am referring to torrents/mp3s, etc..

According to their press release, in addition to their marketing plans for 2008, they're starting small. As they should (in my opinion). First on the list is almost what you'd call a co-op advertising platform. Etsy purchases a spread in a popular magazine/newspaper where it features select group (i.e. willing/volunteered) of merchants and whatever wares they want to showcase. In return the merchants only have to come up w/ half of the cost of the ad placement, and in return Etsy would cover the other half. So far it's been thrown up the flagpoll and met with a lot of positive feedback from parts of the Etsy community.

They aren't pulling a 1990's .com blitze and using the funding to go hire 200 people and a trendy loft office, instead they're trying to see how they can use it to first re-do the infrastructure of the payment system... because right now it's pretty bush league... and second: find ways of pushing that money back into providing the local merchants with tools to market themselves (more so than etsy marketing itself)
i'm interested to see what you have to say tomorrow.... either way, Etsy is on the up-n-up as far as i'm concerned.
// Anonymous Brent Terrazas // 8:30 AM

I love Etsy, but clearly i'm not seeing the big picture.

While edgeio never quite worked (too busy building a platform too little time building value), I got what they were trying to do...closer to what I would have considered edge considerations.

Etsy still appears to me to be a centralized play and unless they can export that experience, I don't see it.

...And of course the fact that their DNA is 'handmade' (or is that the metaphor you think is so powerful??)
// Blogger Leigh // 11:26 PM

There is huge potential there. Google did a great job by siphoning off some of the value in aiding the seekers find the sought-after.

Etsy can do the same, stripping out lots of middle layers.

They get bought by Amazon within the next 18 months. It's the next logical step for Amazon: first they buy the merchandise themselves, and take all of the distributor and retail margin themselves. The producers of the goods (Canon, Sony, Random House) still get their markup.

Then they open their platform to others who have bought the same merchandise: they lose the retail margin, but they still get the market maker's cut. The producers of the goods (Canon, Sony, Random House) still get their markup.

Next, they open their platform (via Etsy acquisition) to the component parts of those producers (e.g., the people who work for Anthropologie, buying clothes overseas.).

But it's not just those people--people opening up online boutiques on Etsy's platform.

Next, it's the people whose goods those boutique owners curate and edit. Now those producers can hop on the platform too.

Etsy, like Amazon before them, can atomize the value chain, allowing individuals to hop on at exactly the point at which they create the most marginal value.

Celebrity playlists on iTunes? How about virtual boutiques on Etsy (already happening via user-floated meta data).

There's definitely a big opportunity here. Even though my friend works for ebay's emerging markets program (trying to do just this), i have very low expectations there.

This is too game changing for a big corporation to not totally screw the pooch and underfund / stifle the project.
// Blogger Pete Kazanjy // 1:58 AM

You are absurd. Forget about the ridiculous premise of the question posed in the headline. I'll address just one portion of you meaningless little blurb.

But then, neither did Google, from 1997-2002.

To suggest that Google didn't know what they were getting into is absurd. I don't have hard numbers at hand, but few companies drew as much attention from Sand Hill Road during the late 1990's and Google came to IPO with probably more financing in place than any other company at the time, and probably with the highest valuation of anyone in the Valley (or elsewhere.) An elite class of tech backers had money in the game with Google -- they weren't going in that big thinking this was a small play.
// Blogger adam // 5:31 PM

Etsy is the next ... etsy. Nothing else.
// Blogger kelake // 12:59 AM

It really depends on what you mean by the "next Google." By refining search, Google made all content across the web better. Since then, it has become a platform, and it is evolving into the underpinnings of a variety of online experiences.

Etsy, in contrast, is a somewhat interesting marketplace for people to peddle handicrafts. Could it be a *worldwide* marketplace for the peddling of handicrafts? Why not? Could *millions* of people sell their handicrafts on Etsy? Probably, in some form or another, with one ginormous Etsy or micro-Etsies or whatever. Maybe. So what? Lots of companies are innovating in the web retail space.

FWIW, I totally agree with Mark in that, the bigger Etsy becomes, the more its results are diluted and the less reliable it becomes as a place to find cool, unique stuff. The only way to *maintain* value is to begin *limiting* participants. (VCs will love that idea, I'm sure). (Or, it could invent some crazy new way to search/sift/browse massive amounts of handicrap very quickly, in which case it would have to become the new Google).
// Blogger Doug LeMoine // 3:39 AM

etsy looks cool!

who wants to buy me a lovemonkey?
// Anonymous punimitsu // 3:33 PM

I don't know about Google but I can see some parallels to Ebay, PayPal, Craigslist, Elance, oDesk, YouTube, Alibaba & Mechanical Turk.
// OpenID patrick.breitenbach // 9:16 PM

Agreed, there is some interesting stuff here...

I liked where Pete Kazanjy was going...

"I'll take 'Atomize the Value Chain' for $500, Alex..."


I wish I had some extra time to dig deeper into what Etsy is like and think on this further...
// Blogger Ethan Bauley // 7:54 AM

Etsy appears to be the next Rakuten. Maybe one day it will own a baseball team in Japan too. :-)
// Blogger Durf // 10:37 AM

Etsy is cool an all but how many yarn cephalopods can the world really buy.

I do see etsy as the next logical step for amazon or ebay.
// Anonymous ryanol // 9:18 PM

I'm not sure that the people who make good money off Etsy actually get sales through the Etsy community itself - they usually direct customers to their Etsy shop from their blog (eg:

By the time I was making good money out of my own Etsy shop the mounting fees were a massive turn off.

-Listing Fee.
-Sales Commission.
-Paypal Fee.
-Paypal's poor exchange rate to convert to AUD.

It became cheaper to get my own custom built shop.

It doesn't seem to me that Etsy are really catering to potential bigger customers. But I don't profess to know how that would affect their future...

Just thoughts :)
// Blogger Lara // 1:27 PM
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