Make a life, not a living

That was the business ethos being championed by Etsy CEO Chad Dickerson during a talk at the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce.

That was the business ethos being championed by Etsy CEO Chad Dickerson during a talk at the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce.

Chad Dickerson has moved from an English literature degree background, through the early world of internet publishing, to a stint in the coding world, culminating in his current status, as CEO of e-commerce site Etsy.

In a talk given at the RSA, Dickerson looked at how the world has lost connection with how things are produced.

He touched on the work of E.F. Schumacher, who wrote Small is Beautiful to promote small, ‘appropriate technologies’ which he believed empower people more – as apposed to ‘bigger is better’.

He also reflected on Charlie Chaplin’s film Modern Times, a piece of work which looked at the rise of industrialization during the great depression, and Mahatma Gandhi’s efforts to foster production by the masses, not mass production.

The overarching theme of his talk was: ‘Business is personal: Putting people and planet before profit’.

Using Etsy as the basis for how business can take a lead, he described the company’s role as re-imagining commerce to create a more fulfilling and lasting world, not just about buying and selling but using commerce to make the world better.

Etsy’s model allows small traders to list their products on the platform and create their own storefronts. It is focused on handmade or vintage items as well as art and craft supplies. Founded in 2005, the site is forecast to see $1 billion sales pass through it this year.

It is a venture capital-backed business, which has netted $91.7 million of investment since it began fundraising in 2005. Global firms including Index Ventures, Accel Partner and Union Square Ventures now have a stake in the company.

Dickerson called upon the case study of James Ward, a seller on Etsy based in London, as an example of the kind of people running a business through Etsy. Ward, Dickerson said, had a dream that he wanted to make a living from his drawings. He joined when work was hard to find and, having set up his shop in 2010, he is now having his work used by clothing brand Lacoste.

Last year, in an effort to find a way to gauge its ability to promote the kind of humanising element Dickerson wants to engender, the business signed up to become a B Corp business. The B Corp certification is described as to sustainable business what Fair Trade is to coffee or USDA Organic certification is to milk.

The certification is graded on environmental performance, accountability, and transparency to create a score out of 200. Whilst Etsy only scraped the certification with a score of 80.2 (80 is pass), Dickerson explained how he and the business are now using it as a way of improving on all three fronts.

Companies such as ice cream retailer Ben & Jerry’s and clothing manufacturer Patagonia are B Corp certified. Dickerson emphasised it wasn’t, and isn’t, meant to be slick marketing – rather a way to learn where the business is deficient.

‘We don’t want to be best in the world, but best for the world,’ Dickerson said.

Etsy’s success is based on the success of other people – the retailers who sell goods through its platform.

It was a powerful message and one that, if embraced by a majority of companies, could further foster the culture which has seen the number of start-up businesses in the UK explode in recent years.

The B Corp ‘Declaration of Interdependence’ which Dickerson read out on stage struck a chord with me, and would be a powerful way for all to do business.

It reads:

We hold these truths to be self-evident:

That we must be the change we seek in the world;

That all business ought to be constructed as if people and place mattered;

That, through their products, practices, and profits, businesses should aspire to do no harm and benefit all.

To do so, requires that we act with the understanding that we are each dependent upon another and thus responsible for each other and future generations.

Dickerson’s full speech can be found here.

Hunter Ruthven

Hunter Ruthven

Hunter was the Editor for from 2012 to 2014, before moving on to Caspian Media Ltd to be Editor of Real Business.

Related Topics