Monday, March 2, 2009

A Visit from Etsy CEO Maria Thomas

by Jessica Burko of Reclaimed To You

On Friday afternoon we were thrilled to have a meet-up with Etsy CEO Maria Thomas in our very own city of Boston. Maria mentioned visiting Boston Handmade in an Etsy blog post she published from the train on the way to Boston, and she spent over two hours talking with us in my South End studio.

In the original correspondence requesting this gathering, Maria said simply that she wanted to "introduce" herself to us since she would be in Boston for the weekend. When I asked what she'd more specifically like to discuss her reply was, "The purpose of the meeting is to listen to Etsy sellers, especially those who are active on Etsy Teams. I'm still in my first year on the job and I've found it very useful to hear directly from our sellers." The dialogue that transpired was open, interesting, and we definitely all came away feeling that our thoughts, ideas and concerns had been heard.

There were ten members of Boston Handmade in attendance: Amy, Betsy, Bexx, Brooke, Katy, Kerry, Kiki, Mimi, Liz and me. The conversation began with Maria introducing herself and giving an overview of her role at Etsy, then continued with all of us offering our own introductions around the table. Maria took copious notes, asked questions, and jotted down questions that she would ask us later in the discussion.
The topics covered were wide ranging. Some of us had concerns about technical problems we've experienced with Etsy, aspects of the site that either were not working well, or could be working better, such as ways to search for items. Maria described the extensive technical overhaul she has been overseeing for the back end of Etsy. She explained that "the list of things to do, improve, and change is mammoth" and that because the site has changed and grown so much from it's original creation that prioritizing of tasks for the tech staff can be a challenge and is often in flux. She highlighted a few items on the list that are getting attention such as the overall e-commerce experience, the search process, the checkout and payment process, registration as a new Etsy buyer and/or seller, and use of the Etsy showcase. It was good to hear that the things that are on our minds are on hers as well, and that positive change is in the works.

Another topic we speant some time on was how Etsy compares to other sites that could be considered competition; sites that sell artist made works as opposed to mass-produced products. Maria spoke passionately about how "Etsy is more than just a marketplace... it is a personal way to connect in a fractured world... (and that) the Etsy experience is authentic, creating an experience promoting a way of life and a set of values." This of course refers to the handmade life, and all that it entails.

Two other topics that occupied much of our time together were the presence of certain categories on Etsy that do not necessarilly contain handmade items; vintage and supplies, and customer service on Etsy. The vintage and supplies discussion was quite lively as some of us had very strong feelings that one or both of the categories definitely should or absolutely should not be included on a web site whose motto is "Your place to buy and sell all things handmade." Maria listened to all of our opinions and then we discussed some ideas of how to better incorporate these categories into Etsy. Maria expressed that the inclusion of these categories on the site connected back to her ideas of "the handmade life" and that while vintage and supplies may not readily appear to resonate with the mission of Etsy, they are categories that artists and craftspeople identify with.

Customer service is a topic that is often discussed amongst Etsy sellers, because of course we the sellers are the Etsy customer, and we deal on a daily basis with the other type of Etsy customer, the Etsy buyer. Several of us related tales of wishing we could call the Etsy staff in a pinch, and wringing our hands waiting to hear back from a harried email. Maria let us know that there is in fact a Customer Service Group at Etsy but they need to be better trained. The good news of this is like most of the other concerns discussed at this meeting, there is a solution in progress, and if we can be patient we will see shining improvements around every corner.

Don't get the wrong idea, we weren't just a room of cranky pants at this once in a lifetime opportunity to meet with the Leader of the Free World, um, I mean, the CEO of Etsy. We told Maria all about the great things that Etsy has done for us over the years, how it has positively affected our outlook on our creative carreers, and how grateful we are that Etsy brought us all together as Boston Handmade. To thank Maria for her time we gave her a gift bag containing small handmade items representing our Etsy shops. In addition to those at the meeting other Boston Handmade members contributed to this gift as well: Allison, Beth, Crystal, Kathy, Louise, Lucie, Nancy, and Nicole - and I think the gift was a real hit!
Thank you to Maria for visiting, listening, and working to make Etsy an even better place for artists, artisans, craftspeople, and those who collect our work.


  1. great summary of the meeting Jess!

  2. Glad to hear the meeting went well and have the summary of what you talked about. You brought up the same comments and concerns that we have over here at Cleveland Handmade. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Thanks for the summary. Wish I could have been there in person...Maria sounds like she's intent on improving the etsy experience for all involved.

  4. Great post!!! Just wanted to add that Kirsten Bassion and I also contributed something to the gift bag for Maria even though we were not able to attend :0)

  5. Wow! It is so promising that Maria Thomas is engaging in a dialogue with active sellers and team members.

    Wish I could have been there with you all; the team continues to achieve amazing things. Way to go!

    (sorry if this is a double post; I think my first one didn't go though).


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