The cut-throat growth strategy you can learn from Etsy

Faye Graham
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March 13, 2020

Looking at the powerhouse platform it is today, most people probably wouldn’t be aware of Etsy’s rocky beginnings.

From humble beginnings in a Brooklyn apartment, to becoming the most well-known online intermediary for artists, crafters and vintage collectors worth $4.86 billion. Etsy is much more than just an online marketplace.

So what’s their secret to success?

Back in 2005, ecommerce sites like Ebay were in full swing, but fees were high and the generic process was off-putting for sellers. Nothing currently existed for independent artists and makers.


Noticing a gap in the market, Etsy’s founders Rob Kalin, Chris Maguire, Haim Schoppik and Jared Tarbell saw an opportunity to build their own platform - a more economically friendly way for creatives to sell their work. Appealing to a niche market, this was their chance to connect with and empower creative independents, and they ran with it.


But after years in the making, it was all nearly gone in the blink of an eye. Haemorrhaging money, ‘Etsy Studio’ found itself having to lay off staff, and subsequently ground to halt.


So how did they make such a strong comeback, and what led to the Etsy we see nowadays?


Knowing the right times to change, adapt, and drop things was key to their success. What set them apart is that they knew the importance of when to kill products. There was no flogging a dead horse here, they recognised early that if something isn’t working, you must kill it. And when Etsy wasn’t resonating, they acted.

For a start-up, this drastic approach can seem terrifying, but Etsy persevered.

They didn’t drop their concept, but instead channelled their efforts into their existing product – fine-tuning it to make the Etsy platform easier to use, more streamlined and accessible when it came to customers finding what they needed.

And herein lies the pay off.

By honing in on what they do best, rather than trying to develop into less relevant areas, Etsy have been steadily accelerating for the past five quarters since.

Upholding a growth mindset set them up to spot trends and leverage communities. They began to see changing patterns in the way people were shopping, and before long they were soon dominating the mobile sphere of retail too, by introducing a mobile app for sellers.

Armed with a start-up mentality, a strong ethos (to champion small businesses) and an unfaltering company culture, Etsy were active in making life better for business and for their sellers.


They are a shining example of how companies must adapt to the start-up mindset, not only to survive, but to thrive.


Jolt. Teaching start up business.

So why do so few of us have creative breaks?

Because almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes. Including you.

Charles Darwin took long walks around London. Kurt Vonnegut made listening to jazz a daily priority. Fiona Apple disappeared for 6 years after the release of her third album.

So why do so few of us have creative breaks?
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I ask because I can often be found agonising over the "more". If only I posted on Instagram more, I'll think in the bath. I'd have more followers if I pitched to more publications. I need to post 2 more times a week, minimum. I could go on...

Between you and me, I've got frustrated with myself for browsing Facebook or watching too much TV more times than I can remember.

And I'm not alone. So many of us are terrified of taking a break, creatively speaking. We won't let a moment pass without listening to a podcast, consuming an article or sharing something.

The cognitive load is real, y'all.

But like Vitamin D, sleep and good food, it's not only ok to take a break, it's essential.

Living a successful life is also about knowing when not to work. For your best output, you need to focus on your input, too.

The world won't end if you disappear from the internet for a week or so. Your creativity won't suddenly stop. Your time is now, but your time was also then and it will be again.

Your dreams don't have an expiration date.

Many of us confuse being "busy" with being constructive. But you can only do your best work by taking breaks.

And science backs it up, too. The brain requires substantial downtime to do its most innovative thinking. The ideas you have while driving or in the shower aren't coincidental. They're a result of you taking a step back, whether you're aware of it or not.

Here's a challenge for you

Let yourself take a wonderful and indulgent break. Several breaks. Hell, get downright bored.

Put airplane mode on for a while. Sit down. Lie down. Be still. Do nothing. Observe. Listen to your mind. Let it do what it does without judging it.

Wallow in it. Don't be afraid of it. Push it as far as you can.

When you leave your laptop behind, something always happens. A new idea or a fresh perspective appears.

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"A spark of inspiration needs an empty cave."

Take proper breaks, often. Completely clear your mind. Your next best idea depends on it.

Could you get to the top 1% of your industry?

Empower your team to go and shine.