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Monday, August 4, 2008

Rob Kalin Stepping Down as Etsy CEO

I've been on Etsy for over two years and somehow I have been totally oblivious to the politics behind it. I've never really questioned how the site came to be, who is running it and so on. Today, I was looking through the Business Topics in the forums and came across a thread on Rob Kalin, Etsy's CEO, stepping down. The starter of the thread provided a link to an article about it on TheDeal.com. I read the article and realized how uneducated about Etsy I was. Terms that I come across everyday at work, apply to Etsy too: management team, CEO, COO, Board of Directors, venture capital, TheDeal.com, etc. I guess I never thought about Etsy that way.

I wonder how many Etsy sellers (and buyers) know as little as I do. I have a feeling I may not be the only one. To make us all a litlle more knowing, I provided the TheDeal.com article below. Please share your comments.

Kalin: Stepping down as Etsy CEO was my choice

"This was completely a personal decision on my part," Etsy Inc. founder Rob Kalin says about his handing over the CEO reins to Maria Thomas, who joined the startup in May as chief operating officer. Kalin, 28, who came up with the concept of an online marketplace for handmade goods and launched Etsy.com three years ago, will take on a new role as chief creative officer and will remain chairman of the board of directors.

The impetus for the change came from Kalin, confirms Union Square Ventures partner Fred Wilson, who along with Accel Partners and other VCs funded Etsy's $27 million round in January. (Since the funding, the one visible change at Etsy is that the staff's Acer PCs have been replaced with iMacs, Kalin says.)

Yet Wilson and Accel's Jim Breyer, both of whom sit on Etsy's board, did urge Kalin to bring people with more management experience into the company's executive team. That spurred the move to enlist Thomas as chief operating officer. Before joining Etsy, she had spent six years running NPR's digital operations and also spent three years at Amazon.com [AMZN]. After observing Thomas in action as COO for several months, Kalin says he concluded that she was more suitable to run the company than he was. When he returned from an informal family reunion in North Carolina in June, he began emailing board members about his desire to relinquish the chief executive job to her.

Kalin (pictured, wearing clothes sold on Etsy.com) has always been something of a reluctant CEO uncomfortable with some aspects of the job, as Tech Confidential observed when we first interviewed him last November (video below).

"I became CEO by virtue of necessity," recalls Kalin, who had no previous management experience. "In the beginning, we were too busy dealing with what needed to get done to find a CEO. So I just stepped into the role."

It's not a mantle he wore easily. He still expresses regret about the first time he had to fire someone. At the time, he recalls, he talked the experience over with Flickr co-founder Caterina Fake, one of the participants in Etsy's $615,000 seed round in June 2006 and a current board member.

"Caterina sent me Jack Welch's autobiography, where he talks about what it's like to be a CEO, with fine wine, golf courses and private jets," Kalin says wryly. "He had a very different perspective on it from mine. He advocates cutting the bottom 10% of performers."

Kalin also notes the managerial and technical challenges of running a rapidly growing startup. "There are 200,000 sellers making their livings from Etsy," he says. "Launching a single feature on Etsy now involves talking to 15 people. Creating a process to do that is a fair amount of work."

Putting those processes in place is essential, he acknowledges, "but just not how I do things. It's not suited to my temperament."

Enter Thomas, to whom Kalin was introduced by Wilson more than a year ago.

"It took a full year to hire Maria," Kalin says. "We met a lot of other candidates, but I didn't think they had the respect for Etsy's culture that Maria has."

As a sign of his faith in her ability to lead the company, Kalin let her choose its chief technical officer, Chad Dickerson, who is leaving Yahoo! Inc. [YHOO] to join Etsy in September. At Yahoo!, he headed up the Brickhouse startup incubator, which was spearheaded by Fake (Yahoo! bought Flickr in 2005 for $30 million, and she has has since left Yahoo!.)

In his new job, Kalin looks forward to thinking strategically about the company, focusing on the site's design, working on a soon-to-be-announced Etsy.org non-profit initiative, making some things with his hands, including wooden furniture -- and "getting more than three hours of sleep a night." -- Mary Kathleen Flynn

See July 23 post on management changes at Etsy from Tech Confidential
See Jan. 31 post on Etsy funding from Tech Confidential
See Nov. 27 profile and video interview with Rob Kalin from Tech Confidential


storybeader said...

Kalin had a great idea, and I appreciate his ingenuity. I'm glad he is still going to be with the Etsy family, and he's perfect in the role of Chief Creative Officer.

Thomas, with her experience, will know how to give Etsy more exposure, and that means marketing. I think we will see a boost in hits at our shops in the coming months.

La Alicia said...

Thanks for making me aware of this...I was in the dark...but I am seeing the light now! :)

Stella & Sugar said...

Thanks for the article it put it in a nutshell for me, i'd never go anywhere else and read it. very informative i forgot i was on a blog! though i was reading CNN.

Lily - Tulip's Talking from the said...

NM! You amaze me. Your study/research is incredibly helpful. The work you did to bring this to our attention is much appreciated.


SecretMe said...

thanks for that, a great article I was surprised at how young kalin was.

TNT2008 said...

It is incredible that Kalin did not let EGO get in the way of what is probably better for the company. If managing a million dollar business is not your strength, then by all means let someone with that experience take care of it.

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