Posts from Etsy

Please Don’t Use the S-word

I was interviewed by Sandi MacPherson the other day for Quibb, which is gradually growing into something really great. Here’s the post and here’s the repost:


What are you working on? What does your role entail?

Wanelo is a catalog of products organized by people. Members post products that they think are worth sharing, and those products get bought, saved, collected, tagged and sent to friends by other members. It’s growing very fast and is addictive to both build and use, and to read what members have to say about it.

I joined in May of this year and we immediately set out to rewrite, redesign, rebuild, rebrand and relaunch the service. That relaunch happened in late June, and since then we’ve managed to grow the value of the product and all the key numbers, and launch an iOS app that’s been climbing the charts (#8 in Lifestyle and #66 overall at the moment, not that I’m checking constantly or anything) [Ed.: #3 and #49 now, and version 2.0 just launched, but anyways]. We’re about to launch a version for Android.

My role entails a lot of prioritizing, analyzing, designing, writing, making, refining, guiding, testing, editing, synthesizing, hiring (world-class product designers wanted!) and engaging in heated debates with Deena, the founder.

What are your favorite tech/startup news sites and blogs?

I still find Hacker News to be the best filter for what’s going on out there, though it’s not as good as it used to be. A VC is an old standby. Chris Dixon’s blog is always worth your time. Platformed is a recent entrant I’ve been giving a chance. And I’m getting sucked into Quibb!

What is the most innovative company right now in the social commerce space?

A lot of the notable commerce startups that come to mind are working on making selling incredibly easy, like Gumroad, Ribbon and ShopLocket. They’re built to allow people to use existing networks (like Facebook and Twitter) to sell, which is great for some sellers. I like the simplicity they’re aiming for.

There are actually a lot of people doing interesting things around commerce, but I honestly look more toward non-commerce services for guidance right now. At Wanelo, we’ve learned more from Instagram and Tumblr than any commerce site.

Many commerce sites set out to “add a social layer” and the result is inauthentic and ineffective. But that “social part” — enabling real discovery and growing the kind of community where transactions can flourish — is a lot more challenging than facilitating transactions in some ways. At the same time, non-commerce networks often have a hard time when it comes time to make money. Maybe the ideal scenario is a commerce-oriented network that focuses on the social aspect first?

You spent a few years at Etsy — what did you learn there that you’ve been able to apply at Wanelo? What hasn’t been applicable?

I learned a ton about product design and development at Etsy, as well as community management, as well as Greek, beer-brewing, dog breeds and craft techniques :) Many of the things we try and do at Wanelo — designing in code, iterating quickly, experimenting continuously, pushing to production frequently, making use of feature flags, questioning assumptions, being open and communicative with members — are things that became ingrained in me at Etsy.

The main difference between the two experiences is that Etsy is a much larger company than Wanelo, and with large companies quite a lot of energy becomes focused internally rather than externally. When a company is small enough for everyone to fit comfortably in the same room, and you’re all racing in the same direction and staring at the same numbers, different dynamics apply. You “do” more than talk. Some of the things I learned at Etsy about getting things done at a large company are not applicable at Wanelo (yet).

Social products are built on networks — friends (Facebook), close friends (Path), professional colleagues (LinkedIn), etc. Do networks exist for social commerce? How are they different and/or similar?

Commerce-oriented social networks exist — I helped build one at Etsy — but I think they have a long way to go. Many of the existing ones are populated largely by sellers. Unlike the examples you mention, there are usually two distinct roles in commerce-oriented networks: sellers and buyers. Sellers are often much more motivated and engaged, because they’re making money and have more of themselves invested in the system. The buyer perspective gets drowned out, which is one of the core deficiencies I find in a lot of marketplaces today.

A good, robust network populated by buyers that enables commerce and is untainted by spamminess is not easy to build. (But it’s a lot of fun to try :)

What do you see as the key benefits of social shopping, from the perspectives of both shoppers and merchants?

I think the act of shopping for the kind of unique or unusual products that people feel are worth sharing is so inherently social that qualifying it with “social” feels weird. It’s like saying talking is social. People are the best path to these products, because they aren’t things you search for specifically. When people discover these products, they share them with other people. And the internet is enabling this at a grand scale.

A platform for this kind of shopping gets out of the way of the users, and doesn’t talk down to them with heavy-handed merchandising or intricate product taxonomies. It’s about helping people help each other out (whether they’re conscious of it or not), and letting the good things happen.

From the shopper’s perspective, the benefit of this kind of platform is in the thrill of discovery, and the sharing of those discoveries, which is addictive and life-enhancing.

From the merchant’s perspective, the benefit is sales, and the opportunity to engage with customers as peers. Many of the merchants behind these products really don’t have the time, budget or expertise to fully figure out marketing on this conversational medium we use called the internet. Their energy goes into making the cool things that they sell.

Luckily for everyone, it’s easier than ever to discover and sell these things.

Some comments over on Quibb.

Sharing vs. Selling

C.R.E.A.M. by esymai on Etsy

So if sharing online is about validation, what if the objects being shared are for sale, and you stand to benefit from their sale? Does money always ruin it?

There is a lot of sharing and curating going on of objects that are available for sale somewhere. See Svpply, Fancy, Pinterest, large swaths of Tumblr, Polyvore, Delicious, Wanelo. Users of services like these are gaining followers and influence, expressing and discovering themselves, and having fun, but they aren’t benefiting financially from their curation. Some would say it would be a conflict of interest for them to do so, or would result in less compelling content. Or take the fun out of it. Or feel spammy.

The discouragement of self-promotion is one reason why Pinterest works so well, and why it’s often more compelling to follow someone’s favorites on Etsy than it is to follow the items they’re selling. When someone other than the seller says a thing is good, people listen. If a lot of people say a thing is good, even better. Especially if those people have influence. This is also a really simple way to think about the basis of PageRank.

It makes sense when you think about it. An endorsement from someone with nothing material to gain from the endorsement is more compelling and trustworthy than one from the person doing the selling, particularly if you know or admire the endorser. Someone constantly pushing what they’re selling is like someone who talks about him or herself all the time: boring, and suspect. Big brands have gradually figured this out as they learn how to talk to people on the internet.

So what if the people you followed for their good taste made money when you bought something they shared? Would it change your perception of their curation? I wonder if such a system would ultimately ruin good curation or further motivate it.

The closest thing I know of to this currently is ShopSense from ShopStyle. Its users are proprietors of fashion blogs and editorial properties—people who, for me anyway, don’t have nearly the authority and influence as the people I follow on Etsy and elsewhere. There must also be some interesting Amazon Associates sites out there.

The experience I’m thinking of though is more like what you get when you keep up with a really well-curated vintage shop on Etsy (there are many; see my favorites). The shop owner obviously has a financial incentive for their work, but is also just genuinely excited to share the discoveries they’ve made.


Refavorited is a Tumblelog (do people still say that?) where my favorites from Etsy, SoundCloud, YouTube, Flickr, Twitter and Wikipedia go, automatically, via ifttt.

If This Then That

Etsy is not yet an official channel on ifttt (but is so ready), so I’m using my Etsy favorites RSS feed as a trigger. As for Wikipedia, for a long time now i’ve felt compelled to save articles I learn from and like in a Delicious account for lack of something better and the time to build it, as a sort of record of random learning, and Delicious is a channel available on ifttt.

Other channels I would love to see on ifttt: Simplenote (I broke up with the ifttt-supported Evernote for Simplenote earlier this year and have never looked back; they have a backroom API), Findings (API on GitHub), Pinterest and Quora (no official APIs yet) (what’s up, Palo Alto?).

This all arose from extended rumination on sharing, and what motivates people to share things they like online. There is a good Quora thread on why people share; every answer is worth reading. Deena Varshavskaya’s is the broadest and most succinct:

Sharing is a basic unit of socializing. Humans are social animals and socializing is at the foundation of who we are. When people approve, appreciate or relate to something we do or say, we feel good. This can be explained in evolutionary terms. Social validation means reduced risk and uncertainty. Life is all about managing risk and one way to reduce risk is to do things the same way as other people do it (i.e., a lot of people are statistically less likely to be wrong than a single person).

Sharing various aspects of ourselves gives us a chance to get validation (validation = reduced uncertainty) in our life choices.

Validation is really at the heart of it, and systems that facilitate validation—alerting you when someone out there likes something you posted—keep you motivated to continue sharing.

There’s also this slightly crazy presentation on discovery from a few years ago that I return to regularly and still find valuable. Basically, enabling discovery is about allowing people to:

  1. Discover new, valuable information
  2. Get discovered by others
  3. Discover more about themselves

Which is another way of saying discovery is about facilitating social validation.

The New Delicious tagline is “Discover Yourself!” Services that can get you hooked on doing that can help other people discover things that they never would have thought to search for—like everything I’ve ever favorited on Etsy, SoundCloud, Flickr, YouTube and Twitter.