Etsy Takes Its Social Mission to Wall Street

wallstreet_jpellgenSince Etsy followed up on its ambition to go public by registering with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, online commentators have expressed various levels of concern, anticipation, and extensive financial analysis and speculation.

As a certified B Corporation, Etsy’s social and environmental performance should remain a designated priority. As a public company, it will have to answer to its shareholders and periodically meet SEC requirements, while maintaining its social mission. Will Etsy be able to win over Wall Street — and as a result add a little handcrafted and sustainable flavor to the stock-trading game?

Recent changes in Etsy’s Board of Directors may be seen as significant and supportive of its goals. In December 2014, Michele Burns was added to the board just before longtime board member and Chairwoman Caterina Fake stepped down to pursue other interests. Etsy’s CEO, Chad Dickerson, described Burns as a “strong female leader who understands our passion to build a people-powered economy that fosters small business growth and entrepreneurship.” He also mentioned that she identifies with Etsy’s mission of economic empowerment within an online marketplace where the majority of its sellers are women. Burns is ascribed a sense for both traditional and emerging innovative commerce models, of which Etsy, naturally, considers itself the latter.

As of April, another new board member is welcomed into the Etsy family: Melissa Reiff. Her company, the Container Store, is built on pillars of the conscious capitalism movement — with principles for conducting business that are akin to Etsy’s philosophy of community-steered and values-driven initiatives. Dickerson’s optimism for Etsy’s future as a public company, while staying true to its social mission, is reinforced by human capital strategies. The first rung of the triple bottom line, so to speak.

When it comes to the triple bottom line, profit isn’t listed after people and planet for no good reason. Profit, in some circles, still bears the weight of negative connotation. Many Etsy sellers, as well as buyers, are drawn to the artisanal-for-vintage marketplace because it offers them an opportunity to be themselves in creative, artistic ways and to trade in an environment shaped to focus on the finer things in life. It marks one’s lifestyle rather than labels one as an average consumer or businessperson. There’s room for all kinds of arts and crafts, global and local exchange, and free choice to keep transactions strictly business or allow for friendships to bud and prosper. Profit next to acknowledgment and appreciation for one’s artistic talents or good taste seems just one of the perks in this community-based economy model.

Etsy is best known as a small-scale business. Its community likes independence. It craves and seeks authenticity. In other words: Etsy’s community of buyers and sellers is not really concerned with the bigger picture and the lure of capitalizing on Wall Street. Some fear a change in the fees and rating system, much to the sellers’ disadvantage. Others made attempts to translate IPO complexities into plain English for their fellow Etsy storekeepers, offering a friendly invitation to delve into the business side of selling on Etsy in order to gain more insight and, ultimately, deepen one’s skills as a marketplace entrepreneur.

Whatever the future may bring, for a certified B Corp of this size to go public, it could create a precedent and draw attention to strike more business alliances for making a better world when making money. Or making money to make a better world.

Etsy will offer around 16.7 million shares at a price in between $14 and $16 per share.

Follow Etsy on Stocktwits.

Image credit: Flickr/jpellgen

Gina Vodegel

Gina Vodegel (1963) is a freelance writer-journalist from Dutch Indo-European descent. She grew up in Maastricht in the Netherlands and moved to Belgium more than a decade ago where she enjoys rural life with a bundle of furry friends (dogs and cats) she rescued herself. She's a contributing editor for Puurzaam Magazine, a quarterly magazine issued by the Gulpener Beerbrewery, located in the south. They're a small family brewery who were the first in the Netherlands to implement sustainable energy in their production process. They won several awards for their beers and were granted the Dutch CSR Award in 2014. Puurzaam Magazine explores theme-wise covering 3BL and kindred topics.