A Tale of Two CEO’s

Photo by June Admiraal on Unsplash

On the evening of April 11, day 1 of the Etsy Strike, I logged into our Twitter account and saw a new notification that was sent to @EtsyStrike. I clicked on it, curiously, because the name of the person who had made the tweet sounded really familiar.

I read the tweet. I googled the guy’s name. My mouth fell open in shock.

Rob Kalin, @rokali on Twitter, is Etsy’s original CEO and founder. He’s no longer with the company. That tweet was the first thing he’d said on Twitter since December 2014. He broke a 7.5 year Twitter silence to come out in support of us.

Two days later, Etsy’s current CEO, Josh Silverman, also had something to say about Etsy sellers.

Each of our sellers is a blade of grass in a tornado. They’re someone you haven’t heard of.

Valerie (our blog manager at the time who has moved on to head the Artisans Coop project) called it “the kind of tone-deaf comment we’d expect to hear from an out-of-touch CEO sitting high in his tower behind security gates, hoping the angry populace will go away and taking whispered advice from ‘crisis communications’ experts.”

My reaction to the statement was a little different. It caused me to realize something.

The billionaire Wall Street types in charge of Etsy see us as blades of grass underfoot. They can do whatever they want to us, extract whatever they want from us, in the form of additional fees out of our sales, additional time spent working for free to adapt to their constant profit-seeking changes.

To them, we are blades of grass. And you know what, they’re right. Unless our grassroots group of sellers can figure out how to change things, we are absolutely, utterly powerless.

In the beginning of this series, I penned a statement that may have seemed like an exaggeration:

Etsy is my master, and I am the abused dog that keeps coming back to them every time they call me.

It’s not an exaggeration. It’s a little bit tragic how true that felt when I typed it into my computer.

The primary thing detractors say — to me at least — is this:

“If you’re fed up with Etsy, you should just leave!”

The statement always prompts a little eye-rolling, because I am about as certain as I can be that that is exactly what those Etsy execs who keep putting profits over the people who generate their profits hope we’ll all do.

In fact, they talk about it in their investor reports. Seller churn, they call it. Yes, it’s the same word used to describe making butter the old-fashioned way. It’s called “churn” because it describes an in-and-out motion. Sellers leave, and later, sellers come back when they discover that the other options aren’t what they’re cracked up to be.

I’ve tried to leave. So many times. It’s a sad fact that a one-woman-shop like mine simply does not have the power to dominate Google searches to the extent of a giant corporation like Etsy. It’s a sad fact that other marketplaces simply do not compare to the one with the buyer following and reputation built by sellers like myself, over more than a decade of selling on the platform and recommending it to our friends and customers.

It’s a sad fact that no matter what Etsy decides to extract from us in the form of additional fees, or additional time spent working for free, most of us are stuck on the platform, at least in part.

Individually, we are powerless. But we are individuals no more.

All of this started with a Reddit post titled “We need an Etsy Sellers Union.” Every day that passes, the statements I penned in that post grow more and more true.

And so, it’s a good thing that myself and other talented, knowledgeable volunteers — all of us “in it for the long haul” — are working on doing just that. We’ve formed a nonprofit organization. We’re calling ourselves the Indie Sellers Guild. We’ve made membership free so we can be there for sellers no matter where they are on their path to success. We’re calling ourselves a guild for pesky legal reasons, but our organization is designed to operate exactly like a union. We are democratically owned by our seller members, who will vote to determine our future path.

Our home page tells it like it is:

It’s not easy to earn a creative living in this tech-platform-dominated internet. We are at the mercy of a corporate structure that wants to squeeze every bit of profit it can from sellers and buyers alike.

Individually, we have no power. We can only complain, and try harder to eke out poverty-level wages from the platforms we must use to reach our buyers.

Together, we can unite and fight back! Corporations cannot be allowed to continue destroying our livelihoods in the name of bigger profit margins.

We are the Indie Sellers Guild. We are a grassroots nonprofit, by indie sellers, for indie sellers. Our hard work makes Big Tech rich! We deserve a seat at the table, and we’re fighting to get one.

When Josh Silverman compared us to blades of grass, we plastered that shit all over social media.

Image from Indie Sellers Guild

When it comes down to it, I’d rather be a blade of grass any day than the owner of the foot that’s stomping on other people.

And you know what, a blade of grass can withstand a tornado. So long as that blade of grass has the proper root system, it will bend, but it won’t break.

This post is part of a series telling the story behind the 2022 Etsy Strike. Click here to start at the beginning.

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