Etsy caught my eye around two years ago. Etsy is like a huge online flea market, where artists and crafters sell their cool, unique, and often handmade, products.
Yesterday I happened to see an article about Etsy’s founder Robert Kalin, which made me wonder, “Is he going to be another Zuckerberg?” Zuckerberg and Kalin have things in common: they are both in their 20’s and founded websites with college friends in their apartments. After watching a video of Kalin reading a children’s book, I realized that two entrepreneurs might be more different than similar. The book Kalin chose, called Swimmy, is about how a small fish joins together with other fish to scare away a huge tuna. Kalin wrote, “Those tuna are the big companies that all us small businesses are teaming up against.”
Kalin seems to struggle with what he perceives as a conflict between his role as a business founder and his role as an artist. In an article, Can Rob Kalin Scale Etsy?, commentators observe that “…Kalin is socially awkward, reticent, and given to eccentricities that can seem downright crazy. ‘I speak to people in the business world and the technology world, but I don’t admire them,’ he says, pointing an 8-inch combat knife at me for emphasis. ‘I admire the makers of the world.’ ”
Fred Wilson, an early investor in Etsy, said that “Kalin is actually a pretty good businessperson, but he thinks of himself as an artist.” My question: why can’t he be an artist and run a prosperous business? Etsy’s financial success shows that not only are both possible, but that there’s market demand for people with both sets of skills.