Founders: Rob Kalin, Chris Maguire, Haim Schoppik, Jared Tarbell
Age of founders at start: All early to mid-20s
Background: New York University (Kalin, Maguire and Schoppik)/New Mexico State University (Tarbell)
Founded in: 2005
Headquarters: Brooklyn, New York
Business type: Online marketplace for independent creative businesses
In 2005, Rob Kalin was a 25-year-old college student, carpenter, photographer and painter looking for a good way to sell his wares. He would join with two other friends at New York University to create exactly that – an online marketplace for hand-crafted goods. He gave it a short, nonsensical name: Etsy.
From a website cobbled together in just a few months in Rob's Brooklyn apartment, Etsy would grow in 5 years to move more than $300 million in merchandise, be valued at more than $300 million by investors, and employ more than 250 people.
The ironic secret of Etsy's success? Rob put more energy into helping the crafter community and promoting the lifestyle of buying handmade goods than he did into making Etsy a viable business. That philosophy would cause much conflict and turmoil at the company, but would alsodraw an enthusiastic user base and enable Etsy to succeed.
"Profit isn't a focus," he said flatly in a 2010 video interview with the influential technology blogTechCrunch. "To me, the most important part of commerce is the social aspect. This is a huge opportunity to reinvent what ecommerce means. That's our goal."
A little client project leads to a big idea
In 2005, Rob Kalin and Chris Maguire were hungry New York University students doing freelance web-development work to try to cover their tuition. Chris was just 21. The pair formed a design company, iospace, but quickly tired of client work and wanted to create their own online business. The question was what it would do.
Entrepreneurial ideas seemed to grow in Rob's head like weeds, Haim recalls, though many were of dubious value, such as opening a photo-scanning store. One early idea of Rob's was to create an online community productivity software application. He even wangled $10,000 in financing to develop the idea from a local realtor for whom Rob had built a home bar, Spencer Ain.
"Rob's hidden ability is talking rich people out of their money," Chris says. "That's what he's best at."