The mold for success in the past consisted of slumming one’s way through university, starting in the mail room of some company, and eventually making it to the glorious desk job, but not before serving one’s sentence as the coffee boy. But in the age of technology, when famous dropouts like Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg account for two of the five richest people in the world, it’s time to admit that genius ideas, hard work, and a pinch of luck may be the new path to payroll, especially thanks to entrepreneurial sites like Etsy.
For those uninitiated with Etsy’s whimsy, Etsy is a global e-commerce marketplace that sells handmade, vintage, and unique creative goods, usually made by the sellers themselves. It’s an artsy initiative that feels like an online farmer’s market: you know exactly what you’re getting because there really is no middle-man. Unlike most market retailers, many Etsy sellers allow you to customize your product, too, whether you’re purchasing a phone case or an engraved piece of jewelry.
Innovators can create and grow their business from their online store and develop a cult following in no time. Take Alicia Shaffer for example: with an annual revenue of $960,000 a year, Shaffer is not a world-renowned surgeon or Hollywood star. Instead, the mother of three sells her knitted goods (socks, scarves, and headbands) via her Etsy shop ThreeBirdNest. Her goods aren’t pricey either: one can spend between only $4 and $38 per item. Though Shaffer’s success can’t be guaranteed for most, Etsy entrepreneurs (65% make less than $100 per year), her rags-to-riches story is not an isolated case.
Jena Counts used her unique knack for custom made hair extensions to catch the eye of Marc Jacobs, where he contracted 12,500 pieces from her for his Spring 2017 New York Fashion Week Show, featuring her work on the heads of the Hadid sisters. Recently profiled in Vogue, Counts store has been thrown into the spotlight among 1.7 million other Etsy sellers. As Lauren Blevin, founder of Call of the Vialed perfumes (also on Etsy) puts it, a grandmother like Counts can turn a hobby into a global fashion statement because with Etsy there are “no-M.B.A.-required metrics,” but there is “instant customer feedback.”
Etsy’s appeal spans beyond its one-of-a-kind products and only-available-here status. As the New York Times puts it: “For many of its fans… [Etsy is] their vote for authenticity and good old craftsmanship and a seemingly ethical alternative to buying from big corporations.” This isn’t to say it’s just for the hipsters who deny mainstream culture. Etsy supports small businesses and people who might not otherwise find investors or make it on Shark Tank or Dragon’s Den. For most, it’s not a livelihood, but a hobby that they can grow and cultivate at their own speed, and when ready, grow into a viable business. Where eBay is for the “I want it new, now, and probably made in China” crowd, Etsy is the eBay for the millennial who craves individuality or the older crowd who craves the craftsmanship of a past generation.
It’s a great opportunity for university students or recent graduates trying to land on their feet as they hunt for a job or are strapped for extra cash. It can’t hurt to put your ideas out there and put that degree to good use: Jenna Georgescu once wondered “Is my stuff good enough to go on Etsy?” , too. Now, her Prism highlighter has a 5,000 person waiting list and she is currently restocking her entire 22-piece range. Not to mention, Sephora has called her up to talk numbers. Not bad for a former CVS employee… Not bad at all.