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Himanshu Wardhan, MD, Etsy India with Amitabh Kant, CEO, NITI Aayog at Etsy India’s launch. Pic Courtesy: Etsy India

Global creative goods marketplace Etsy Inc. recently made a foray into India with a vision to onboard every creative Indian entrepreneur and take his/her offerings to buyers around the world. Small Is Big caught up with Himanshu Wardhan, MD, Etsy India to learn more about how the company keeps the human connection at the heart of commerce, scalability that Etsy offers to small businesses, navigating the digital literacy challenge in rural India, his vision for Etsy India and lots more!

SIB: Etsy is a global community of micro entrepreneurs and India has over 50 million micro, small and medium enterprises. Why has it taken so long for Etsy to come to India?

HW: Sellers from India have been using Etsy to share their crafts with the world since the company’s early days. We’re excited to now have a team on the ground to help grow and support that seller community, enabling them to share even more of their unique and handcrafted goods with the world.

Given the exponential growth of eCommerce and small online sellers in India, we see a strong opportunity to mobilise the large number of creative micro-entrepreneurs who can offer beautiful and unique products to the Etsy community. We will reach out to creative entrepreneurs in India (ranging from a small artisan of traditional artforms to parents working from home and professional designers and artists) to display their products and sell to nearly 35 million buyers not just in India, but nearly every country across the world.

We believe that the nature of commerce is evolving: more people are choosing to purchase goods online and many consumers are looking for unique items as an alternative to mass produced goods.

SIB: What is the vision that Etsy has in India? How significant is this market?

HW: Our vision is to make Etsy the default platform for any creative individual. We’re excited to onboard new sellers in the region to share their goods with the world. We currently have more than 6,50,000 items listed from sellers in India. There has been incredible growth of eCommerce market in India in recent years, however it has largely benefitted large resellers or brands. We want to democratize eCommerce selling and get the smallest creative seller from India to become an active participant of online selling. If my or your Mom is knitting a sweater or making something at home then she should be selling on Etsy.

We are looking to onboard all kinds of creative micro entrepreneurs – right from an artisan making a traditional artform, a housewife in a middle class household looking to supplement family income to a professional designer and artist aspiring to sell to over 34.7 mn buyers, not just from India but globally. Some independent estimates suggest that there will be 10 million online sellers by 2020, so the opportunity is huge.

SIB: How has the response been so far? What kind of demand exists for ‘Made in India’ goods among Etsy users? How many Indian sellers have listed on the platform so far?

HW: Incredible! India’s artistic heritage is as rich and varied as it is technically impressive—the textiles alone are riots of color and intricate, many-layered prints, which are often applied individually and painstakingly by hand. On Etsy, we’ve seen searches for ‘Indian fabric’ and “block print” go up 16% and 11%*, respectively, and searches for Indian jewelry increase 34%.

Every day we have new sellers with unique products and equally interesting stories. Etsy is a destination for special items, but what makes it even more special is the seller community that we have from India. We have a seller from Hyderabad who started with just 3 quilts but now has a thriving Etsy business. There is also Ruchi from Lucknow (her shop is ComfyMommy) who is one of the early sellers from India . Ruchi works out of home but her clothes are being sold all over the world. These stories are the driving force for us at Etsy and we would love to work with the huge creative community here.

SIB: Is there a specific scale an enterprise must achieve before listing on Etsy? What kind of companies are best suited for this platform?

HW: We have 2 million sellers across the world with 50 million unique listings. 87% of our sellers are women and 97% operate out of their homes. 80% of our sellers are single person shops. Infact for 53% of our sellers their entrepreneurial journey started from Etsy and they made their first sale on Etsy.

So any person who is making creative products and wants to exhibit and sell to over 35 million buyers across the world can set-up a shop on Etsy. You could be operating from home or a small boutique/studio.

SIB: Is there a specific focus on women entrepreneurs?

HW: We want creative entrepreneurs of all genders to showcase and sell their products on Etsy. We have seen that women are the most active participants with 87% of sellers identifying as women. 55% of our employees are women and both our Board of Directors and Executive Team are at least 50% women. So, clearly we are a very women-friendly platform but we want all creative entrepreneurs to be on Etsy, irrespective of gender.

SIB: What are the benefits that Etsy offers to small businesses? How affordable is it to transact business on this platform? How can a small, local business aim to reach global markets?

HW: Etsy provides small creative entrepreneurs a platform to showcase and sell their products to over 35 mn buyers in nearly every country in the world. Earlier if you are creative person, then you would need initial capital and take care of other set-up tasks to start a business. With Etsy, all you need is an internet connection and you can be selling to buyers across the world. We also have lot of tools built in to enable the sellers, so that they can focus most of their time in the creative process of making the product.

We probably have the lowest transaction fees in comparison with any other other eCommerce platform. Our transaction fee is just 5% and very nominal listing fee of $0.20. We also have an introductory offer for new sellers where they get 20 free listings when they create their Etsy shop.

SIB: In a country where traditional small businesses are yet to adopt digital transformation, how is Etsy planning to navigate the digital literacy challenge? Would your sales force hand hold those entrepreneurs who are not very tech savvy at the moment?

HW: We are looking to reach out to a wide range of creative entrepreneurs – right from a professional designers/artists and home based creative individuals in urban areas to artisans practicing traditional art forms in different parts of India, including rural area. Most of the urban sellers are very digitally enabled and need very little help to set-up a shop once they decide to set-up a shop. Even with artisans from non urban areas we are seeing that the new generation is very savvy and we do some initial hand holding and help them open shop with our spp, then they can manage the shop after that.

Let me give you an example – we have a seller from Shahpura district in Rajasthan. His name is Vijay Joshi and he is an artist who makes the ‘phad’ from of painting – a very unique artform that goes back to more than 700 years. There are only a handful of ‘phad’ artists in India and they all belong to one family in the heart of Rajasthan. When we reached out to them we helped them in opening their shop, writing the descriptions and gave suggestions on the kind of photographs they should select. Our team was available to answer and queries that Mr Joshi had. Now he can manage the shop himself without our help.

SIB: Currently you focus is on sellers, is it likely to shift to local buyers in the near future?

HW: Right now we’re focusing our energy on educating the local population on what Etsy is and how to get started selling on the platform. We have a team on ground working to assist new sellers on and offline. With incredible growth in domestic eCommerce market, it is difficult to ignore the buyer market and we will be looking for opportunities to engage with the buyers in the future as well.

SIB: What are some of the unique challenges Etsy is facing in the Indian market?

HW: eCommerce in India till now has largely been associated with discounted mass produced goods sold by few large resellers. Etsy is exactly opposite of that, we are a platform for unique products solds by small creative entrepreneurs who are involved in making of the product or designing the product. One of the challenges we face is to communicate that Etsy is not a platform for a reseller, but for creative entrepreneurs who are involved in the making or designing of the product.

SIB: What kind of products are becoming the “hot sellers” on Etsy India?

HW: This is like asking me to pick favourites (smiles)! There all sorts of products that are doing well in India and the response that we are getting across categories is phenomenal.

The beauty of the platform is that there’s no one product that can represent it. While there are sellers making customized beer glasses, and tablets that connect to typewriters in the US, there are also sellers like Vijay Joshi, a Phad painter from the Bhilwara district of Rajasthan, and ComfyMommy, a maternity wear brand from Lucknow. A lot of our sellers and buyers from across the world are looking for raw material for their craft. And Indian sellers have a lot of fabrics, gems and jewellery to offer, which can have a significant influence on different buyer segments.

SIB: How does Etsy promote sustainability and environment conservation through its business practices?

HW: The Etsy business drives our positive impact and our impact initiatives drive our business. For example, helping sellers earn more sales directly correlates to growth in our marketplace. Similarly, there’s a wealth of business research showing the positive relationship between diversity and innovation and we believe that fostering a more diverse workforce will drive ideation to propel our business forward. And reducing a company’s carbon footprint can lead to lower operational costs. Aligning our mission, values, and impact strategy alongside our business strategy is critical to growing sustainably and positioning us for continued success.

Our ecosystem includes a set of external factors that support our success, such as: a strong e-commerce foundation; access to clean, renewable energy; laws that allow creativity and entrepreneurship to thrive; and a healthy natural environment.

SIB: How are you promoting Etsy in India? What are your advertising and marketing strategies here?

HW: We are reaching out to sellers through different online and offline channels. We are looking to mobilize a community of creative entrepreneurs and not just sign them as sellers.

Among other things, we will be hosting workshops to introduce existing and potential sellers to each other. Our teams are also physically going to local bazaars or looking at the online database to find interesting sellers.

SIB: Where do you see Etsy India business 3-5 years down the line? What is your  immediate mandate as Etsy India MD?

HW: Etsy’s vision for the near term and long term future is to mobilize a community of creative entrepreneurs who want to demonstrate their talent and sell their art and craft to our millions of active buyers across 80 countries.

It’s not a two-or three year vision but Etsy is the place you go when you want something to feel or be special. There are times when you want to buy something that has a story, that’s personalized or customized to you, when you have a real interaction with the person who made it. I think that the opportunity for it is greater that ever, more relevant than ever. The world has becomes more commoditized. We need to make substantial progress on making it even more obvious, all the moments when you can inject special into your life!