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Etsy Gets More Businesslike But Not Without Losses

November 27, 2017, 1:29 PM UTC

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We spend a lot of time talking these days about businesses having “purpose” and being about more than making money. It’s a laudable conversation and a worthy goal, especially for employees who want to spend their days contributing to something bigger than themselves.

In the end, though, it really is about money—or at least who’s got the best strategy (and tactics) for making it in support of their possibly higher goals.

The New York Times spilled what used to be called a ton of ink Sunday on Etsy, whose new CEO, Josh Silverman, has the unenviable task of stabilizing a beloved if wobbly company. Etsy (ETSY) thrived for a time not so much because it deployed innovative technology but because it filled a niche ignored by eBay (EBAY) and Amazon (AMZN). The latter, unsurprisingly, has come on strong in the crafts market, leaving Etsy a warm and cuddly but financially unstable company. Silverman, backed by his board—which he’d been on before becoming CEO—has had to make Etsy a little more businesslike without losing too much of its soul. One sacrifice: Its coveted B Corp. designation for companies that make a positive social impact.

China, given to innovation fads of late, has witnessed the meteoric rise of dockless bikesharing companies, particularly Ofo and Mobike. The Economist, in surveying the improbable landscape, made an insightful observation about the two. Alibaba-backed Ofo and Tencent-backed Mobike look a lot like the two companies that became Didi Chuxing, the Chinese ride-hailing leader. Whether the bike companies ever make anything of themselves, they’re collecting oodles of data that could be quite valuable for their mega-cap investors. After all, it’s just business.

Finally, there’s the demise of Time Inc., owner of Fortune, which yesterday sold itself to Meredith, the magazine publisher and TV broadcaster. Founded in 1922, Time Inc. (TIME) was one of America’s great companies. Its last owner, Time Warner (TWX), milked it for its cash flow for years, then loaded it up with debt and spun it off as a public company in June 2014 at just over $23 per share. Meredith (MDP) will pay $18.50, and a company that defined American journalism in the 20th century will be no more.


I can tell from the volume of supportive and not-so supportive emails and tweets I received Friday that my essay on net neutrality struck a chord. (To those who wrote with substantive feedback, positive and negative: Thank you. To those who view email and Twitter as an opportunity for uncivil and vulgar commentary: I don’t appreciate it, and I won’t engage with you in any format.)

A through line in the pro-net neutrality argument is that diminishing the “free and open” Internet will kill startups. Given how Amazon Web Services, for one, caters profitably to startups, I’m scratching my head at why Comcast (CMCSA), Verizon (VZ), and the like wouldn’t want to also. If they don’t, perhaps Alphabet (GOOGL) will re-energize its stalled Fiber efforts—or float Loon balloons over Sunnyvale.

In any event, I promise to study the issue and come back with fuller arguments for and against in coming weeks.