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Etsy CEO Josh Silverman: Pandemic was ‘our Dunkirk moment’

April 20, 2021, 9:42 AM UTC

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Good morning. 

I’ve heard many great pandemic transformation tales from CEOs over the past year, but few match that of Josh Silverman, CEO of Etsy, who was our guest this week the Leadership Next podcast.

“This was sort of our Dunkirk moment,” Silverman says. “Americans desperately needed all kinds of things, and the supply chains of the big mass retailers couldn’t keep up. Cottage industry came to the rescue.”

Top of the list, of course, were masks. “Masks were not a thing before April 2, 2020. If someone was searching for a mask, they were looking for a Halloween mask or face cream.” But over the rest of the year, Etsy sold a total of $740 million dollars in masks, allowing buyers to find one “that expressed their sense of taste and style.” 

And it wasn’t just masks. “In May, the world woke up and decided they wanted to make bread.  Within hours you had thousands of sellers offering yeast recipes and bread making recipes.” All told, Etsy’s merchandise sales doubled during the pandemic, reaching a total of $10 billion. And the company’s market value soared over $25 billion. 

Okay, that $10 billion may pale in comparison to merchandise sold over Amazon’s platform, which was fifty times that. But it’s still a big deal for a company once viewed as an outlet for Brooklyn hobbyists. Silverman says buyers “discovered you can keep commerce human.”

And by the way, Etsy is holding strong to its commitment to be a good citizen as well as a good business—which Silverman says go hand in hand. “There are a lot of problems out there, and people don’t have a lot of confidence in our political system to solve those problems,” he says. “If business can’t be part of solution, then where are we?”

You can listen to the podcast on Apple or Spotify.  More news below.

Alan Murray


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Emissions surge

The world will likely see the second-largest increase in energy-related carbon emissions this year, according to the latest forecast from the International Energy Agency. The increase—which is largely the fault of Chinese coal-burning—would reverse 80% of last year's pandemic-driven decline. Financial Times

Xi speech

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Facebook crypto

Facebook-backed Diem, formerly known as Libra, will reportedly launch a pilot this year featuring a single, dollar-pegged stablecoin—a far cry from the original plan, which featured a universal currency tied to a basket of sovereign currencies, and which was panned by regulators. The Diem pilot will apparently be small-scale and focused on consumer-to-consumer transactions. CNBC


Green dreams

Germany's Greens have for the first time nominated a candidate for the post of chancellor: Annalena Baerbock, who pollsters say has a fighting chance to succeed Angela Merkel (Merkel's own CDU party has chosen a relatively unpopular candidate, Armin Laschet). The move shows how mainstream the Greens have become in Germany, partly thanks to decades of real-world governing experience. Fortune


Grab's upcoming, SPAC-enabled trading debut is structured so founder and CEO Anthony Tan will be able to outvote any outside investors—he'll have 2.2% of Grab's ordinary shares, but control 60.4% of the super-app firm's voting power. Fortune

Parler return

Apple is reinstating Parler, the right-wing social networking app, in the iOS App Store. It yanked Parler from the app repository three months ago, following the Capitol insurrection. Fortune

Remote inspection

Ben & Jerry's "flavor gurus" are usually on the factory floor to visually inspect the first run of a new product. That changed during the pandemic, with the team members being miles away but viewing the all-important cross-section cut of the pint through mixed-reality smart glasses. Fortune

This edition of CEO Daily was edited by David Meyer.