Unique Platforms Overlooked

What do Bringer the Sprite, a hand carved wooden bowl and Pearl soap have in common? They’re all for sale at http://www.etsy.com/. This unique site brings together the most unlikely pairing – handmade items and e-commerce. It was founded in 2005 by three New York University students; it now has 1.8 million members in over 150 countries.

But how much money can you make selling hand-made ponytail holders and the like online, you hardened e-marketers ask?

Quite a bit, apparently. Gross sales tripled in 2008, to total $90 million.

But what I think makes this site unique and successful is that it allows people who are passionate about what they do to make money online. The founders of Etsy, led by Rob Kalin, have managed to eliminate the problem of competition within the niche by leveling the playing field and becoming a one-stop shop. They’re not competing in their niche; they’re enabling it.

And there’s a snowball effect that results from having so many unrelated products in one place. People who go in looking for one thing off-hand end up finding products they didn’t even know they were looking for. Now that’s how to run an online business.

And more than that, Etsy has become its own community. The depth and breadth of their offerings is staggering. Their tagline is “The place to buy and sell all things handmade.” With their Forums, Virtual Labs, Chat, Team Section, Storque (newsfeed) and Resources areas in the Community tab, it’s also the place to talk about, learn, share, and network about all things handmade as well.

Perhaps I’m rambling a bit, but I’ve honestly been taken in by the charm of this site. There’s something to be said for being genuine. The vendors on the site take obvious pride in their offerings. The old adage of loving what you do and sell to be a true success is proving true. These people believe in their products, and it shows.

That’s not to say that the people running Etsy are in it for altruistic reasons; they want to do just what the rest of us do: make money online. And they’re doing pretty good. They have three main revenue streams: a 3.5% transaction fee on every sale, a $0.20 listing fee for every item (if you visit the site, you’ll see the potential in that alone; the number of items listed in any given category is mind-boggling) and they also sell advertising to vendors within the site to promote their products.

And for those of you who still want to laugh at the ninja bunny, quick, do the math – what’s 3.5% of $90 million? Not laughing now, are you? Now, calculate $0.20 X the 353,646 listings currently in the Art category alone (there’s over 30 categories in total). Ooohh, that’s quite a serious look on your face.

So, what are you passionate about? And how can you turn that into an opportunity to make money for yourself online?

Remember, it doesn’t have to be something that has traditionally used in internet business. Just find a way to make the internet work for your passion; Etsy.com did.