Etsy Goes Public, Pledging to Balance Social Mission and Profit

Chad Dickerson, center right, chief executive of Etsy, celebrated the online craft bazaar's Nasdaq debut on Thursday. (Mark Lennihan/Associated Press)
Chad Dickerson, center right, chief executive of Etsy, celebrated the online craft bazaar’s Nasdaq debut on Thursday. (Mark Lennihan/Associated Press)

The online craft bazaar Etsy made its debut on the Nasdaq stock market Thursday, signaling the birth of an unusual public corporation — and not just because its employees carry around compost on bicycles, or because its regulatory filings are peppered with phrases like, “We keep it real, always.”

Etsy is one of a growing number of companies, called B Corps, that pledge to adhere to social and environmental accountability guidelines set by a nonprofit organization called B Lab. And Etsy on Thursday became only the second for-profit company to go public out of more than 1,000 companies that have that certification.

Etsy shares closed on Thursday at $30, almost twice their initial public offering price, in one of the most closely watched market debuts this year.

Ringing the opening bell at Nasdaq’s headquarters in Times Square, amid cheers and confetti and Etsy ads flashing on the screens outside, Etsy’s chief executive, Chad Dickerson, called the debut “an important milestone.” Selected Etsy vendors held a bazaar of their wares in one corner of the square, including a Brooklyn-based vintage clothes seller, an Israeli jewelry designer and a Somerset, Mass., store that sells superhero capes for children.

Overnight, Etsy priced its public offering at $16 a share, at the top end of the company’s proposed range, valuing the company at $1.78 billion. And in a nod to its small-business roots, it capped the amount of stock retail investors had access to in the offering to $2,500, to get as many individuals as possible to participate, including its vendors.

“The success of our business model is based on the success of our sellers,” Mr. Dickerson said in an interview. “That means we don’t have to make a choice between people and profit.”

Etsy’s initial public offering is indeed a milestone for a quirky online marketplace born a decade ago in a Brooklyn loft as a way for one of its founders to peddle handmade wooden goods.

It is also an experiment in corporate governance, a test of whether Wall Street will embrace a company that puts doing social and environmental good on the same pedestal with, if not ahead of, maximizing profits.

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SOURCE: HIROKO TABUCHI
The New York Times

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