The word transition is so loaded that I hate to use it. But it is what it is. Startups go through transitions all the time. And the biggest transitions of them all are when founders step back and bring experienced managers into their companies. The startup world is full of stories about the times when the transition was forced on the founders. But in my experience, the best transitions are not forced by anyone. They are driven by the founders. Our former portfolio company TACODA went through such a transition when Dave Morgan turned over the keys to the car to Curt Viebranz. Craig Newmark did the same thing with Jim Buckmaster. Reid Hoffman, a hall of fame founder in my book, did the same last year with the hiring of Dan Nye.
Our portfolio company Etsy has been going through a similar transition in the past couple weeks. A few months ago, Etsy hired Maria Thomas as their COO. But that gig did not last long. It was quickly apparent to founder Rob Kalin that Maria was the right person to be running the company day to day. And so today, Etsy announced that Maria would be taking on the CEO job. Etsy also announced the hiring of a new CTO, Internet industry vet Chad Dickerson. As Chad explains on his blog,
Etsy and the community it serves are all-around inspiring and I can’t wait to jump in
We can't wait either Chad.
But in these transitions, it's easy to forget about the founders. Rob, Haim, Chris, and Jared created Etsy in 2005 and gave the better part of three years of their life to creating the service. I remember the fall of 2006 about four or five months after we first invested, Chris and Haim were single handedly rebuilding the entire Etsy web service. I think they were sleeping about 2 hours a night and it had been going on for something like three or four months. They got it done but it basically killed them and almost killed the company. It was among the most heroic acts I've witnessed in my 20+ years in startup land. Fortunately with the arrival of Maria, Chad, and others, Chris, Haim, and Jared will not have to carry that kind of load going forward.
It's hard to explain the value that Rob brings to Etsy. It's his baby in so many ways. And Rob will be staying on as Chief Creative Officer, a role that was made for him. Creativity is way more than designing a great web page, something that Rob can do in his sleep. It's about designing an ecosystem that allows people to make a living making things. It's about building Etsy.org into something that can help teach millions of people how to do exactly that. And it's about continuing to push the envelope of what the Internet can do to make people's lives better.
Transitions are never easy on the people involved and the company that goes through them. But they are inevitable in the evolution of a company. I have learned that they can't be forced, they must happen on a timetable that makes sense for the company and the founders. Now is Etsy's time and they seem to be doing a great job working through it.