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Online Handcraft-Seller Etsy Has Unprecedented IPO Success

  • Zlatica Hoke

A U.S.-based online handcrafts and antiques seller has had unprecedented success since it went public last week.

Although Etsy's stock prices have declined since the initial excitement, the New-York based start-up is showing resilience.

Etsy is an online marketplace offering handmade, antique and vintage goods sold by individual sellers.

Since its inception a decade ago, the firm has built a solid base of about 1.5 million active sellers and close to 20 million buyers. Its revenue has grown steadily, reaching more than $195 million last year. As of December, the Etsy app had been downloaded 22 million times.

Kathleen Smith, whose company, Renaissance Capital, tracks IPOs and developments in the market, said Etsy "is a leading online operator of handmade and vintage goods, including jewelry, furniture, clothing. No other company has been able to create this kind of community. And it's a very loyal community. Mostly women. And in the prospectus, they will tell you that about half of the buyers and sellers in 2011 were buyers and sellers in 2014."

Initial success a surprise

Still, Etsy's initial stock market success surprised everyone. Its shares opened at $31 on April 16, the day the company made its Nasdaq debut, and climbed above $35 during the day, more than double the firm's initial public offering (IPO) price of $16.

Called the largest IPO ever for a venture-backed, New York-based start-up, Etsy sold more than 13 million shares, raising $267 million on the day it went public.

Smith said, "The company has really increased its spending on marketing, figuring that it has such a loyal client base that it's worth paying more to keep attracting clients. The growth rate is pretty good, over 50 percent at the end of the year and its looks like they can get this 30 percent type of growth."

After the initial stock market hype, Etsy's stock prices went down, sparking predictions that it will be sold.

Liana Baker, a correspondent who covers mergers and acquisitions for Reuters news service, said, "I think, with Etsy coming out and the valuation in the low billions, it could make it ripe for picking by a bigger company like eBay or Amazon."

But as of Tuesday, the company's stock had recorded a slight increase, ending at $25 per share.

Market analysts said it is not yet clear what Etsy's future will be.

"That is going to depend on how management treats its new investors and delivers the kinds of expectation that investors are expecting," Smith said.

Founded in 2005, Etsy has grown from a website selling just wooden objects to an online community of crafters offering unique goods that cannot be mass produced or re-sold. Its supporters view it as an antidote to global mass production and consumption, pushed by big corporations.

Veering from that path could turn off the company's loyal base. But Etsy has announced plans to grow globally and expand its base of buyers and sellers of one-of-a-kind items.

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