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Local Innovation Driving E-Commerce Worldwide

Pictured above is the old server that originally ran Etsy.com.

Editor’s Note: This is a repost of an article written by our COO, Christian Dawson, that originally ran on the i2coalition blog on 11/5/12.

As Chairman of the i2Coalition, I spend a lot of time talking about how our industry fuels innovation, jobs and the economy. According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, U.S. e-commerce reportedly accounted for more than $190 billion in revenue 2011 and that number continues to grow.  When you pop online to visit your favorite websites, though, you just may not see it. That’s the thing about the Internet – because people use it every day they assume they understand it, but few truly understand how it works or its implications. So here’s a little story from my past to show how I think companies like mine get to have a hand in changing the world.

Back in August of 2004, ServInt received an email from a company few have heard of – a web design and development firm from Brooklyn called iospace. We had been hosting them since 2003, and we excitedly watched them experience a good amount of growth and a lot of success. Their owner, Rob Kalin, was one of our favorite clients. We liked him because he challenged us. Rob challenged us not through coming up with difficult technical problems for us to solve, but by being a one-man weathervane for what kinds of hosting technologies people were going to be asking for next. Rob would introduce us to new technologies months before they became the thing everybody was asking for. Rob turned us on to a lot of new features that we got to put into the hands of excited customers.

Rob was one of our best resellers. When he would sign a design or development contract, he would do his best to try to convince those individuals to move their hosting to ServInt. One day ServInt’s CEO Reed Caldwell and I got an email from Rob that said he had signed on 2 new large contracts, both of which he had convinced to move to ServInt. He ended the email with “And I’ve got a hare-brained scheme to tell you about, when you’ve got a minute. I’d really be interested in your opinion.”

A 45 minute phone call later, we were introduced to Etsy.com.

If you aren’t familiar with Etsy.com, you should be. It’s like eBay, but for handmade goods. Sure, eBay allows people in rural economies with Internet access all over the globe to sell their stuff, but Etsy allows people to earn a living expressing themselves artistically. There were $525 million in gross sales on Esty for last year alone in more than 150 countries.  Etsy empowers little old women in Poughkeepsie sell their crocheted items to housewives in Wichita, and allows College kids in Raleigh-Durham to earn pocket money on the weekends by whittling and selling woodwork items. With more than 15 million members and 875,000 sellers, Etsy is filled with paintings, sculptures, handmade clothing and more, and while there’s plenty of awful stuff represented (there is actually a popular blog called Regretsy that picks out some of the less tasteful items) by and large Etsy is an amazing community of small independent businesspeople who have been empowered by the resources provided by the site.

So back to my story. Rob tells us about Etsy. We talk about helping him with the infrastructure to help make his dream a reality. We sat down to map things out to help him build a system that would scale.

Around the same time, iospace signed on for a web design and development project at ServInt, to help us revamp our signup pages.

So we worked with them on helping them get Etsy up and running, and they worked with us on giving ServInt a facelift and help with streamlining our ordering process.  In July 2005, Etsy was well on its way, and I got to get Rob to walk me through the site and all its goals. As we drove towards the new ServInt website launch in late 2005, Rob told me and Reed that ServInt was going to be iospace’s last client. He and his team were moving full-time to working solely on Etsy. By mid-2007, Etsy had its one-millionth sale and had daily record breaking sales by December.

Truthfully, ServInt no longer hosts Etsy. They have their own datacenter in Brooklyn and it is growing extremely quickly. They are growing at an economy of scale that honestly makes sense for them to do on their own. But I’d like to think that ServInt had an important hand on getting that important business set up and on its feet. That’s what we aspire to do on a daily basis – and situations like that certainly make me feel as though we’re doing things right.

Etsy positively impacts the lives of people. It provides a resource to anybody with Internet access, and an opportunity for self-betterment. I am proud of ServInt’s relationship with Etsy. And when I say that our company, and the 30,000 companies like ours, are changing the world because the companies we serve are changing the world, this is exactly the kind of company I am talking about.

A couple of years ago we were recycling large piles of old servers, and I saved the server that originally ran Etsy.com from being recycled. It is in ServInt’s possession now – though one day I’d like to turn it back over to Rob Kalin. It may be too old now to host his next dream, but perhaps it can help inspire it.

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