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Etsy Goes Public, Promises To Stay True To Social Mission

LOS ANGELES ( — The place where you can buy handmade dresses and crocheted dog costumes has a new hot seller: its own stock.

Shares of arts and crafts retailer Etsy surged in opening trading on the Nasdaq Thursday. After pricing at $16 late Wednesday the stock opened at nearly double that level, and hit a high of $35.73 in morning trading. The stock finished at $30 per share, up 87.5 percent for the day and valuing the company at $3.33 billion. 

New York-based Etsy is trading on the Nasdaq under the "ETSY" ticker.

The healthy stock surge shows that Wall Street has a big appetite for a well-known retail brand, even one that doesn't yet make a profit. Thursday was one of the biggest days for initial public offerings so far this year, with party-store operator Party City and electronic trading firm Virtu Financial also making big debuts.

"It's been a very slow IPO market so far this year and investors have been on the sideline waiting for a new name, especially a new name that's familiar," said Sam Hamadeh, CEO of research firm Privco.

Founded in 2005, Brooklyn-based Etsy sells anything from a $110,000 antique desk from the 1800s to a $20 handmade antler pendant and everything in between. In 10 years it's grown from a scrappy startup offering craftspeople a way to sell necklaces and needlepoint online to a marketplace of 54 million members that generated $1.93 billion in sales in 2014.

While it doesn't make a profit — it reported a loss of $15.2 million in 2014 — it has a very loyal customer base and room for revenue growth. The company says 78 percent of people who bought items on the site in 2014 were return customers.

And although it has a reputation for being a grassroots site, its revenue model is becoming more like Alibaba, the Chinese e-commerce powerhouse. In addition to taking a small percentage of each transaction made onEtsy, it is increasingly offering services like marketing and payment processing to its sellers. About 42 percent of its revenue in 2014 came from services.

"We think that it's a very interesting company and investors are going to like the growth they see," said Kathleen Smith, IPO exchange-traded fund manager at IPO research firm Renaissance Capital.

Etsy is a B Corporation, a for-profit company with a stated social mission certified by a nonprofit organization called B Lab. That could make for a tricky balancing act of keeping its socially conscious ethos alive while satisfying stockholder demands. But it could help that some shareholders will be Etsy sellers themselves —Etsy planned for 5 percent of the shares sold to be set aside for individual investors, including people who use its site. And it is using $300,000 of the proceeds from the debut to fund, a website established to promote entrepreneurship for women in disadvantaged communities.

One stock buyer was Juan Donado from Brooklyn, an Etsy seller who was among those the company invited to sell their wares in a popup market in Times Square Thursday. Donado is from Colombia, and he and his wife Anna currently employ four people in Bogota to make hand-painted, fair trade wooden figures for toys, wedding cake toppers and other uses.

They have been Etsy sellers since 2008 and the Etsy store has been their main source of income since 2011. Donada said he has never bought stock before but researched IPOs thoroughly before taking the plunge. He bought 160 Etsy shares on the morning of the IPO.

"Chad (Dickerson, Etsy's CEO) was talking about how he wants to lift up sellers," he said when asked what he likes about Etsy that's different from other companies. "We want to do the same thing. ... The more work we get, the more we can pass on to (his employees)."

Local Etsy merchant Carol Mary Barth says a year and a half ago she needed a creative outlet and Etsy gave her that platform. She launched her company Clementine Surfwear, which specializes in tie-dye bikinis, shorts and leggings.

"Etsy also has such a wonderful heart and soul about caring about craft makers and artisans and the small guy like me," Barth told CBS2/KCAL9's Erica Nochlin. "They can be the forerunners in educating investors on the value of artists."

Not all of Etsy's sellers have been as supportive of the company going public. Two local merchants told Nochlin it made them a little nervous.

The owners of both Totem Color Blocks and Plant And Color say they worry the company will cave in to shareholder pressure for greater profit margins.

Etsy didn't respond to CBS2/KCAL9's request for comment but the website says: "As we grow, commitment to our mission remains at the core of our identity."

(TM and ©Copyright 2015 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2010 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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