Keeping commerce human, coloring books and ESG: Inside IR at Etsy

Apr 01, 2019
Deb Wasser, vice president of IR at Etsy, talks everything from the firm’s new management to being dedicated to sustainability and the company’s first investor day since going public

Deb Wasser has worked on both the consultant and the corporate side of IR but Etsy – the global e-commerce firm with a focus on the handmade and unique – is perhaps her most high-profile role to date. The company went public in 2015 and Wasser joined as vice president of IR in April 2018. Since then the firm has held its first ever investor day as a public company and worked to maintain its ethos of ‘keep commerce human’ in line with a high-performance culture under the new leadership team led by Josh Silverman, who joined in 2017. 

Here, Wasser talks to IR Magazine about the ins and outs of life in IR at the Brooklyn, New York-headquartered firm, what she thinks makes for a successful IR program and what she’s got her eye on from the Etsy website.

Etsy has a creative company ethos and seems like a fun place to work. How does that translate into investor relations?

You are correct that Etsy is a fun place to work – everything from cool work spaces and great perks to amazing events such as our annual talent show and go-all-out Halloween party – but it is much more than that. Our mission is to ‘keep commerce human’ and to create the world’s best marketplace for people who value craftsmanship, self-expression and the search for ‘special’. 

Under a new leadership team, Etsy has transformed into a high-performance culture, one focused on attracting and retaining the top technology talent available. By raising the bar on accountability, we have created a culture that has driven excellent financial performance, delivering strong top and bottom-line growth to our shareholders. It’s a great story to tell the financial community, and we’ve been able to secure increased sell-side coverage as well as quality institutional ownership as a result.  

You’ve worked on both the consulting side and the corporate side of IR. What do you see as the key differences between the two?  

I love both sides of IR – one is broad, and one is deep. In my last consultancy role, I worked for companies across industries and market capitalizations and from around the world, providing a big picture view of investor communications, best practices and trends. I also spent a lot of time working on thought leadership and research, looking to bring clients unique insights they could apply to their business. It was challenging and fast paced, and there was never a dull moment.

On the corporate side, you obviously go deep – getting to know your company, the product, culture, industry and competitive environment in extraordinary detail. In an in-house role, if you are doing it right, you never stop learning about your organization. For me, being able to have a great outside-in and inside-out view of your company is a key ingredient to success in IR, so I feel fortunate to have had great roles both as a consultant and in-house. 

You’ve been with Etsy for just about a year now. Has the job lived up to your expectations?  

Yes – and more. I’m fortunate to be surrounded by incredibly smart, talented and creative people. Starting with our leadership team, all of whom truly believe in our mission, and including rock-solid colleagues in finance, legal, communications, technology and product, marketing and throughout the organization. And of course, my colleague Gabe Ratcliff, our senior manager of IR, has helped me ramp up the story with his vast Etsy knowledge and deep internal and external relationships.  

The level of collaboration at Etsy is fantastic – a couple of examples of things I’m most proud of this past year are increased work around governance engagement, our first-ever integrated report, several major business announcements and our investor day in March – all of these were completed with great partnerships and resources from within the company.  

I would be remiss not to mention how awesome it is to work at a company that truly believes making a positive social impact is our day job. We show up every day with a strong commitment to driving excellent financial performance as well as delivering on our economic, social and environmental goals. From empowering economic advancement for our sellers globally and creating a diverse and inclusive workplace to doing our part to reduce our carbon footprint, Etsy is all-in on sustainability.

It’s one of the main things that drew me to this role. I’ve got two grown daughters – one in talent acquisition at a major financial services firm and the other pursuing a career in sustainability – and we discuss these issues all the time. I know they are excited and proud of where mom works! 

What elements of your career background do you think have helped you most in this job so far?  

While there is clearly no straight-line connection from semiconductor – where I worked for more than 15 years – to e-commerce, there is one similarity. Every type of technology has its own unique language. Being able to understand that language and connect with highly technical people, to learn from them and then translate that for the financial community, is really critical. Another element that is helping me is flexibility and being able to adapt quickly to a changing environment – something most of us in IR do quite well.

What has been your biggest challenge in the role so far? And what about your highlight?  

When I walked in last April, we were in the process of announcing a major change to our seller fee structure, and the following month we completed a significant business transaction in Germany. Ramping up [my knowledge of] the business in order to give solid input and advice around messaging, anticipated response from our stakeholders and impact on our financials was definitely a challenge.  

On the highlight side, I would have to point to our recent investor day – Etsy’s first since going public in 2015. It was a lot of hard work, with more than 60 Etsy employees involved in some way, but it was worth it. We had 120+ attendees in person at our Brooklyn headquarters, and several hundred participated on our webcast. Feedback from the Street has been excellent, and I’m confident the messages and roadmap we laid out for investors will resonate for a long time.  

Where have your energies mostly been focused over the past year, and how do you expect that to change over the remainder of 2019?  

Gabe and I have been mostly focused on helping to elevate Etsy’s IR messaging to better connect with our business transformation. In addition to the investor day, we created a new IR website, a new format for our earnings calls including a live slide presentation, worked with the team to integrate our social impact reporting into our 10K and developed a new investor deck with investment thesis.  

In addition, we’ve focused on expanding relationships, adding sell-side coverage and developing a proactive investor targeting program. We’ve started to see a meaningful shift in our investor base and will continue to leverage this activity in 2019. For me personally, 2019 will be all about digging in even deeper to the business.

What are some of the top issues investors and analysts are asking about at the moment?  

Our investor day was about addressing the top questions: how big is Etsy’s market opportunity and how sustainable is your growth? 

I was really proud of our leadership team members and the time commitment they all made to making this a great event. We laid out a roadmap for our right to win against the e-commerce giants, as well as product, technology and marketing investments that went a long way to answering those investor questions. And we provided long-term financial targets to back up this future vision. Everything you read today says investors want a long-term roadmap, so we gave it to them.  

If resources were no object, what would you like to do better or more of?  

Etsy’s leadership team highly values its investor communications, so we have the resources we need to get the job done in an effective and impactful manner. Time is the main resource I would love more of, so that I could spend even more time getting to know our business. 

Finally, what’s your craft or hobby of choice? And do you have a coveted item you’d love to buy from a seller on Etsy?  

I love adult coloring books. I’m not all that talented and I find these fun and relaxing. My daughters gave me a couple of great coloring books, and you can also download unique digital prints from Etsy. In terms of a coveted item, right now I’ve been stalking several high-quality custom jewelry shops on Etsy – I have a big anniversary coming up and want to ‘help’ my husband find the perfect gift!

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