Matt Stinchcomb, Etsy-dot-org, and bringing revolutionary marketplace economics home

kbobblog_150503_etsy-org(BALLE – Business Alliance for Local Living Economies) Matt Stinchcomb is about to launch Etsy-dot-org.

Unlike many business conferences where attendees just sit passively listening to speakers, at the BALLE Conference attendees are true participants invited to share their knowledge and perspective to develop applicable solutions and executable plans. In the Magic, Soul, and Inspiration track, Matt Stinchcomb, the founder of the new Etsy.org foundation endowed by Etsy stock, is seeking participants’ counsel on the creation of an open-source entrepreneurship curriculum and a local regenerator program that will be piloted in the Hudson Valley next year.

As cofounder and current VP of Values and Impact, he has spent years cementing the online, million-member marketplace as a mission-driven company. Yet Stinchcomb feels something still missing: direct, local engagement of communities struggling to find harmony. Business, says Stinchcomb, is not yet a “regenerative” local force. But he is working on a platform for that.

“What we’re trying to develop is an organization that empowers people to build regenerative enterprises.” A notion, he argues, that scarcely exists today, in the most progressive companies.

“If you’re looking at business on a spectrum – all the way to the left is ‘degenerative.’ Historically, most business has been degenerative in the way they view the world and their relationship with to it. Then you have a lot of businesses who’ve moved into ‘less bad’ and that’s where they’ve stopped. ‘Hey, we’ve got 30% less packaging!’ You really shouldn’t be applauded for that.”

So how do we actually move towards the framework of regeneration? Says Stinchcomb, it requires a different way of looking at your world and your relationship to it.

“It begins with the self on some level – regenerating the self and going deeper, seeing yourself as part of an interconnected, interdependent ecosystem.” Zooming out, then, questions arise such as, “What can I do here to regenerate this community – economically, socially and ecologically?” Another step back engages a biosphere consciousness, according to Stinchcomb, a collective effort, and a simple truth. “If we all regenerate our communities, we regenerate the planet.”

The regenerator curriculum

His group is developing a curriculum that would be customized for each place that it’s engaged. The format: a fellowship of entrepreneurs, mentors, and financiers follow a two-year path to developing a business with a regenerative, interconnected view of the world.

“They’d start by going really deep in one place – knowing the history of it, the geography, talking with lots of people, talking to customers, understanding what does this community really need?” Exercises would incorporate personal and spiritual development, and a profound sense of place guided by those who’ve lived there longest.

“I like the idea of bringing everyone along for the ride – it’s not sending a business on an intense two week training and then putting them in front of investors they’ve never met and saying ‘hey can I have money for this.’ I think if you take the time to build these deeper relationships, and you do it in a way that’s thoughtful and taking a longer term view, that’s how we’ll move to a place of regeneration of local community.

“Once we have an approach that works we put the curriculum online, open source the whole model, and then work with other communities.” As envisioned, this “regenerator” program will be backed up with financial commitment, bringing together stakeholders ranging from Etsy Inc. to next door neighbors, and in a way co-create the business with the entrepreneurs.

Regenerating the Hudson valley

The pilot region has already been identified: the Hudson Valley, some 90 miles upriver from New York City.

I love the Hudson Valley – I have a home here, and I think it’s such a magical and special place. There’s a lot of really great people who are trying to revitalize this area – and I think there’s a predominant mindset, especially in politics, of ‘we have to get that factory back,’ or ‘we gotta win that casino and that’s going to save our community.’ Very much my view of the world is we have to have a BIG number of SMALL things rather than a small number of big things.”

Stinchcomb stopped short of coining ‘Etsy economics.’

“We also have an office in Hudson with 100 employees. Etsy Inc. is a participant in this too – we can make big decisions in where we’re sourcing food, furniture, whatever it may be. If we can get other anchors to support these local businesses I think we can make something that works.”

Public values

Would this mean the end to the Values and Impact program at Etsy Inc.? Stinchcomb demurs.

“When we created the Values and Impact team, we always talked about its ‘eventual obsolescence’ because the values will have been so integrated into the company. To a certain extent, it’s worked.”

Even as Etsy goes public? “Yeah,” says Stinchcomb.

“That’s essentially a fundraising tool. You can do degenerative things with that money, or you can further the positive things that you’re trying to do, and I think we’re committed to the latter.”

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