Can Rob Kalin Scale Etsy? Good question. I asked Julie Boyles.

handmade leather ipad case
leather ipad case by jjboyles - click image for more information

A few weeks ago, Inc Magazine asked a great question, “Can Rob Kalin Scale Etsy?” It was a great question but one for which they didn’t provide much of an answer.

At the same time, I got an email from Julie Boyles, of JJBoyles famous leather iPad & phone cases, letting me know about the massive growth she’d experienced in her business. She told me how she’d managed to bring on 3 contractors to facilitate production while maintaining her hand in the majority of making.

“Well, heck,” I thought. “This is how Rob Kalin is going to scale Etsy!” Businesses that scale like this will scale Etsy for him.

There’s this really interesting shift that happens when you’re running an Etsy business, where you have to change your approach from ‘I make clothing’ to ‘I’m making a living making a business that makes clothing.’
– Rob Kalin, CEO of Etsy

So I immediately emailed Julie and demanded an interview. And because Julie is as energetic & enthusiastic as I am, if not more, she agreed just as fast.

This interview isn’t a prescription for how to grow your business. In fact, I think it’s an important interview even if you’re just interested in this crazy new arts & crafts movement. These are the issues that the success of this movement pivots on right now.

Julie and I talk about how her business has grown, what strategies she used to scale her business, why she thinks many artisans are in for a shock, and the beauty of involving others in our work.

We also discuss the stigma that exists in the craft community around “getting big” and expanding your business beyond your own two hands. Finally, Julie shares why she’s chosen to maintain such an active role in the actual making of her products (hint: you’ll like her answer!).

Etsy is not the end for Julie. Etsy is the beginning, just as it is for many artisans seeking to grow an enterprise around their craft. If more businesses scale on their own terms, Etsy will continue to scale right along with them.

If you liked this (or hate video), you’ll dig:

on factories: why respect matters more than craft
passion to profit: finding the “we” in earning more

21 thoughts on “Can Rob Kalin Scale Etsy? Good question. I asked Julie Boyles.

  1. What a great, real life look at how Julie’s business has grown! I love hearing the nitty gritty like how she chose a sewing machine over a die-cutter and how she prioritizes PEOPLE (herself and her contractors). Maybe that is the biggest difference between factory made and handmade – that the people retain the position as the most important piece of equipment.
    Thanks Tara and Julie!

  2. Wow, such a great story! this is so inspiring! I must agree with Genevieve, priorizing people is the biggest difference between factory made and handmade!

    Great post and great interview!!!

  3. Great interview! Julie is such a nice and warm-hearted person, really enjoyed listening to her. And to youtoo of course 😀 And I gained a lot of insight and inspiration, thanks for that.

  4. I love this conversation!
    Because it’s not *just* about Etsy, of course, it’s about finding whatever path we can to create the businesses we want to create (through whatever technology/site/community helps us).

  5. This was such a GREAT and inspiring interview!! I am so happy for her success and growth and it is so interesting to hear how she has managed the business through that burst. I am not yet to the point in my business where I have even considered the effect that a large amount of growth would have on my business and this was really great insight! Thank you so much, Tara, for such an awesome interview and thanks to Julie for opening up to us! So much to think about… my mind will be buzzing all day!

    1. For Megan and LeAnn,

      I’m so glad this has you thinking. Right now, as you’re growing, is the perfect time to consider what you’ll do when you have too much work to handle yourself. Start thinking about the time you spend on each task that goes into what you make. Set your prices enough right now so you’ll be able to afford some assistance. And keep a list in the back of your mind WHO you might want to work with someday in the future. I’m certain your time will come before you know it!

  6. Inspiring!!!!
    I’m still in the very early stages of developing my new Etsy shop. My current struggle is just getting my inventory to a “critical mass”–not being swamped with orders! I hope to have that challenge in a couple of years.

    My stepdaughter recently volunteered to help with sewing, and I was delighted!! She’s a skilled seamstress who had done custom home dec sewing for an interior designer. I think it will be a win-win collaboration.
    I’m hoping to possibly involve her daughter (almost 17), who has a terrific eye for color and keen design sense, to help me develop new lines. JJ’s successful use of a high school contractor gives me confidence to pursue that, too.

    Thank you both for an inspiring interview! (Although, as I was watching it, my husband hinted that perhaps I should be sewing—-another challenge—-finding the time to learn about the business side and still have the time and creative energy to produce and create.)

  7. Wonderful and inspiring! My original goal was to someday have my Etsy shop be my primary “job”. I have been on Etsy for a year and have made sales, but not near the extent that I had hoped. It is now getting to the point of ok – so should this be just a hobby or time to pack-it up.

  8. Very inspiring! I love the idea that handmade can be groups of people, not necessarily one person working all alone. It sounds like you have a great group around you, Julie! I wish you much continued success.

  9. Wow, it’s so inspiring to hear that Julie has pursued something she loves and it has become successful beyond anything she could have envisioned. I’m excited to hear her celebrate the fact that because she shares her business with others, she can support their dreams. That’s the true engine of economic growth!

  10. Thank you!
    How wonderful to hear from someone who is approaching the mythical Six Figures, who chose NOT to get the instruments of mass production, and keep it hands on.
    There’s hope!

  11. WAHOO!! I could literally feel your positive energy and enthusiasm radiating off my screen! You go girl! It can be human nature to feel that envy (create stigmas) But no! Bust down those walls and throw your passion into YOUR business instead of worrying what others are (or aren’t) doing and happiness and success will follow! I’m growing my business slowly but thanks for the reminder to prepare for my big break-through!!

  12. This was the perfect way to start my morning! I just love so much about this video, the heart & kindness more then anything. I always thought that Julie’s experience/choices are exactly what we want handmade to become for people who choose it.

    Julie isn’t just building a business she is creating and sustaining a community. To me the end product is more handmade then one artist creating in isolation, it is the work of many hands-seriously beautiful.

    This is my vision for handmade/the world, growing & working together to produce what we need in a way that isn’t only ethical but joyful & unique & diverse. I hope & believe that the handmade movement is adaptable enough to grow with the increasing demand and to intentionally create an economy that allows for micro/macro scaled business. It’s so not about reckless growth for the sake of getting bigger & making more profit regardless of the cost-this is powerful growth that lifts others up. Like Tara mentioned in an earlier post, it’s all about respect. I personally can’t wait for the day when factories are filled with laughter, good food & community. Wouldn’t that be incredible?
    Thank you Julie & Tara!

  13. This has been such a fun couple of days. I’m so grateful and humbled by all your thoughtful responses. I’m also thankful to you, Tara for putting this together, opening up this discussion in such a positive way, and for putting me at ease to do a video interview. I’m so glad I opened up to you about these concerns I had.

    The idea of having contractors to do piece work isn’t a new one, but one that is well suited for our type of businesses. One of the reasons I resisted “hiring employees” is because I thought I had to do just that; hire actual employees. I didn’t have the facilities, or the budget to do things that way so it wasn’t an option. Once I began thinking about piece work, the opportunities really opened up for me.

    I could have talked about the contractors I work with for hours if Tara would have let me! :) The depth and richness they bring to my products and business can’t be overstated. It is the best part of my days when I get to see them to deliver or pick up work. One of them is a stay at home mom with very young kids. I think about how it was for me when my own kids were their ages, and how much I would have loved to have a job like this. To be able to contribute to our famiy income and working around the kids needs would have been a dream job. (how many of you answered the ads for getting paid to “stuff envelopes” … that was me!)

    Another contractor has just lost her job due to budget cutbacks in our local schools. Although her future is uncertain, she knows she’ll still be able to do work for me, and I think (hope) that softened the blow just a bit.

    So there are people out there that would really like this kind of work, and perhaps they don’t even know it yet. None of these people came to me looking for work. I went to them, explained what I needed and they took it from there. We’re only a few months into the transition, and I can say for certain it’s only going to get better from here.

    So this discussion is a really important one, and it’s my hope we can continue talking about it, sharing ideas, and lifting each other up to the challenges ahead. If you’re not busy enough yet to implement some of this, lets start thinking and planning now. If you’ve already experienced a lot of growth, I would love to share ideas. Let’s make a date to come back around to this over the summer so we can be prepared for the busy season, shall we? And please feel free to drop me a note if you want more information about what has and what hasn’t worked for me. I’m very willing to share.

    Thanks again everyone for being so positive! You made my week!

  14. I watched this interview with tears rolling down my cheeks. My business (making leather bags and other accessories from reclaimed materials) is right in the same place that Julie’s business was when she started to pay a few people to do piece work. The interview hit so close to home for me that I had a very emotional response to it. I can’t stop thinking about it! The demand for my handmade items has grown to a point where I am working 14 to 16 hours a day, and I have just hired a few people to help with piece work. My biggest problem is that I can’t seem to visualize how to configure a structure that will work for me. I am seeing the realities of being overwhelmed with work that I can’t possibly do all by myself anymore. I feel that I am at a crossroads and something has to change in order for me to continue to do what I love, make money doing it, and have a life! Not only did the interview hit close to home, but I then learned that Julie and I literally live in the same community! I would love to just say thanks to Tara and Julie for such an informative, open, and honest conversation! I hope to meet Julie sometime, as I am in awe of this type of business model, as well as the philosophy of putting people first. Besides all of that Julie’s products are gorgeous!

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