Rob Kalin: Empowering Makers on a Global Stage

He created a passionate online community dedicated to making, selling, and sharing.

OCCUPATION: Web entrepreneur
LOCATION: Hudson, New York

“I want to create things worth preserving, beautifully crafted and eminently useful,” says Rob Kalin, the founder and former CEO of Etsy. It’s a statement that captures the wonder of Etsy, an online community of crafts-people and artists who create and sell a range of products limited only by their imaginations. His newest venture is Parachutes, a Hudson, New York–based nonprofit whose mission is to help people “make a living doing what they love”—which sounds a lot like Etsy, minus the pesky shareholders demanding a return on investment.

Having brought Etsy down the lengthy road from tiny start-up to IPO-ready property, Kalin remains more artist than entrepreneur—and you can’t talk to him for long without noticing that some of the things he says just don’t sound very CEO-ish. It’s the rare profile, especially in the business press, that doesn’t label him an eccentric or mention his penchant for (gasp!) making his own furniture and underwear.

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Kalin greets such shocking reports with equanimity. “I’m an artist and the Web is my medium,” he says. “I use my art to build tools that empower others.” Though the journey hasn’t always been easy, he’s optimistic: “The Web is young and has a long way to go. I want to help take it there. The Web is extending who we are—especially the good, empathic elements of our nature—more than any other medium right now.”

He’s motivated by an expansive vision of how things should be: “I want to rebalance capitalism—empower people and small businesses to have more sway on the global stage,” Kalin says. “I want to bring about a world that is fairer, more fun, and more sustainable. I want to help people unite their avocation with their vocation.”

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