In the course of building a company, few factors contribute more to success or failure than the makeup of the executive leadership team. The thing is, the individuals that are right for a company at its earliest stages are not necessarily the same people who are right when the company scales massively and inevitably begins thinking IPO. There’s even a debate raging on this topic in Silicon Valley, with many adopting the cult of belief that founders should never be replaced, and others believing that there’s a right person for each role in each stage of a company’s life.
Today, Etsy, New York’s darling craft marketplace, announced the addition of a new CFO. Kristina Salen, 41, will join the company beginning in February, following seven years leading Fidelity Investments’ media, Internet and telco group. Salen has experience leading “tens of billions of dollars” worth of investments, including in such high growth startup and tech companies as Google, eBay, Amazon, Spotify, and Hubspot.
Prior to Fidelity, Salen worked in various financial and executive roles at Oppenheimer Capital, Merrill Lynch, and Lazard Freres & Co. She holds an MBA in finance from Columbia University and was designated a Fulbright Scholar in Political Science and Economics following earning her undergraduate degree at Vassar College.
This is all well and good, but if you listened to Etsy CEO Chad Dickerson announcing the news during tonight’s PandoMonthly fireside chat, he sounded just as excited that she’s been a member of the marketplace since 2008. “She buys a lot of things on Etsy,” he said. “I don’t think she makes and sells stuff, but maybe she has a secret account. But we’re really excited about her. I think she really rounds out the management team.”
Prior to Salen, Etsy had gone without a CFO. Initially, the company contracted an outside CFO and consultant named John McCarthy, a move not uncommon among resource constrained startups. As of late, the senior most person on the finance side of the business has been VP of Finance Sinohe Terrore. Terrore’s has described his role at the company as “managing the Business Intelligence, Finance, Accounting, and Operations teams.”
Dickerson, who was not the founder of Etsy himself, was quick to talk about “what adding a CFO means” at this stage. Many outside the company have looked for it to pursue an IPO in the near future. With hundreds of thousands of active sellers, more than 40 million monthly unique visitors per month to its site, and some $91 million in venture capital raised, all signs point toward such a public listing. But the CEO says that it’s more about options, not just an IPO.
“The reason I brought on Christina is that as Etsy grows, we can think about all the options,” he said. “I want Etsy to be an independent company for as long as it can be independent.”
Dickerson pointed to SurveyMonkey as a company that pursued an alternative path. The company recently did an $800 million recapitalization, taking on debt financing. They were able to pay back all their outside investors without going public and have all of the benefits of staying private.
He is smart to take what he calls a “more sophisticated view.” Another wrinkle the CFO hopes to incorporate into any liquidity strategy is rewarding the community members. The example he gave is the Boston Beer IPO, in which the company’s customers got first right to buy its stock, ahead of Wall Street. The opposite example might be Facebook, whose users posted on its own platform requests for the $100 or so they each represented at the time of its now flop of an IPO.
“Doing something like SurveyMonkey did is very complex,” Dickerson said. “If Etsy wanted to do something like that, I think we need a finance person.”