Lauren Goode

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Etsy CEO on Building a Lean Start-Up: Deploy, Deploy, Deploy

The key to building a successful, lean start-up is to constantly tweak production and to keep your employees happy, Chad Dickerson says.

Dickerson, who is the CEO of Etsy, might know: Since 2008, when he first joined the online marketplace for handmade goods as CTO (and later as CEO), the start-up’s numbers have grown 10 times in almost all categories, from employees to listed items to sales.

Speaking on a SXSW panel today called “(Not Just) Sh*t Startups Say: Anatomy of a Rockstar Product Cycle,” Dickerson said he firmly believes in what he calls “continuous deployment,” or making small, frequent changes to production.

He bullet-pointed some of the principles of continuous employment, including: Fixing people and team issues first, allowing all team members to play with and offer input on a new product before it’s deployed, and using a “deployinator,” or one-button deploy function, that employees push upon completion of a new project or fix to a current problem.

The deployinator button helps keep developers happy, he said. “We like it when other places suck [to work at] because that means our developers like it more here,” he joked.

Dickerson also said he thinks one of the most important factors at a tech company is the level of transparency in the engineering culture. That transparency was something that was missing from Etsy in its early years, Dickerson said.

Other panelists included Mary and Tom Poppendieck, co-authors of the book “Lean Software Development: An Agile Toolkit.”

Mary Poppendieck said the key to building a lean start-up was not rushing production.

Speaking to the entrepreneurs in the crowd, she advised, “You should not make what you think people want. You should not make a single thing until you know what they want.”

“Who thinks they should make it all and then fix something? Does anyone make software that way? You should always have amazingly good quality,” she added.

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Another gadget you don’t really need. Will not work once you get it home. New model out in 4 weeks. Battery life is too short to be of any use.

— From the fact sheet for a fake product entitled Useless Plasticbox 1.2 (an actual empty plastic box) placed in L.A.-area Best Buy stores by an artist called Plastic Jesus