The Data Chief | Episode 43

Etsy's Chu-Cheng Hsieh on Using Data to Develop a Thriving Marketplace

Chu-Cheng Hsieh



Current EpisodeEP43: Etsy's Chu-Cheng Hsieh on Using Data to Develop a Thriving Marketplace

Episode Overview

As the world continues to fill with impersonal, factory-machined goods, so increases the desire to see and feel more human creativity in the items we use in our lives. Etsy, a community marketplace for creative goods, was designed to help people sell their unique and homemade items online. The company continues to innovate and transform the small-business world, leading by focusing on innovation in their technology. 

Today’s guest, Chu-Cheng Hsieh, is the first Chief Data Officer at Etsy. On this episode, Chu-Cheng Hsieh joins Cindi to discuss his unique perspective on helping build a data-driven organization from the ground up and how he’s fostered a culture of experimentation that has led to rapid growth and transformation within the company. He also dives into trends such as machine learning and data observability, and explains some of the most helpful mental frameworks he’s learned in his life and career.

Key Moments

00:00 Intro
04:10 The decision to pursue a career in tech rather than academia 
06:30 The roots of machine learning: Statistics 
11:58 Rapid growth and transformation at Etsy 
15:40 Fostering a culture of experimentation 
25:20 Trends for 2022 and ‘thinking in bets’ 
28:42 Correlation is not causation
32:32 The business impact of poor incentive structures in academics 

Key Takeaways

  • Check human intuition with data: Your gut feeling might be right, but in today’s world it’s critical to remember the importance of being able to back up your thinking and your decisions with facts. Hsieh emphasizes the importance of trusting the data that’s in front of you, even if the answer goes against decades of personal experience.
  • Create a ‘regret minimization framework’: Popularized by Jeff Bezos, the ‘regret minimization framework’ is a way to help you more clearly define what career decisions you should make. It encourages the thinker to imagine being at the end of their life, looking back at what they’ve done, and asking themselves, “Is that really the life story I want to have?”
  • Invest in insights: Hsieh shares that “You don't want to judge your success based on just [the] outcome. You should judge your success based on the decision quality.” By investing in thoughtful decision-making, you can increase the probability of success, even when you don’t have all the facts or data. 

Key Quotes

I only have one life, so I can either become a professor or I can do something different." So I use[d] something called regret minimization framework. I think Jeff Bezos mentioned this. I closed my eyes, imagined [myself] 30 years from today and I'm telling my life story to my grandson. And I think [what] kind of story will make me feel more excited and happy?

One thing which I learned, this surprise[d] me, is that human instinct is often wrong. You [think] that if I change this color from blue to red that people will like that. [But] that's your opinion. You are just one person. Even [with] 20 years of experience in this field, you could be wrong. I can show you tons of examples that the data will show totally different[ly] [from] what you thought it to be.

Your intuition, [is to] think one millisecond doesn't matter. It actually [does] matter because sometimes this one millisecond, especially for people who are using their mobile device, the user experience can be totally different, especially when the network is spotty.

You don't want to judge your success based on just [the] outcome. You should judge your success based on the decision quality. And if you have good insight, this doesn't mean that you always [are] right. The only thing you can do is to invest [in that] insight, so that when you make a decision, you know the reasons and insight behind the decision. This gives you a higher probability of making the right decision. So this concept of ‘Thinking in Bets’ is what I [use] to help me to make a better quality decision.


Chu-Cheng Hsieh manages the data org across Etsy globally, including engineering, data science, and machine learning. Partnering with Etsy’s product and business executives, he develops the data strategy, represents data science, and drives high-impact decisions. He is specialised in search engine, recommendation systems, and machine learning technology. His primary responsibility is to deliver strategic and creative data science approaches that help achieve Etsy’s mission and goals.

He received a PhD in computer science from UCLA, and has two master degrees. In his leisure time, he enjoys innovating and collaborating with academic researchers. He has brought cutting-edge research into products. He publishes papers in top-tier conferences, such as WWW, SIGIR, KDD, and enjoys giving talks/keynotes at a variety of academic or industrial conferences on information retrieval, recommendation systems, and data mining.