Marketplace startups are popping up at an accelerating rate. Angel.co’s list of marketplaces numbers almost 10,000 companies around the world. Over 80 new startups joined the list in just the last month.
Often, the founders of these platforms don’t know how to begin or where to learn about building a marketplace startup. A marketplace comes with unique challenges, one being building and scaling a two-sided business.
Although the marketplace model, particularly peer-to-peer platforms, is relatively new, there is a surprising wealth of information and wisdom available. Most of it comes from former marketplace founders and VC’s who’ve scaled marketplace models. You simply have to know where to look.
As my team and I build and scale Neighbor, a marketplace disrupting the $40 billion self-storage industry by providing cheaper, closer, and safer storage options, we always look for resources to help us. We’ve devoured blogs, podcasts, interviews, and essays and compiled an internal database of top marketplace resources. These resources contain tried and true tactics from practitioners and thought leaders in the space.
My purpose in sharing the top 8 essential resources (in no particular order) is to save you time. There hasn’t been a consolidated list of valuable content about building a marketplace startup. My hope is that future founders will use this list early in the building process and avoid common marketplace pitfalls. Here are my top picks:
1. Andrew Chen’s Top 20 Marketplace Startup Reading Recommendations – Andrew Chen was the head of “Rider Growth” for Uber before working as a general partner at Andreessen Horowitz. His personal site includes a handful of posts on consumer startups, fundraising, KPIs, and growth. He wrote this post specifically for marketplace entrepreneurs. It’s a great place to start for marketplace learning.
Andrew shares his list of “required readings” for marketplace startup entrepreneurs. While there is some overlap with my list, his offers insightful one-off blog posts from a variety of sources. Another of his posts, “How to Build a Billion Dollar Digital Marketplace,” is another great read.
2. Sharetribe Academy – This tech startup provides a software framework upon which you can build a marketplace business to rent or sell goods, spaces, or services. Sharetribe has also invested in building a collection of helpful articles for young marketplaces in the development and launch phases.
The articles are easy-to-read and cover a wide variety of practical topics around building an online marketplace. They’ve also published a short book or manual in which they’ve condensed general marketplace consensus into step-by-step advice.
3. Reforge Blog – Reforge, in addition to their best-in-class growth program for established startup managers, publishes blog posts that are especially instructive for those building and running growth teams. One of my favorite briefs is “Growth Loops are the New Funnels”. Be sure to subscribe to their newsletter and check out the now-defunct Briefs section of their site for bite-sized posts.
4. NFX Essays – These in-depth articles and resources are written by one of the leading VC firms in the marketplace vertical. The partners at NFX have built, worked on, or invested in Lyft, Doordash, Poshmark, Trulia, Houseparty, Outdoorsy and many others.
Their essays cover an array of topics all relevant to marketplaces, including growth, metrics, and fundraising. Their newsletter regularly contains up-to-date interactive resources and tactical takeaways. I’d especially recommend checking out “19 Tactics to Solve the Chicken-or-Egg Problem and Grow Your Marketplace.”
5. Andreessen Horowitz Marketplace Briefings – Partners from this premier Sand Hill Road fund share insights about marketplaces, among many other categories. The a16z website features a huge number of briefings comprised of video podcasts, articles, e-books, and slide decks, that tackle complex topics such as regulated services and online to offline commerce. Their portfolio includes marketplace heavyweights like Airbnb, Lyft, OfferUp, and Facebook.
6. Growth Engineering Blog – Jeff Chang does a marvelous job of articulating strategies that he’s picked up during his growth-centric engineering career. His 18 articles focus on acquisition channels (mainly SEO and referrals), CRO, and running an engineering growth team. Even if you’re not an engineer, there are some valuable takeaways.
7. Growth Hackers Growth Studies – While not directed solely to marketplace platforms, this series of case studies sheds light on the growth of many household names such as Airbnb, Yelp, Uber, and Stripe. These comprehensive deep-dives provide valuable examples to startups who have found product-market-fit and are now looking to accelerate their growth.
Growth Hackers excels at diving into the data and examining the levers that these companies pulled to achieve massive scale. I’d personally recommend reading their exhaustive Airbnb growth case study.
8. Marketplace Conference – This annual conference (held in San Francisco and Berlin) is an essential resource that provides the opportunity to learn from and network with marketplace leaders and investors. If you are unable to attend in person, videos of the sessions are uploaded to their YouTube playlist after the conference. Check out breakouts from Lyft, UrbanSitter, Upwork, MasterClass, SpotHero, Handy, NFX, Benchmark, NEA, and others.
Best of luck as you apply these resources to building a marketplace startup. If you found this list valuable, then make sure to share with other future founders on social media. If your favorite marketplace resource wasn’t included on the list, then please reach out to me personally and share it! I will publish a follow up in the future, and I’d love to include your resource on the next list of marketplace essentials.