The influencer method to growing your marketplace

January 4, 2021

How your first 10 suppliers can decided the fate of your online marketplace!

First of all, happy new year! A very lazy and cozy two-week break over the holidays has sparked a lot of new ideas and more importantly reflections that I can write about on here. I broke my streak of publishing every Monday for a few months to think strategy and brainstorm ideas, I can only recommend it!

Today, I want to go back all the way to 2018. MentorCruise was nothing but a pretty ugly landing page with a signup form. The software part was finished, but I had nothing to fill it with. This was the strategy that earned me my first $3 commission, roughly two weeks after launching. Insane, I know.

But, what is so hard about launching a marketplace?

If you haven’t heard about the “chicken and egg” problem of online marketplaces, you must be new here, but let me elaborate.

A marketplace has a supply and demand side. If you don’t have enough suppliers, your demand (paying customers) will outweigh the supply and go somewhere else. If you don’t have enough demand for your supply, your suppliers will leave.

This means you have to grow two customer bases at the same time with the same speed, as if things weren’t hard enough already!

Enough with the theory, this is how I overcame this problem back in 2018.

My thinking was the following: People are looking for mentors anyways. The harder part is finding people that are willing to mentor others. If I could secure the supply, demand should follow easily.

Even better: What if suppliers could bring their own demand? This is exactly what the influencer method is all about.

In theory, it sounds nice: Help “influencers” bring a new service to their audience easily and make some money. In return, you get the exposure and – of course – the commission.

In MentorCruise’s case, this meant connecting with bloggers, popular tweeters and leaders of the tech industry and convincing them to open formal “mentorship spots”. It was a grind – over 1,000 DMs and emails resulting in around ~100 interested mentors (usually with over 10k followers or network connections), of which 15 ended up signing up.

And indeed – just a little over two weeks later, when one of the mentors finally shared their profile on social media, there was a bit of attention. Then there was a first booking, then more mentors that applied with their own network. Repeat!

It took over half a year before organic demand started to surpass this effect! New mentors shared their profile with their network and often got booked within the first 24 hours.

So, is this a viable strategy to get your marketplace off the ground? Well, it depends:

  • Can you offer value beyond the marketplace mechanic? a reason why this worked for MentorCruise was that the mentors hadn’t considered charging for coaching yet. MentorCruise offered an easy framework to get started.
  • Is the platform lock-in worth it? Back then, there wasn’t a universally good self-serve platform to charge for coaching. However, if you are e.g. selling books or pay by the hour, there are tons of more open platforms out there
  • Is your commission attractive? Suppliers know that they bring their own demand. Is the cut you are taking still fair in that case?
  • Is your offer specific enough? In some markets, you might run into the issue of becoming an “everything marketplace”. There’s ebay for that. Influencers look for frameworks they can plug into.
  • How about the $$$? There’s lots of money to be made with the right audience. Is the earning potential big enough?

In any case, the influencer method is an interesting way of getting suppliers on your platform that bring their own demand. Even better – while your supplier might leave the platform at some point, the demand they brought in stays. It’s not uncommon for me to see customers from 2018 still roaming the mentorship marketplace!