Getting your first users for a marketplace is one of the most difficult parts. You need both buyers and sellers – commonly referred to as “the chicken and egg problem”. However, sometimes that just makes it sound harder than it actually is. It only takes one side – at a time. If you have sellers, you can then focus on buyers. If you already have a user base, for example you have a forum or community or even a mailing list, the problem is partially solved – you already have your sellers and perhaps buyers too. If you don’t then you should focus on getting one side at least before you start.

Let’s take eBay as an example. Here’s how it started out. Pierre sent out messages to a newsgroup with a list of items for an auction. He previously contacted individuals who wanted to sell something and sent the list to anyone in the newsgroup.

From: pie...@ebay.com (Pierre Omidyar)
Subject: AUCTIONWEB: Interactive Web Auction
Date: 1995/09/12
Message-ID: <pierre-1209952317370001@pierre.vip.best.com>
X-Deja-AN: 109995718
organization: eBay Internet
newsgroups: misc.forsale.non-computer

Hello folks,

Here is the current listing of non-computer items for auction at AuctionWeb:

  http://www.ebay.com/aw/

All items are offered by the individual sellers, and anyone is free to bid
on any item, or to add items, free of charge.

For more information about any of these items, please visit the AuctionWeb
site at the above URL.

Cheers,

Pierre

It wasn’t random. It wasn’t just a list of items on the site, waiting for people to find out about then via search. It was target to a “for sale” section of a free online posting board. People were already selling stuff on the board. eBay simply made it more organized and trustworthy (by adding feedback scores).

A lot of people try and promote their website on platforms like Google, Facebook by doing Ads and SEO – then hoping for the best. This method does work but is inefficient at the start (unless you’re going for long-tail keywords + have lots of content etc.). Going direct to a group of users makes sure you are solving a problem for them and gives your marketplace a higher chance of success.

In essence, the likeliest path to success is to find a niche of people – analyse them, figure out what they’re struggling with. Give them a medium to trade on. For example, the modern equivalent of newsgroups could be twitter. You may find people looking for spare or unused items such as football tickets on twitter. Perhaps the users don’t trust each other. Getting a list of those sellers offering them the protection of a marketplace and giving buyers a way to buy the tickets solves that problem – that’s how Twickets was born.