Have you heard about Airbnb, BlaBlacar or Aliexpress? You probably have, because creating P2P (peer-to-peer) marketplaces is one of most popular startup ideas just now. We’re just at the beginning of the platform era, and we’re certain to see excellent innovation in the field of building and managing marketplaces.
And, have you heard about Sharetribe? It’s a platform that lets anyone create their own marketplace, without any technical skills. No? Well, Roobykon Software is already making web development projects for this open source platform, and we guarantee that it deserves your attention.
Let’s take a closer look!
The day Sharetribe was born
Juho Makkonen and Antii Vorilainen, two open-minded entrepreneurs, created their first online marketplace in 2008. They were taking part in a research project, and their marketplace was a simple site that helped students on their university campus to do things like borrow tools from each other, sell their old course books, or ask for help moving. Back then, nobody was yet talking about the ‘sharing economy’.
Their site became pretty popular on campus. The young people there saw the power that online marketplaces could have – in bringing people together and helping them to reuse or effectively share their assets. And so Juho and Antii decided that P2P online marketplaces were the thing they wanted to do.
In October 2011 they began to develop what they’d already worked in university: creating a network of private and local marketplaces for campuses, neighborhoods, and companies. Next came the initial business model: each university, city, and company would pay to use their site.
The first vital decisions
The two young Finns succeeded in convincing some universities, companies, and cities to try their platform. But two problems soon emerged.
Firstly, a lot of time was taken up negotiating with customers who didn’t want to pay to use the platform. Secondly, while they had no trouble getting their university campus community on board (they were part of it), the new site struggled to gain a critical mass of users, because of the lack of dedicated community managers.
While all this was going on, the sharing economy was spreading far and wide, and a lot of entrepreneurs has gotten the idea of building their own online marketplace businesses. Many of them started to get in contact to find out if they could take advantage of Juho and Antii's new platform. And it was then that it became clear what the real problem was that Sharetribe should try to solve: how could entrepreneurs create marketplace projects without any technical skills?
At the risk of using a startup cliché, 2013 was the year the company ‘pivoted’. The platform become customizable, helping users realize their own marketplace ideas: whether that was to create an ‘Airbnb for surfboards’ or an ‘Etsy for home-cooked meals’. And this turned out to be the right move – because today, the platform is driving hundreds of marketplaces worldwide, all with a team of just 13 people behind it.
How Sharetribe helps build businesses
So far, the company has mostly focused on the technology that customers need in their platform. But lately the team's management has realized that being just a platform is not enough – because most customers are new to marketplaces, and they have a lot of things still to learn.
Until now, marketplace businesses have had to go through a period of trial and error. But Sharetribe wants to speed up this process by developing an online education program for all the entrepreneurs using its marketplace platform. The drive to do this has come not just from years of experience, but also after looking at heaps of gathered statistical data from hundreds of the marketplaces that customers of the platform are building.
Simply put, Sharetribe has put itself at the forefront of identifying the factors that make a marketplace succeed or fail. After pinpointing this information, their aim is to make it available for everyone via a soon-to-be-launched Marketplace Academy.
Sharetribe in the Long View
Juho and Antii want to do for the sharing economy that WordPress did for publishing. They want to democratize it, by simplifying the process of building and managing online marketplaces, making these things accessible to anyone, anywhere in the world.
The Sharetribe platform is already open source, just like WordPress. The next step is to develop architecture to let customers personalize the platform as they want, while still benefiting from its configuration and hosting. And the company has already made its first step in this direction by allowing third-party developers to offer and sell their own extensions.
For now, Sharetribe is ideal for those entrepreneurs who want to quickly launch their Minimum Viable Product – but the number-one task is to provide a quality of service better than the most successful marketplaces – those that have reached massive scale. And to do this, the platform has to become even more flexible and customizable for e-commerce.
We have the chance to create a future where local marketplaces grow alongside and invest their profits back into local communities, instead of one where the owners of a few big marketplaces get all the profits, while sellers suffer. As long as there’s the possibility of building an equal way to distribute the huge value created by the sharing economy, Sharetribe will be focused on realizing it.