TL;DR: Pip Jamieson, Founder and CEO of The Dots, takes us through the lessons that have helped her to realise that you have to start by understanding the community in which your marketplace exists. Then you can build something which genuinely adds value to everyone within it.
What is The Dots?
The Dots helps “no-collar” workers to find roles and helps companies to find quality talent for their creative positions. The company has reimagined the experience of a service like LinkedIn for individuals who don’t have a structured CV. For creative roles, it’s important to showcase the work rather than just the job title, roles, and responsibilities.
The Dots has a product that does this and then encourages people to tag their co-workers, to steadily increase its reach. It’s more akin to IMDB than a jobs board.
Successful Marketplaces Depend on a Community That Adds Value
The Dots’ biggest clients (recruiters) are looking for people who do great work and who are already employed, rather than people who are looking for a job. Attracting such people to the platform requires creative community they want to engage with, regardless of whether they’re searching for a job.
This means adding value, and in the creative industry, this means showcasing people’s work. There’s an ego boost someone uploads work or is tagged in a project. It’s also about finding inspiration from looking at the work of others. LinkedIn operates in the same way, but for general business advice and content.
Lesson 1: Make the Community Free and Charge Clients to Access it
The chicken and egg problem that faces all marketplaces at the start needs to be solved if you’re going to be successful. One side has to be active for the other side to be interested. The Dots allows creatives to showcase their work for free and charges companies to approach them.
Lesson 2: Curation is key to Quality
Clients care about the quality of content on the site, as it’s what they look through to find people. The Dots invested heavily in content curation to ensure quality. It’s much harder to charge a premium for your service without quality content.
AirBNB took the same approach when it first started – sending professional photographers to hosts’ listings, so it could set a benchmark for the minimum standard.
Lesson 3: Build Trust by Asking People
Companies really want to know how good somebody is before they approach them. This is why most people still work from recommendations or through recruiters. Traditionally marketplaces implement reviews in order to build trust in their products – AirBnb, Amazon and the like all see this as a key part of their service.
The Dots solved this issue by getting people to tag one another in projects and then allowing clients to speak to the people connected to individuals they were interested in.
Lesson 4: Prioritise big Ideas by Measuring the Team’s Confidence in Them
The creative people in your product teams will naturally spot the big opportunities for your marketplace. They’ll want to try and revolutionise your business every time you have a planning session – especially if you are in a fast-moving growth situation. This means you have a long backlog of high-risk features for development.
Intercom’s RICE model helps to sort these ideas and allow you to make better decisions about what to pursue. It does this by adding Reach and Confidence, into the Effort and Impact model. Confidence is particularly important, as it allows you to build in data that you’re already seeing across your product. If, for example, you’ve got lots of analysis showing you patterns that support a feature then your confidence will be high.
Lesson 5: Diverse Teams Make Better Products
Hiring and retaining great people is one of the hardest issues for a business. For a team dealing with a marketplace product, ensuring that these people have a variety of different perspectives and experiences is crucial. If they don’t, then your marketplace will only ever resonate with a single type of person. No matter how much testing you do, you will always unconsciously be designing a product for yourself – which is unlikely to bring you the scale you need.