How to Build a Marketplace [A Startup Case Study]

I’ll start by saying that this is more than a case study for me. This is the story of my first venture as a startup founder when I set out to build a marketplace.

It was the end of 2014 and I couldn’t wait to leave banking behind and pursue the life of an entrepreneur. 

You know, throwing myself off a building and building the plane on my way down. That kind of thing.

I had been cooking this idea to build a marketplace in the social events space for a while. So I approached a team of product & software experts to help me shape it into reality.

We used a very thorough process to make sure I was building something the market actually wanted. We studied the market, we looked at the competition, and we reasoned on how we could build something 10x better than the existing solutions.

Then we decided which features were needed to prove my MVP’s main assumptions and which ones could wait to be built in. That led to the ultimate list of user stories for the product – the blueprint to start developing Venga!

“Looking back, I believe that was the moment I fell in love with the startup world…”

But I also made serious mistakes. 

One of those mistakes led to a failure in securing enough funding for the runway I needed. Venga had a premature end.

But the minute that door shut, a window opened. Things went so well with the product & software development that I ended up joining forces with the team that helped me build Venga to form Altar. 

The rest, as they say, is history.

But enough with my origins story, let’s jump straight to the case study. 

Hopefully, I’ll be able to paint a full picture of the key elements you need to take into consideration when building your marketplace.

Note: All market reasoning in this case study is accurate to the time the product development took place in 2014. 

Venga! The Social Events Marketplace

Venga! is a Social Events Marketplace where hosts and participants come together at amazing events such as themed dinners, retreats and parties. 

The goal was to build a marketplace that brings a collaborative economy to the private events segment and create a peer-to-peer community.

The Product Scope

This section provides you with is a shortened version of the conclusions we gained from the Product Scope of Venga! (The Product Scope is the tried and tested process we use for all of the products we build.) 

It starts with defining the product, followed by an analysis of the target stakeholders, the problem they face and how Venga! can solve it. 

The conclusions from this section allowed us to build a marketplace that focused on the users – a key factor in the development of any product. 

Related: 8 Steps to Follow to Build a Marketplace

The Product

“This is a place to find unique activities to enjoy with interesting people.”

A Web app where hosts can create their own activities (parties, retreats, or dinners) and participants can apply to these experiences. Then the hosts can decide if the participants are accepted or not. 

At the end of the experience, hosts and participants can mutually rate and review each other – all the participants can see the host’s ratings and reviews (which are public), while only hosts can see participants’ rates.

Who are we Solving the Problem For? Who’s the Target?

Age: From 25 to 35 (millennials); living in big cities.

Professions: Finance, Startups, Culture related jobs, Creative Industry (Artists, Marketers, Designers, etc.), Fashion Industry.

Psychological: 

  • Open-minded.
  • Expats who do not have an established circle of friends and want to meet and interact with new people.
  • Someone who travels a lot. 
  • Someone who wants to find an escape from day to day places and people they already know and aren’t finding that in bars and clubs. They need something deeper and want to interact with other people in a more meaningful way – escaping from mainstream events/usual clubs/pubs/bars.

During our research we found a meaningful trend for our target and context:

This, alongside other research, helped us create a motto for our target audience: 

“Life is about the people you meet”

Which led us to the next step of the process – identifying the problems we’re solving for our target. 

The Problem We Intend to Solve

  • Participants: Many people want to meet like-minded individuals and clubs, mainstream events and venues are not a good environment for that.
  • Hosts: Some people want to make money creatively and they don’t have a platform to reach people and manage the logistics.

How We Intend to Solve The Problem

  • Build a marketplace where participants can find activities that favour close interaction among like-minded people.
  • Build a marketplace where anyone can host by creating their own activities, find participants for it and generate money in less time, with easy communication and a proper structure to manage the activities.

Why Our Solution is Better Than the Competition

  • Extreme curatorship (top-class events with great pictures taken by professionals).
  • We have a people-centric approach.
  • We will have unique types of events.
  • Activities are organized by mood (party, relax, etc.).
  • It takes just three taps to book an event.
  • No chat (it causes distractions) but the participants can send messages to the host (as AirBnB does).
  • We don’t charge the user to access the community.

Do you have a brilliant idea that you want to bring to life?

From the product and business reasoning to streamlining your MVP to the most important features, our team of product experts and ex-startup founders can help you bring your vision to life.

Let’s Talk

Building The Product – User Interface (UI) 

The Events List

Venga! Product Bible & UX/UI - Events Page 1
Venga! Product Bible & UX/UI - Events Page 2
Venga! Product Bible & UX/UI - Events Page 3
Venga! Product Bible & UX/UI - Mobile App 2

In the centre (Desktop version):

The marketplace’s navigation bar is at the top. Here you can choose to see either the list of all the events or the ones you booked or created (first future events, then, past events).

On the event preview, we highlight the host and three participants’ faces. The three participants shown are selected by a scoring mechanism that relates several parameters (example: Number of friends on Facebook, number of followers, interests in common). So you might see different faces from other users. The host is always identified with a golden halo which gracefully enhances their role in the event and in the community as a whole. It generates curiosity, leading users to click/hover and access their profile, where they will find their events.

The events listing algorithm is based on a scoring system. The eight vectors are:

  1. Where most of the people that you maybe know (have attended the same events that you had) will go.
  2. Ones in your town.
  3. Those with the same hashtags as the previous events that you have been to.
  4. Where people from the same country and city from where you come from (if you are abroad) will attend.
  5. From the same host of other events that you’ve been to.
  6. The same category as the events that you’ve been to.
  7. Ones which participants that you follow go to.
  8. The events which participants that you showed more interest in (clicks and time on their profiles) will attend. 

Showing that participants have already booked an event enables very basic psychology that makes it easier to imagine yourself there. Venga! events are all about the participants. Knowing who hosts and who is going is fundamental to choosing an event.

On the left sidebar:

Your name and your profile picture are on the top of the sidebar. Before signing up in Venga! you are assigned a personal profile layout with a dummy profile picture, “Your Name” and a button to “Get in with FB” or with email. This is a high incentive to Sign In for the first time and to log in if you’re not logged in.

Below your profile, you have the filters. They are designed to make the research of relevant events easier.

If you have not signed up for Venga! yet then you will be limited to seeing the latest 10 events taking place in your city.

Event Page

Venga! Product Bible & UX/UI - Event Description 1

Venga! Product Bible & UX/UI - Event Description 2
Venga! Product Bible & UX/UI - Event Description 3
Venga! Product Bible & UX/UI - Event Description 4
Venga! Product Bible & UX/UI - Event Description 4

In the centre, you will find the event cover photo, name, description and pictures of participants. On the left, there is your picture and bio, on the right the host’s picture and the most relevant information.

Just below the host section, you will find a large “Get me in” button with your picture embedded.

The psychology of dream: having your picture lying close to the event’s participants – which is itself sided by the host. This tells you that you belong in this event just as much as they do.

To further achieve event validation assessments you will find great quality pictures of the venue and a map of the location (which colours change to match Venga!’s style). The general location is visible but the precise address will only become visible once you’ll have purchased your place.

The People List

Venga! Product Bible & UX/UI - The People List 1

Venga! Product Bible & UX/UI - The People List 2
Venga! Product Bible & UX/UI - The People List 3

In the centre:

There is a navigation bar at the top where you can choose to see everyone, people who you follow or followers.

The most visible elements of the “people” search within the community are the name and picture for easy lookup.

The second level has the most recent events the user is attending (either future or past) show up for easy access.

On a third level, you will find how engaged that person is with the community. Thanks to the number of following and followers (for all the users) and rating and halo (if the user is a host).

Furthermore, you can view which interests (hashtags) apply to the user and choose to follow that person (if not already followed the button will be more highlighted).

The people listing algorithm is also based on a scoring mechanism. The most important vector is people who attend or create future events (to generate more clicks). Other vectors are Friends on Facebook, followers, same interests, same town, the opposite sex (ratio 2/3).

On the left sidebar:

Your profile image is again on the top of the sidebar.

You will be filtering people according to: 

  • Location – searching for people from … in … (great for ex-pats to meet their people in a foreign country – e.g. From Italy in London ). Then you see the events they’ll go and you immediately know the only way you can meet them: joining these events.
  • Date range – great to find people who are attending events within a target range of dates.
  • Hashtags.

The Feed

Venga! Product Bible & UX/UI - The Feed 1

Venga! Product Bible & UX/UI - The Feed 2
Venga! Product Bible & UX/UI - The Feed 3

The feed will have an algorithm based on a scoring mechanism that will prioritize showing you what matters on two sets of triggers:   

  • Community triggers – if someone starts following you, if a group of people you follow joins an event and if Venga! posts community news.
  • Event triggers – if a host you follow creates an event or if a host adds pictures to an event or if a person with whom you’ve been in a past event is joining a new one.

Profile page

Venga! Product Bible & UX/UI - Profile Page 1

Venga! Product Bible & UX/UI - Profile Page 2
Venga! Product Bible & UX/UI - Profile Page 3

Hosts

As mentioned before, the host displays a golden halo around their picture and a rating in stars which reflects the consensus to their events.

The navigation bar for hosts separates events which they are involved in (future and past events) as a Host or as a Participant.

First shown are the events created, highlighting first the events they are hosting in the future and then those hosted in the past.

In this screen you will also see community engagement data such as numbers of followers and following, the follow button and the hashtags (interests).

Participants

For participants, you will see the events divided into two categories: upcoming (shown by default) and past events.

Again, you will also see community engagement data such as numbers of followers and following, the follow button and the hashtags (interests).

Thanks for reading. 

Wrapping Up 

To successfully build a marketplace, just like any product, you have to start by getting into your user’s shoes and asking yourself: “As a target user, why would I use this product?” 

Then once you’ve found your unique value proposition it’s about keeping the user at the forefront of the process. 

For more on the product development process, check out this article