If you’re in your 30s and thinking about starting a new business, I would like to make a case for you to start a niche online marketplace. Let me explain why it’s not only a great time for you to start a business but also get into this space.
A Wharton Business School study shows that your chances of creating a successful high growth startup actually starts to increase after the age of 35. The researchers believe this is because as we age, we accumulate benefits that directly improve our probability of success in entrepreneurial ventures. The most important of these benefits is the deep industry knowledge and experience founders between the age of 35 to 55 bring to startups.
However, to build a successful online marketplace you will need three other specific factors to increase your probability of success. They are community, credibility and connections. The good news is it’s likely that you’ve already developed them if you’re over 30. Let me walk you through what they mean and why they’re important:
Reason 1 – Your Online Community Can Kickstart Your Marketplace
I built and ran a multi-niche classifieds startup in Singapore and Malaysia in the mid 2000s. My team and I approached different special interest groups and niche magazine publishers to help them set up their own dedicated marketplace portals. However, like the 90% of startups out there, we didn’t make it past the third year. One of the key reasons we failed is that we underestimated the importance of developing an online community before launching our marketplaces.
Marketplaces Require A Community of Buyers and Sellers
A passionate and committed community is the primary catalyst of any product’s initial success. It’s like the firestarter in your barbecue. Without which, all preparation work would have led to nothing. This is true for all product launches but particularly important when starting a new online marketplace. Unlike a more straight-forward e-commerce business where you need only convince buyers, an online marketplace requires the participation of two parties, buyers and sellers.
This is why if you’re already part of an existing community, half or more of this battle has already been won. For instance, just say you’re an active member of a Facebook group of bird watching enthusiasts. This means you’re already acquainted with hundreds of SLR-camera-carrying people who may potentially be interested in either renting or lending their equipment in your new “peer to peer digital camera lens rental” online marketplace.
Now that you’re in your 30s, it’s almost certain that you’re involved in a special interest community or two. Sift through the conversations and comments to look for any unmet services or products in your community. Reach out to other members to confirm your ideas and discuss how best to fulfil these service/product gaps. Refine your idea and evaluate if it fits an online marketplace model. Your community is your marketplace’s firestarter. It’s the best starting point to get support for your new niche online marketplace.
Reason 2 – You Can Boost your Marketplace’s Authority with your Credibility
In my past startup, we intentionally worked with established niche publications like a Malaysian mountain biking monthly magazine and Singapore’s premier home renovation journal. We knew that if we wanted to build new communities online, it would be much easier if we had partners who had credibility. It definitely helped to cement the early trust we needed from the online customers we had.
Let’s assume that you’re not currently involved actively in any niche online community. You don’t feel confident that you’ll be able to convince anyone on Facebook to participate in your new marketplace. Don’t fret. Take one step back. Evaluate the niche areas that you have worked on for more than 5 years, whether professionally or as a hobby. Areas that you’ve established some credibility with your peers and industry. Chances are, in your 30s or 40s, you’ll have a decent number to choose from.
Credibility Come From Achievement, Experience, Commitment and Association
The best place to start is your current job. Ask yourself, have you been doing this for a long time? What kind of qualifications or projects have you completed that can set you apart from some of your peers? Are you working for any prestigious and reputable company or firm? Perhaps you’ve been leading a team in the technical support department of a mobile carrier for the past 3 years. You understand how to manage technical support talent and how to deal with customer related problems. This lends you the right “management” credibility to speak to the freelancers you need for the new “Zoom-based Microsoft Excel troubleshooting” marketplace you’re planning to build.
The second place you should look is at your hobbies. In today’s dynamically changing job landscape, it’s highly possible that you’ve committed to a single hobby much longer than you have held on to a job in a distinct area of specialisation. Essentially, you’re a bigger expert in your hobby than you are in your job. If that’s the case, excellent. Take stock of all your achievements or creations. Look at all the people who are following you on your Instagram website or your blog.
Your history of dedication to perfecting your craft and followers lends you the authority to speak about mending the needs gaps in your niche. Perhaps, you’re someone who’s been doing survival training in the wilderness for more than 10 years. You’re just the perfect ambassador to attract both trainers and trainees for the new “wilderness survival doomsday prepper training” online marketplace you’re thinking of launching. Your credibility gives your marketplace authority.
Reason 3 – Your Connections Can Help Build your Marketplace’s Foundation
The secret of any successful marketplace is really managing the right balance between the number of buyers and sellers. If there are too little on each side, the other will fall out. It’s really as simple as that. In my marketplace startup, we made the big mistake of working too hard on seller side engagement for a nightlife promotion marketplace. Our client thought it made sense to postpone the buyer side development until we had a substantial number of F&B establishments on our site. By the time we seriously looked at driving traffic to the site, a large group of our sellers had already lost interest in updating their deals on the site. The lesson here is “balance”. Growth for any marketplace depends heavily on this.
Your Connections Grow Broader and Stronger As You Age
This is where your years of developing strategic relationships and reliable connections come into play. You’re probably in a much better position today than you were in your twenties to leverage on your connections. Your knowledge of the industry is broader and deeper. You understand the ecosystem very well and are acquainted with both sides of your business, sellers and buyers. You’ve proved your mettle to them. These people trust you. You are in a good position to recruit the early participants from both sides of the business to your new marketplace. You are the one to bring balance to the “Force”.
Make Your Connections Your Business Advantage
For example if you’re currently working as sous chef to a famous private chef. The idea of running an “ethnic cuisine private dining” online marketplace came to you in a moment of culinary epiphany. You’ve been chatting with the guests at the various parties your boss has been catering to. They love your idea and they’re willing to share it with their friends. Your buyer side issue resolved. However, you don’t really know that many ethnic cuisine chefs. How do you build the seller side of your marketplace? You leverage on your connections. Speak to your meat supplier, your part time waitering crew, your tent rental guy to make introductions to other chefs. You get creative with how to work your connections.
Remember even if you do not have immediate contacts on both sides, you’re still in a much better position than others to ask someone who does. Perhaps you work in a large self storage operator as a facilities manager. You intend to launch an “Uber for self-storage” marketplace leveraging on free space in people’s homes. Although you have expert in-depth knowledge on how, what and why people store their belongings, you are not directly acquainted with the customers or the homeowners themselves. In this instance, you leverage your existing connections by recruiting people or partnering with the right co-founders to lend you support in areas where you’re not strong at.
At 30, your connections are your business advantage. Use them to build a solid foundation for your online marketplace.
Final Word – Your Niche Online Marketplace Needs Scalable and Affordable Technology
One of the biggest challenges for most first time non-technical startup founders is managing the technology cost or finding a suitable technical co-founder. If this is indeed stopping you from launching your niche online marketplace, worry no more.
Today, there are a few convenient options in the market to build your niche online marketplace. In my opinion, the most notable, user-friendly and flexible option is Sharetribe. Most importantly, you don’t need to have any technical skills to operate your marketplace on their platform. You can literally launch your marketplace in a day without needing the help of a developer. Additionally, their no lock-in and flexible pay as you scale up pricing scheme is very reasonable – it starts at US$79 per month. This means you don’t need to pay anyone a massive amount of money to build your platform over a few months just to test your idea.
So, if you’re in the right community, have the necessary credibility and are ready to leverage on your connections, I would suggest taking a look at Sharetribe to get you started. You’re in your 30s, embrace your improved likelihood of entrepreneurial success. Go forth and build your niche online marketplace of your dream my friend.
Below is a checklist to help you systematically identify how the 3 points above applies to your life today. It will help you narrow down what are the possible niches that you have an advantage over others.
Disclaimer – I get commissions for purchases made through links in this post.