Cracking the Chicken-and-Egg Problem: Strategies to Kickstart and Scale a Marketplace Business


Hatched by Glasp

Jul 29, 2023

3 min read


Cracking the Chicken-and-Egg Problem: Strategies to Kickstart and Scale a Marketplace Business


Starting and growing a marketplace business can be challenging, especially when faced with the chicken-and-egg problem of supply and demand. In this article, we will explore various strategies used by successful marketplaces to overcome this hurdle and achieve sustainable growth. From direct sales to leveraging existing networks, we will uncover the common points that connect these strategies and provide actionable advice for entrepreneurs looking to build their own marketplace.

  • 1. Direct Sales: A Crucial Lever for Early Marketplaces

One surprising finding from our research is the importance of direct sales in kickstarting supply growth. Approximately 60% of successful marketplace companies relied on one-on-one direct sales to acquire their initial listings. By personally reaching out to potential suppliers, these companies were able to build trust and remove obstacles that prevented businesses from joining their platforms. This approach proved particularly effective in immature markets without critical mass, allowing marketplace operators to curate the right mix of supply.

Actionable Advice: Invest time and resources in direct sales efforts, especially in the early stages of your marketplace. Build relationships with potential suppliers, address their concerns, and offer incentives to encourage sign-ups.

  • 2. Referrals: Harnessing the Power of Word-of-Mouth

Referrals played a significant role in driving early supply for many successful marketplaces. Approximately one-third of a marketplace's initial trips were generated through referrals, proving to be not only an effective growth lever but also a source of high-quality supply. By incentivizing existing suppliers to refer others, marketplace operators could tap into their networks and expand their supply base.

Actionable Advice: Implement a referral program that rewards existing suppliers for referring new ones. Offer incentives such as discounts, credits, or exclusive features to encourage participation and drive organic word-of-mouth growth.

  • 3. Piggy-Backing off Existing Networks: The Craigslist Advantage

Another strategy employed by many marketplaces was piggy-backing off existing networks, with Craigslist being a popular choice. By leveraging the already established user base and infrastructure of Craigslist, marketplace operators could quickly tap into a broad audience and attract both suppliers and customers. This approach provided a shortcut to building critical mass and overcoming the chicken-and-egg problem.

Actionable Advice: Identify existing networks or platforms that align with your marketplace's target audience and explore opportunities for collaboration or integration. Piggy-backing off established networks can significantly accelerate your marketplace's growth.

Connecting the Dots: Focusing on Supply Growth

As we delve into these strategies, it becomes evident that focusing on supply growth is crucial for marketplace success. Many of the highlighted tactics share a common goal: acquiring and nurturing a strong supply base. By removing obstacles, incentivizing referrals, leveraging existing networks, and prioritizing the needs of suppliers, marketplace operators can create a virtuous cycle that drives sustainable growth.

Additional Insights:

While the strategies discussed above are commonly employed, it's essential to recognize that not all marketplaces will find success with the same approaches. Each marketplace is unique, and understanding the specific dynamics of your target market is key. Experimentation, adaptation, and continuous evaluation are vital to finding the right combination of strategies that work for your marketplace.


Cracking the chicken-and-egg problem requires a focused and deliberate approach. By investing in direct sales efforts, harnessing the power of referrals, leveraging existing networks, and prioritizing supply growth, marketplace operators can overcome this challenge and set their platforms up for success. Remember to adapt these strategies to your specific market and continuously iterate to find the optimal growth levers for your marketplace.

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