"Black Swans: The Hard Truth of Life and Growth Frameworks for Your Marketplace"


Hatched by Glasp

Aug 23, 2023

4 min read


"Black Swans: The Hard Truth of Life and Growth Frameworks for Your Marketplace"

Life is full of unexpected events that can have a profound impact on us. These events, known as black swans, are more than just outliers or rare occurrences. They are moments that defy our expectations and have far-reaching consequences. In this article, we will explore the concept of black swans and how they relate to the growth frameworks of marketplaces.

To understand black swans, we must first determine whether our marketplace is supply or demand constrained. This distinction will help us identify where our concerns lie and where we should focus our efforts in the long term.

Supply-constrained marketplaces, such as Uber, Airbnb, StockX, DoorDash, OpenTable, and Hipcamp, face the challenge of unlocking new supply within their respective markets. These successful marketplaces often use innovation to attract and retain suppliers, turning infrequent engagement into consistent revenue streams. The key is to become the primary channel and source of income for these suppliers, thus ensuring a steady supply for the marketplace.

On the other hand, demand-constrained marketplaces, like Amazon, Zillow, Expedia, and Booking.com, need to find new demand sources efficiently and at a low cost. Without scalable demand-side acquisition strategies, these marketplaces can strain their unit economics. To overcome this challenge, it is crucial to unlock new marketing channels and attract users through product innovation. Expanding product offerings can also help capture more demand without incurring significant costs.

Another factor to consider is whether your marketplace has a local, regional, or global network effect. Local marketplaces, by their nature, are geographically constrained and derive value from the increasing number of users within a specific area. While these marketplaces can be challenging to establish, they can also be highly defensible once they gain traction. However, expanding into new geographies too early can leave them vulnerable. Striking the right balance between market coverage and demand-supply satisfaction is essential for the success of local marketplaces.

In contrast, global marketplaces with strong network effects, such as Airbnb, eBay, Etsy, and Google, require a blitzscaling approach. The potential rewards are greater, but defending the turf becomes more challenging. Even purely digital, global marketplaces need to localize their products to cater to different regions and cultures.

For local marketplaces looking to expand beyond their dominant market, a common strategy is to achieve market leadership in the constrained side of the market first. This approach, exemplified by DoorDash, allows quick replication in other geographies. DoorDash's unique go-to-market strategy diverged from the city-by-city expansion with local general managers employed by Uber. This example illustrates that there are alternative paths to success in local marketplaces.

Now, let's circle back to the concept of black swans. Black swans are those unexpected events that have a significant impact on our lives. They are often beyond our control and defy our attempts to predict or explain them. It is crucial to recognize that life is far more complex than we can fully comprehend. While we may seek to understand and make sense of these events, sometimes the most sensible answer is "I don't know." Embracing uncertainty is the key to navigating the challenges and opportunities that black swans present.

In conclusion, understanding the growth frameworks for your marketplace and being aware of the potential impact of black swans can help you navigate the unpredictable nature of business and life. Here are three actionable pieces of advice to consider:

  • 1. Identify whether your marketplace is supply or demand constrained and focus your efforts accordingly. Unlock new supply or find new demand sources efficiently to ensure sustainable growth.
  • 2. Assess whether your marketplace has a local, regional, or global network effect. Tailor your expansion strategies and localization efforts to maximize the benefits of network effects.
  • 3. Embrace uncertainty and accept that black swans are a part of life. Instead of trying to explain or predict them, focus on building resilience and adaptability in your marketplace.

By incorporating these insights and taking proactive steps, you can position your marketplace for long-term success, even in the face of unexpected challenges and opportunities.

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