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Where Are They Now?: Sharetribe

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We talk to Juho Makkonen, co-founder of Sharetribe, an easy-to-use SaaS platform for building peer-to-peer marketplaces.

PwC estimate that the sharing economy will grow from USD 15 billion to USD 335 billion in the next ten years. Big players such as Airbnb and Etsy are being joined by a raft of new startups, popping up almost on a weekly basis — we recently saw an vehicle jump-start app in Montreal, a coding workshop run by high schoolers, and a service connecting green-fingered students with homeowners. There’s no doubt that peer-to-peer platforms are creating a shift in how people trade and do business.

Sharetribe is a service that enables entrepreneurs to create a P2P platform effortlessly — it could take as little as 48 seconds. They target small businesses who don’t have the resources to hire a team of web developers, and help startups get their own online marketplace up and running without having to do any coding themselves.

We first came across Sharetribe in 2014, when their software as a subscription service had around 100 customers. By the end of 2015, the number had grown to more than 500. Their monthly recurring revenue has grown fivefold since the launch, and they have recently passed the USD 50k mark. The service charges USD 39 a month, and owners have hosted anything from a children’s clothing swap (Maggie’s kids Market) to a surfboard sharing platform (Quiver).

One of the reasons of Sharetribe’s success lies in their approach — enabling amateur entrepreneurs to create their own marketplace in one day, without any technical skills. By making the process of starting a peer-to-peer platform easy and affordable, the startup is catering to a growing need in an ever-expanding industry.

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When we first wrote about Sharetribe, they were focused entirely on technology: creating a seamless platform for anyone to use. In 2015, the team realized that they needed to do more. “We needed to help the entrepreneurs not only with the technology, but with the business side as well,” co-founder and CEO Juho Makkonen tells us. That’s why they launched a new initiative in December called Marketplace Academy, which is an online education resource dedicated to helping entrepreneurs build their own marketplaces. Here, users can find tips on marketplace digital transformation, setting the right pricing, how to validate an idea prior to building a platform, and more. “We’re trying to collect all the tips and best practices related to building online marketplaces into a single online destination,” Juho says.

What’s more, Sharetribe wants to cater to the increased personalization users are expecting from SaaS solutions. “Right now, our platform is a great minimum viable product tool for aspiring entrepreneurs,” Juho says, “However, in some cases, people want more flexibility and customization.” With this customer need in mind, Sharetribe has developed an open source edition of the platform. But in the future, the team wants to make it easier for users to make customizations without having to touch code. “We want to build an ecosystem similar to what WordPress and Shopify have, where our customers can extend the core platform by purchasing themes, extensions and mobile apps.”

In terms of key learnings, Juho advises entrepreneurs to prioritize the time it takes to provide quality customer support. “As the interest towards our platform has grown, we’ve had to put a lot of time and energy into thinking how to automate our process to scale to even larger audiences.”

Additionally, the team has realized that true learnings begin only when you have launched your product and have real, passionate users using it. “My advice to any aspiring entrepreneur out there is to try to get to that stage as soon as possible, and with a minimum budget. When the customer feedback starts rolling in, you get a whole new perspective of the things you really should be building,” Juho says.

“Even if you think your idea is great, you can never be truly sure until you launch and see people really using the product and liking it. That’s really cool, and also really scary — suddenly there are lots of people depending on you to deliver. With great popularity comes great responsibility.”

Find out more about Sharetribe here.