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Know Who You Are Building For

For some products, who you are building for is always clear. The first thing any product manager needs to grok is whose pain you are trying to solve. I think this comes even before really diving into the product itself, as without the user its just another tree in the woods with no one around to hear it fall.

In Marketplaces, the founding team is clear on who they are building for at the start. While in a marketplace, you need to be solving pain on both sides to quickly build up liquidity, there is usually one side that holds more of the cards. There is usually a structural advantage to either the supply or demand side and you will want to focus on building for the side that has the most leverage.

In Talent Marketplaces, this is almost always the supply side and the early team has usually identified this and started building to first attract the supply into the marketplace.

But shortly after there is liquidity, with some supply matching some demand, things can get harried. The truth is you need both and your marketplace will face supply and demand constraints often.

The effect in the early days can cause teams to lose sight over who they are actually building for. While losing focus is not immediately fatal, it does come back to bite you when you are actually trying to establish dominance in your category.

How does this manifest? It often manifests in disjointed product experiences for all users, demand and supply. For demand, typically a disjointed experience can be overcome by having superior supply liquidity. On the supply side, though, a disjointed experience can erode your ability to build and retain your supply.

When articulating who you are building for, it helps to be specific early on. For instance, in a health care talent marketplace, you might start with travel nurses. This is a niche, with specific needs and attributes. By building for them, you solve their problem well, which will help you build a commanding ownership over supply and dominance in the niche.

From there, perhaps a few years down the road, you can choose to expand your definition of who you are building for. You might go from travel nurses to all nurses. From there, perhaps further down the road, you move to clinicians and then all health care workers. You only expand who you are building for incrementally as you grow your marketplace and capture a material amount of the supply at each step.

Rarely, do you actually pivot away from the lineage of your first user you built for. Each subsequent target user definition is a superset of the initial subset. Nurses are at the end of the day healthcare workers and you are still building for them, as well as the other categories of healthcare staff.

How does this look for decision making? First, who you are building for should be at the top of your product principle stack rank. The stack rank is there to help line-PMs make decisions autonomously.  They should be able to approach problems by going down the stack rank of principles and be able to make aligned trade offs without oversight.

Second: Decisions need to be articulated with the stack rank in mind. For instance, if you have an interesting demand-side partnership opportunity that could be a great demand-side lead-gen mechanism or revenue growth channel, you will actually want to view this opportunity through the lens of the stack rank. In the case where the target user is at the top of the stack rank, you will want to view the partnership opportunity first as "how does this impact our candidate users?". If the partnership is aligned with the needs of your supply-first world view, than it will make obvious sense to consider it vs other opportunities that serve the candidate user. If it is a pure play to goose revenue, it may not actually be aligned and should be passed-on based on the principle stack rank.

In a supply or talent first marketplace, demand activities should be focused on those that serve the supply user. Only once you achieve scale, and have captured the market, will you consider opportunities that don't directly and positively impact your supply-side user.

Marketplaces are hard and there are many potential personas that you can build for. Make sure that the organization is clear on who you are building for and work it into your decision making frameworks. Everyone should know that everyone on the team is working towards serving the primary user.

Trent Krupp

Currently Head of Product at Impact, a market network serving the entertainment industry. Previously, Head of Revenue at Triplebyte and Hired. Founded an agency in my 20's, sold it to Hired and became employee 5. Recruited for Atomic (VC), Credit Sesame and MakerSights. Helped the founders of recruitment tech startups Shift.org, Terminal and Beacon in the early days.

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