Create a community to secure supply

Lauren Anderson is the Community Director for Collaborative Consumption and will speak at The Conference 2012. The text is taken from our publication “Access over ownership”, about the trend of wanting access to things instead of owning them.

Companies like Airbnb, TaskRabbit, Whipcar and Skillshare are changing the way we think about the things we own, whether physical stuff or intangible skills, and how we get access to the things we need.

Two-sided marketplace

Despite the growing popularity and success of Collaborative Consumption business models, these marketplaces are not without their challenges, especially early on where decisions around how to launch and scale can make or break the business.

While the idea of a two-sided marketplace is not unique to Collaborative Consumption, it is one of the biggest hurdles to gaining traction in the early days of a business. How can you ensure there is enough (or the right kind of) supply to meet demand? There is nothing worse for a member who visits your Sporting Supplies Rental site looking for a baseball bat, when all you have to offer is tennis racquets. After an unsatisfactory first-time experience, chances are they won’t come back a second time.

Focus on a niche to get the benefits of a community

To tackle the problem from the outset, it is important to hone in on a niche area to focus your inventory on. Not only will this enable you to market your offering effectively and manage expectations, it will also enable you to attract the right kind of user from the outset.

By focusing on a type of product, a specific geographic location or a particular interest category, you can build a strong community base and ensure a higher guarantee of positive experiences.

GaBoom, a UK-based video game swap site launched by 21-year-old Jess Ratcliffe, initially launched offering three different ways to swap games: Secure Swap, GaBoom Escrow and Forum Exchange. While a strong community built around the initial site, Ratcliffe realised that the best way to scale was to simplify the offering even further, so in late last year they stripped back to a single direct member-to-member swap method.

Through reducing the complexity in how members use the site, Ratcliffe and the GaBoom team have been able to hone in on the user experience in one single area, giving them a luxury of focus they didn’t previously have.

Once a strong following has been developed in this particular niche area, it’s time to consider scaling up to new territories or adding new product offerings – but don’t do everything at once!

Use the relationship you have developed with your community to get feedback on what new services they would like to see, or which new location would have the greatest chance of success, given the number of expressions of interest you have received.

By tapping into the people who love your business and seeking their input, you will be able to make well-informed decisions on where to grow next and build an even stronger community in the process.

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