From Idea to 1000 Beta Signups in 1 Month
The VQ-Marketplace Story (Part 1)
We failed miserably in 2 startups before starting VQ-Marketplace — a solution that enables entrepreneurs to build a Sharing Economy Marketplace. In both cases, we used certain methodologies and built a product for months before we took it to market and started ‘selling’ it at scale.
We thought that a well planned and complete user experience together with a top-notch design were critical requirements before launch.
We were completely wrong.
With VQ-Marketplace, we do things differently especially since this platform is more complex than any other tool we had built before. VQ-Marketplace is a solution that allows entrepreneurs and startups to Very Quickly start their own Sharing Economy Marketplace.
Think Shopify meets Sharing Economy. Think Facebook Pages meets Platform businesses.
Adrian’s domain expertise in this area (he worked with and consulted startups and companies) was a huge advantage, as it gave us a very clear vision of what VQ-Marketplace would do, how it would be different, and the value it would generate to specific personas (we are indeed the best personas for our current business: We live and breathe Sharing Economy and are frequent user of some Sharing Economy Marketplaces!).
From day one, we planned to release the smallest and simplest viable version of the tool, collect feedback in a private beta, while quickly improving it with small continuous changes. Here is part 1 of the journey on how we are making that happen…
In this article, we will share how we:
- Prepare for the VQ-Marketplace Beta and validated feasibility in just 2 months
- Spread the word about VQ Marketplace and reached over 1000 requests in a month
- What we achieved and learned during the beta
A. Develop a “Showcase” Product — MVP
Once we had defined the vision and feature-set of the tool, our engineers set off working on the ‘base technology’ — in other words, the core functionality required to make VQ-Marketplace work and allow to build a simple sharing economy marketplace. This meant building the ability to set up a marketplace with a very limited functionality of inserting listings and allowing people sending requests for it — it is still available here at https://talentwand.vqmarketplace.com.
We made a decision to not be too concerned about company name or incorporation at this point. To us, these were just distractions that could be tackled at a later stage.
B. Find the first customer and offer customized version
From previous projects, we had learned that waiting to finish the product and then releasing was a bad idea. Collecting feedback so late would lead to big changes or potentially spending a long time moving in the completely wrong direction.
We also wanted to make sure that from the very beginning we find a customer for the solution. Besides the reason stated above, the really cool thing about it was that we ensured the viability of the business model behind and secured the funds for the development of the product.
Within 2 weeks after this decision was made, our team found a customer for the solution. The trade-off was that we listened to every customizing request and provided an unbeatable support for the project. At this stage, our engineers started working on the product — the admin dashboard and storefront of the sharing economy marketplace and were delivering parts of the software every few days.
C. We defined the ‘bare minimum’ needed to switch to a minimum viable solution for the public
Knowing that our vision of VQ-Marketplace was possible, we realized we had to clearly define the minimum requirements for each feature and be aware that every special request from the custom project is configurable in a way that the product can be viable also for other clients. Since VQ-Marketplace is a complex cloud solution allowing to build Sharing Economy marketplaces, we focused on building only an MVP — a ‘Minimum Viable Product’. In other words, the bare minimum required for someone to use it and get value out of it. Ani put her Product Management skills to put together a detailed outline document of what each feature would do and the acceptance tests each had to fulfill before it would be released.
D. We set up the basic tools and processes needed.
At this point, we knew we had to get organized. We chose VQ-Marketplace as a name — with VQ standing for “Very Quick”, as it allows for a quick setup of a Sharing Economy Marketplace, and our founder personally funded the company. Our first expenses were the tools required to get organized — Jira, Hipchat and Google Apps (for Business).
It’s interesting to point out that it was only at this point that we chose the product and company name, purchased a domain and set up a legal entity. From our previous experience, we realized it was easy to lose focus and waste time by working on these things too early on.
E. We started to test up different Promotion Strategies
We learned that spending 1000’s of euros on promotion without proper testing is just a waste of money. A series of mistakes that cost us lots of money over a period of 2 years to our business and personal accounts ensure that you learn it the hard way!
Chantal started experimenting with different content marketing strategies. Ani reached out to entrepreneurs hubs. We were testing on-line and off-line marketing technics.
We were testing the response from an audience in Berlin, Stuttgart, Prague, Warsaw, Gdansk, Austria, and Hungary. We were making a short Facebook advertisement, we were changing the audiences every few days. We tried to make personal posts linking to our business. Adrian was giving talks to students interested in starting a startup.
It gave us incredible insights about how to price out the solution for building Sharing Economy Marketplace, in what way should we market it, how should we even start telling about it.
The main takeaways
Looking back at our experience we have identified 8 main takeaways:
- Domain expertise is critical if you are kicking off a startup. It will allow you to have a strong vision for the product.
- Get organized very early on. Define your objective and build iteratively using the right tools.
- Learn quickly about your market and your product appeal by selling while you build. Waiting months until you go to market is just too late.
- Start by defining your MVP and skin it down multiple times. If you are not ashamed of what you ship in version 1 then you’ve waited too long!
- Use giveaways! Incentivize early adopters with prizes — and don’t be cheap. You only get one shot to do it right.
- Early on, just take every opportunity that comes your way. We were surprised how every little thing can make a difference.
- Invest in great tools to collect feedback and communicate with your users.
- Communicate openly and often. When working with early adopters you need to keep up enthusiasm and momentum. It will lead to strong word of mouth and growth.
The beta registration is ongoing and you can get an access to this link: https://vqmarketplace.com. After our Beta ends, we will release an update how the things turn out to be and hopefully how we transformed VQ-Marketplace into a viable business.
I’d love to hear about your own experiences — simply comment below if you have any stories to share.