A founder shares what she learned at Microsoft/TechStars about how to "hack" a dual sided marketplace. By Jilliene Helman (Founder & CEO, Realty Mogul)
At Realty Mogul, we are building a dual sided marketplace for real estate investing. On one side of the marketplace, we work with thousands of investors who are interested in diversifying their money into real estate investments and on the other side of the marketplace, we work with best-in-class real estate companies. One side of the marketplace fuels new properties to invest in and the other side fuels new investments. Without each other, there is no company and no more fun for me and my team.
We’re just four months into our launch, but we are light years away from where we were when we had no investors and no real estate companies. In October of last year, we joined the Microsoft/TechStars accelerator, a mentorship-focused accelerator, and we spent countless hours with mentors figuring out how to “hack” a dual sided marketplace. Weeks and weeks of agony passed until one mentor said, "you just start." That eureka moment we had been working towards seemed so clear then and it’s the motto we live by now -- action is everything.
So how did we go from zero users and no marketplace to active and engaged clients in just four months? Three ways:
A Big Launch
I think without a calculated launch, it is nearly impossible to get a dual-sided marketplace off the ground. When we launched, we reached out to over 500 reporters and to date we have been in over 80 publications. We did all of this without a PR agency, asking for connections from our networks and having a planned follow up strategy for every single connection.
We also had been storing up a beta list and rather than disseminating the list over a few days, weeks or months, we dropped to EVERYBODY on our beta list at once, with fingers crossed our technology would hold up and all the bugs and kinks had been worked out.
Pitching at Startup Events
While we do not have a product for startups to buy and we are more of a serious, financial services company, we used startup events to generate buzz for the company.
We pitched at the Microsoft/Tech Stars demo day in Seattle and in San Francisco, took first place at the Founder Showcase in San Francisco and took 1st place at the HATCH pitch competition at SXSW, beating out hundreds of other startups for the chance to pitch in front of the SXSW crowd.
After those four pitch events, exhausted to the bone and having a million other business tasks piling up, I swore I was sick of pitching and would never do it again, only to go on and pitch at the Innotrible startup event in NYC, the Realogy startup event in New Jersey and the Startup World event in LA. After winning the Inntorible startup event, my next pitch is in Dubai, at Sibos, the largest financial services conference in the world.
Each one of these pitch events resulted in meeting new people, extending our network to include the network of those people and most often, yet another PR mention.
Taking Advantage of Every Opportunity
Time is our most precious asset, even more so as founders, but I think a "yes" policy in the first four months of our evolution has helped tremendously. I go to nearly every networking event I am invited to, present on even the smallest of webinars and am happy to take any phone call. My number is 877-977-2776.
So my recommendation for building a two sided marketplace: be omnipresent.
About the guest blogger: Jilliene Helman is the founder and CEO of Realty Mogul, a marketplace for investors to pool money online and buy shares of pre-vetted real estate investments. Previously Jilliene was a VP at Union Bank, where the majority of her time was spent in Private Wealth Management. She has been featured in Forbes, Entrepreneur, NYT and Bloomberg.
Photo credit: Scott Beale via Flickr.