#Marketplaces | 11 min read

Marketplace Conference 2019: Most impressive speeches

Alina Nesvit , Head of Marketing

Missed the biggest marketplace conference in Europe in 2019?

Don’t you worry, we’ve got you covered. 

More than 30 speakers, 400 attendees and a full day of our favourite ‘marketplace talk’.

The Marketplace conference in Berlin was a great place to find out the state of the marketplace industry, learn about investment opportunities in marketplaces, and get inspired by some great marketplace stories.

Our team keeps attending this exciting marketplace event yearly. Below we share the most engaging speeches from the Marketplace Conference and Marketplace Meetup 2019.

Best Speeches from the Marketplace Conference 2019

1) The State of Marketplaces (by Roger Lee)

Roger Lee is the general partner at Battery Ventures. It is 40-year old venture capital company that manages $7 billion and their current fund is $1.25 billion. 

Marketplace Conference 2019: The State of Marketplaces

In his speech, Roger covers 3 key topics:

  • Why investors do love marketplaces
  • The state of the marketplace industry in 2019 
  • Lessons learned about the marketplaces’ supply, business models and legal restrictions 

Reasons Why Investors Love Marketplaces

Investors are looking for businesses that can fundamentally change the world. To do that, marketplaces need to impact a consumer’s behavior and lifestyle on a day-to-day basis. 

The reason investors invest in marketplaces is that it’s hard to find any other niches that create trillions of dollars of value in a matter of a couple of decades.

Related: How to Find Investments for Online Marketplace Startups

Marketplace’s Role in Consumer’s Behaviour

The speaker shared that over the last decade, marketplaces have changed the frequency with which people use any kind of service.

Nowadays even teenagers are using marketplaces. The reason for this is that marketplaces create a lot of value. They give customers an opportunity to find the best deal among various suppliers at the cheapest price.

First Marketplace – eBay

Twenty years ago the only publicly-traded marketplace was eBay. Back when eBay went public it was an iconic IPO. It was seen as the best venture investment in history. It created a lot of value. eBay opened people’s eyes to what a successful marketplace could look like as a public business. 

Over the following years, there was a wave of international marketplace that went public and opened the people’s eyes. Publicly-traded marketplaces weren’t just a U.S. phenomenon, it was happening globally, because of the marketplaces that appeared across the world.

And these marketplaces were gaining real scale by embedding themselves in the lives of consumers and creating a lot of value for all the participants.

Over the past decade, more than 30 marketplaces went public creating roughly $3T of value. Those marketplaces are Alibaba, Spotify, Takeaway, Groupon, Yelp. This changed the way businesses operate: food, transportation, logistics and entertainment industries will never be the same. 

The State of the Marketplace Industry in 2019

In 2019, 5 marketplaces went public – Uber, Lyft, Fiverr and others. However, as it turned out Uber and Lyft weren’t making as much profit as everyone expected.

At the same time, Fiver managed to charge $21 per share and its IPO valuation is $800M. 

Roger stressed that despite marketplaces being one of the most profitable sectors, in 2019 the picture of their value changed a bit. As an example, the marketplace index at Roger’s company Battery Ventures started to tank after March. The Battery index dropped and their marketplaces lost $120B over the last 9 months since March.

Marketplace Conference 2019: 20 years of marketplace value growth

Marketplace Lessons Learned in 2019

After marketplaces’ revenues have drifted down, it was important to understand why this happened.

Roger Lee singled out 3 reasons and lessons as to why there was a decline in some marketplaces’ value.

1. Your business model matters

Earlier all that mattered to investors and entrepreneurs was growth. Investors would just hand over money, if founders burned them, they would give more in the hope of growth. 

However, after March 2019 investors started to show interest not only in the fact of growth but they also they wanted to get into the details of growth and many other marketplace metrics.

If entrepreneurs couldn’t answer those questions very crisply and really effectively, then one of two things happened: they either couldn’t raise money or if they could, their evaluation would come under fire.


Uber and Lyft turned out to be unprofitable and a lot of investors abandoned them because they couldn’t convince them of the long-term viability of their business model.

2. Heterogeneous supply drives different advantages

It’s hard to have a diverse supply since you’ll need a ton of inventory in order to meet all the demands and criteria. But if you can actually scale and have all of the heterogeneous supply, you get this great network effect. 

Usually it happens when you can meet much more of the demand, you can drive better conversion rates, better yield and that will drive more supply which in turn drives more demand. 

If you do that well, you’ll get a monopoly at the end of the day or at the very least a ‘winner takes all’ outcome.

3. The emergence of regulators

Over the last couple of years, regulators have started to spend more time looking into different marketplaces and putting legislation in place to help manage marketplaces.

In California, there is a legislation that forces all gig economy companies to reclassify their part-time workers to full-time. This would have a hugely negative effect on the business model of Uber and Lyft. Moreover, New Jersey is going after Uber asking them to pay $600M in misclassified employee taxes.

Some cities are starting to put caps on the number of ride-sharing cars that are available in the city. They are basically controlling the size of the market. This is also seen in the scooter market and micro-mobility space.

There are more and more regulations about background checks of the actual labor force, this can be Uber drivers or babysitters.

Building a marketplace? Book a free consultation

2) Difference Between Managed, Slightly Managed and Non- Managed Marketplaces (by Felix Leuschner)

A serial marketplace entrepreneur, founder, and CEO of Drover, Felix Leuschner on what a managed marketplace is. 

Marketplace Conference 2019: Managed, Slightly Managed and Non- Managed Marketplaces

Felix Leuschner talked about the new category of marketplaces that has been emerging In the last couple of years – managed marketplaces. 

However, there is also a slightly managed marketplace model. Uber is one example. It controls the transactions and payment flow and sets prices and moderates quality. 

By contrast, fully managed marketplaces, like Drover, add logistics and pick the seller or the supplier by themselves. It means that managed marketplaces move faster up the value chain.

There are 4 ways to manage a marketplace:

  1. Standardizing pricing: a marketplace moderates pricing, so the playfield of sellers and buyers are leveled.
  2. Market Making: a marketplace creates enough liquidity by either buying the inventory or actually subsidizing seller activities.
  3. Quality Guarantees: when a marketplace checks the quality of the product/service they are selling.
  4. Logistics: delivery handling

However, there is a fine line between being a marketplace or a simple service provider. The moment you take significant inventory you stop being a marketplace. This happened to the Opendoor and WeWork marketplaces.

3) How to beat your marketplace competitors (by Mark Lawrence)

Mark Lawrence, Co-Founder, and CEO of SpotHero on how to outplay your marketplace competitors.

Marketplace Conference 2019: How to beat your marketplace competitors

Mark Lawrence shared two core strategies for beating your competitors:

  1. Liquidity beats Geography. If you want to build an online marketplace for example in the car industry, you shouldn’t launch in every city all at once. First, build liquidity in one place and only then expand your marketplace.
  1. Economics. When you achieve a network effect on a geography basis, CAC (Customer Acquisition Cost) goes down or becomes stable. So the supply density that you build up will help to get more customers. As you spend more on marketing, customer acquisition will cost less.

Besides this, Mark shared his company’s success and their business strategy.

4) From a Manual to an Automated Marketplace (by Nils Ziehn)

NilsZiehn, CTO at HomeLike, tells how their concierge service became an online marketplaces thanks to automation.

Marketplace Conference 2019: From a Manual to an Automated Marketplace

Homelike is a platform for people who have just moved to a new city and want to find a fully-furnished apartment for a couple of months until they are able to lease an apartment for a longer period of time. 

Nils told that Homelike started out as a manual platform, because such a business model:

  • allowed them to have a quick and flexible start
  • gave them an understanding of customer needs and problems
  • let customers see a personal touch to the service which drove great relationships with them.

At some point, it was clear that Homelike needed to expand that’s why they decided to automate its concierge platform. 

Reason for shifting from a manual to an automatic marketplace to:

  • scale a marketplace
  • reduce costs
  • impact users’ experience

In order to understand how much automation a marketplace needs,  Nils recommends following the lean-approach.

There are 3 core steps to find your way to automation:

  • Figure out how to make an impact on your customers 
  • Identify what your MVP is in order to drive the use case that you’re looking for
  • Validate whether your use case is working.

5) What it takes to scale internationally (by Phillip Huffmann)

The marketplace conference takes place in several locations: Berlin and San Francisco. Besides conference speeches, we’d like to share these 2 cool talks from the Marketplace meetup in Warsaw.

Marketplace Meetup 2019 in Warsaw: Phillip Huffmann, a co-founder at Helpling on the story of how Helpling scaled internationally and what they learned while doing so.

Marketplace Conference 2019: What it takes to scale internationally

Philip’s tips for introducing your marketplace to different countries:

1. Motivation for internationalization

Entrepreneurs should understand clearly why they want to widen their market. However, in every new country where you start with zero liquidity, Philip advises doing twice as well as at your home market. This way you’ll actually be able to scale internationally.

NB: The speaker emphasizes that if your business doesn’t work in your home market, then it won’t work in other countries.

2. Don’t be afraid to cut your losses

  • Constantly reevaluate why you are in the  market
  • Make sure you have the right model for the market

Philip shared that initially, Helpling launched in 14 countries in 14 months, but after careful consideration, they decided to sell 3 markets

3. Internationalization is time-consuming and expensive

In order to be the number one European house service provider, Helpling had to buy out a lot of competitors which ended up being very expensive.

So before jumping into a whole new market, Philip recommends thinking of the time and money you’ll have to spend.

4. Timing is the key

If your marketplace has a lot of analogues on the market and the competition is also high, scaling internationally very fast may actually give you a competitive advantage. 

NB: First, achieve the right product-market fit then scale.

5. Human capital is the key

– the local team makes the difference
– culture plays a key role
– countries can be innovation drivers.

6) What investors are looking for in the early-stage marketplaces (VC Panel with Magda Posluszny, Maciej Noga, and Joe Bond)

Marketplace Meetup 2019 in Warsaw: Magda Posluszny from Speedinvest, Maciej Noga from Pracuj Ventures and Joe Bond from ProFouners speculate on what investors are looking for in marketplace founders.

Marketplace Conference 2019: What investors are looking for in the early-stage marketplaces

The speakers agreed on the parameters investors are looking for in the startup teams:

  • Preference for multiple founders (not all VCs)
  • Passionate people about customer experience and how they are innovating
  • Track record of founders: who were you before you became a founder? Your background
  • Ability to execute: this can be proven by your previous track record or by your existing traction. How quickly do you deliver? How quickly can you execute? What is your capital efficiency? How much are you able to build with your limited resources? 
  • Personal motivation

Magda, Maciej, and Joe discussed the most important metrics for an online marketplace.

In summary: 

  1. Value the marketplace brings: customer reviews, frequency of a review, customer retention rate. 

If a founder gets this step right, then a marketplace will be able to grow.

NB: Founders can make assumptions about growth and the future state of the market, but they can’t really fake the part where customers evaluate their product.

  1. Retention: how does engagement change over time?
  1. Marketplace growth 
  1. Net revenue: as a founder, you need to know how you are going to monetize and need to keep your take rate healthy. For a healthy marketplace, the take rate should be around 20%.

NB: Marketplaces need to grow at least two times for being able to fundraise further on.

Key takeaways from the Marketplace Conference and Marketplace Meetup 2019:

  • Embrace diverse supply for getting more demand
  • Be careful when choosing a marketplace model
  • Beware of marketplace regulators
  • Figure out whether your marketplace needs to be fully or slightly managed or not managed at all
  • Automate your marketplace to reduce costs and to be able to scale
  • Identify your reasons for scaling internationally 
  • Create an investor pitch based on their requirements

In conclusion, the marketplace conference is one of the best conferences for marketplace entrepreneurs, VCs, and marketplace lovers.

We have been visiting the marketplace conference for several years now and we totally recommend it. The next marketplace conference had to take place in San Francisco on March 26th, 2020-unfortunately it had to be canceled.

At Sloboda Studio we have been building marketplaces for 7 years now. Below you can book your free consultation with our marketplace experts.

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