Shopless: if at first you don’t succeed
For Hooman Bahreini the journey to success for his online marketplace Shopless, required not one, not two, not three, but four attempts. Finally, all that patience and hardwork is paying off. “I started developing my Shopless marketplace in late 2016, the idea was to create a free online marketplace for New Zealand,” recalls Hooman (pictured above). “I […]
For Hooman Bahreini the journey to success for his online marketplace Shopless, required not one, not two, not three, but four attempts. Finally, all that patience and hardwork is paying off.
“I started developing my Shopless marketplace in late 2016, the idea was to create a free online marketplace for New Zealand,” recalls Hooman (pictured above). “I must confess I had absolutely no idea how I was going to monetize the platform, but for me one thing was certain: in Internet world, traffic means money.
“Along the way, I decided that Shopless needs to be a charitable platform and we would donate 20 percent of our revenue to charities who fight against climate change and/or help refugees.”
The importance of a scalable platform
“In my opinion, the most important aspect of a successful marketplace is its platform,” explains Hooman. “Experts would tell you that the real value of a platform is in its community – eBay would not be worth billions of dollars if it wasn’t for its vast community. While I totally agree with this conclusion, I think it does not highlight the fact that having a user friendly and scalable website is essential for building and maintaining a community.”
It took two-and-a-half years to build the Shopless platform and the website went live in July 2019 “I thought it’s game over and people are going to jump all over our new free marketplace, but I was so wrong,” says Hooman. “I could barely convince any of my closest friends to list something on Shopless!”
Growing the community
To his utter surprise, people were not remotely interested in using Shopless, despite the fact that it was free. “The problem was that it was an empty marketplace. You needed buyers to attract sellers and you needed sellers to attract buyers.
“Shopless had neither and very soon it came clear to me that we needed to come up with a strategy to grow the platform.”
Four attempts to grow the business followed.
“My first attempt was to buy lots of products and sell them on Shopless at a very good price. I thought this would help to attract sellers. We tried this strategy for a couple of months and it did not work. We simply did not have enough products.”
Hooman’s second attempt was to contact marketing agencies and ask them to help grow the community. “To my utter surprise the vast majority of these agencies showed very little interest in doing the job. They were literally turning down business for their company, and told me what I wanted is not possible, or at least it’s really, really difficult and they cannot do it.
“There were, of course, the few odd ones who said they will do the job. But I was sceptical about those marketing agencies. I was not willing to spend $20k doing something that 90 percent of experts had told me is not possible.”
Hooman’s third attempt was to approach businesses and offer them to list their products on Shopless for free. “This was a really good deal for them, as they did not have to do anything. I would import their products for them and not charge them anything.
“Surely, they would accept this deal.”
He started contacting car dealers around Wellington, but only managed to convince one to list their cars.
“Listing cars was not working. So I thought let’s try the same approach with real estate, and I contacted all the major real estate agencies that I could think of. After weeks of begging, I didn’t manage to convince even one.
“This strategy was not working either.”
Fourth time lucky
The problem with approaching big brands was that they absolutely did not care about the FREE service, explains Hooman.
“The employee who works for a major business does not care that his company is paying thousands of dollars to a marketplace – they have no incentive in reducing the cost. We realized that the logical way to grow a platform is to approach the small businesses first. So after spending 18 months punching in the dark, we finally came up with the following strategy:
- We will contact small businesses and move our way up the chain (not the other way round).
- We will focus on a single category and build around that. We decided that listing jobs was the best category to start with.
“And this strategy has paid off so far. We managed to attract tens of recruitment agencies and hundreds of jobs within a fairly short period of time, as shown below.
“As of today, we nearly have 1500 jobs listed on our platform, and if the extrapolated graph is right, this number is going to grow.