This is a guest post from Ankur Nagpal. Ankur is the largest individual developer in the history of the Facebook platform, with over 10,000 applications and a reach of upwards of 200M non-unique users. Ankur also teaches Hack the App Store – an online course on boosting mobile distribution by better leveraging mobile app stores.

Growing a marketplace is fucking hard. Buyers want sellers. Sellers want buyers. Chicken, meet egg.

Unless you have a Meg Ryan-esque plan to produce a serendipitous encounter between both parties at the exact same time.. you need a clever way of hacking it.

Easier said than done, right?

Undoubtedly. However, here are three legit strategies that have been employed by marketplaces to break through the critical mass funk:

1. Go Local

An application with a thousand users is insignificant. An application with a thousand users in the same campus is the next big thing.

While introducing a locational constraint seems counterintuitive as it restricts your potential audience size, it frequently works as a powerful growth strategy by leveraging density.

No one exploited this better than Tinder.

Tinder is a location-based dating application – presumably, they had similar marketplace problems to what you are facing right now.

Except, their solution was cooler than yours ever will be. They partied.

Tinder held exclusive frat parties at USC with entrance being conditional on having downloaded the mobile application.

While a simple idea, it was absurdly powerful. They signed up hundreds of available singles in a geographically dense area overnight.

Throwing a party probably will not work for your application. But a targeted Facebook ad spend in a specific college campus might.

As an experiment, temporarily shelf worrying about your overall numbers and spend two weeks focusing on achieving a high penetration rate within a small group. The results may surprise you.

2. The Good ol’ Hijack-Fake-Scrape

I know you are tired of hearing about Airbnb’s amazing “growth hack” to post apartment listings to Craigslist but I couldn’t help but repeat it one last time.

That is classic hijack-fake-scrape. When you can (legally) hijack someone else’s traffic or platform to serve as one side of the market, DO IT.

Not applicable? See if you can instead scrape one entire side of the market off the fantastic beast that is the Internet.

Launching an apartment hunting tool? Scrape it (but be careful).

A social network connecting fashion brands with fashionistas? Scrape it.

Connecting people with local businesses around them? Scrape it.

Still nothing? Fake it.

You do know that every message board in the history of time started with psychologically worrying behavior on part of the creator with fifteen fake accounts talking to each other, right?

Try and not let faking it get out of hand though (Not safe for work).

3. Do It Yourself

It will not scale.

It will probably cost a lot of money or time.

It will suck.

But do it anyways.

Uber hired their own drivers. Udemy recorded their own courses. Reddit founders created their own content. Meetup.com created the New York Tech meetup. The Airbnb founders rented their own apartment. You get the picture.

Spend your time and/or venture capital to BE one side of the market until you have happy users on the other side.

Have anything else to share? Leave a comment below or find me on Twitter.

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