In a sense, the concept of a peer-to-peer online marketplace is nothing new. Perhaps eBay offers the best early example by enabling people to sell goods directly to one another. But, more recently, companies such as Airbnb and Etsy have popularised the peer-to-peer marketplace idea further, with the former extending it to services and helping give rise to the often vacuous ‘sharing economy’ concept. So it seems apt that a startup would crop up to provide a service that lets anybody create their own peer-to-peer marketplace.
Aiming to provide the ‘picks and shovels’ behind the online marketplace gold rush, Sharetribe — which appears to have pivoted at least once — makes it easy for anyone to create and manage their own peer-to-peer marketplace and take a cut of any transactions along the way. Essentially, it handles the under-the-hood heavy-lifting required, by providing a Software-as-a-Service to enable marketplace members to buy, sell or rent any type of product or service.
Today the Helsinki-based company is announcing it’s closed $1 million in seed funding led by Finland’s Lifeline Ventures (perhaps best-know for being an early investor in Supercell). Previous backers Reaktor Polte, and the Finnish tax payer-funded Tekes also participated.
“After the breakout successes of Airbnb, Etsy and Uber, there is a huge number of people out there who have an idea for a peer-to-peer marketplace. However, most of them don’t know how to build one, and they can’t afford paying a developer,” Sharetribe co-founder and CEO Juho Makkonen tells me. “With our platform, they can get started with their idea today without any technical experience and with a fraction of the cost of hiring someone. We want to make it accessible and affordable for anyone around the world to start their own marketplace business.”
During a private beta that has been running since August 2013, Makkonen says marketplaces have been created in 15 countries, and that there are “thousands of people” on the waiting list for today’s public launch. He declines to say how many marketplaces have been created in total or how this translates into transactions — though it’s obviously early days.
Interestingly, however, Sharetribe’s revenue model isn’t based on creaming off the top of each transaction — it leaves that to each marketplace operator — but instead charges a subscription for the overall service, with different tiers to reflect the number of members each Sharetribe community has, and additional perks, such as custom domains.
“Our fees depend on the number of users our clients have on their sites,” explains Makkonen. “Our clients make money by charging a % fee from each payment transaction happening in their marketplaces, Airbnb-style, using our built-in payment system. We don’t charge any fees from transactions.”
Also noteworthy is that — should a marketplace outgrow the platform — Makkonen says users aren’t locked in to Sharetribe, since the code is open source. “Our company is simply providing services on top of this platform to make it easy for anyone to get started,” he adds.