Some Popular Ways To Build
There are many different ways for a startup to design and build their product, platform, or marketplace. We want to outline a handful of the available and proven methods to provide context on the A-CAR Method. A Product Development team will likely have a framework or methodology referenced (at the very least) or have a strict mirroring of the process for your startup. It is usually a hybrid approach, as these template processes can only fit some companies or technology products.
A Product Development Process contains serialized steps that allow the team to identify the bare necessities for their future build: What to Build, Who For, Why, and How. Some focus solely on design, a holistic approach, solely focused on siloed features, a company-wide philosophy, and any number of variations or combinations that fit a startup.
A heavy user-focused approach to building a product derived from a highly sought-after design and consulting firm. It is a 6-step process aimed at uncovering what users want and designing from a user’s perspective instead of a typical product/design manager's. It resembles Marketplace Studio’s belief in leveraging design thinking when building a marketplace.
Observe: Conduct research and observe the market trends, needs, wants, and technology enhancements.
Ideate: Dissect the information and data from the Observation step and create actionable insights
Visualize: Watch the movie of your to-be Users engaging with the product.
Prototype: Create a wireframe or low-fidelity prototype to demonstrate the future product.
Feedback: Ask standardized questions to generate qualitative and quantitative feedback.
Implement: Release the product based on the refined requirements based on previous steps.
Design Thinking Methodology
Adopting Design Thinking in your Product Development Process is always a great choice, even if it isn’t strictly followed. Still, it can also be used throughout the company, including marketing plans, go-to-market, etc. It emphasizes user feedback, driving the vision of what will be built, and more importantly, it removes anyone’s ego from the equation.
Empathize: Understand who you’re creating the product for, build a persona card and reference it throughout the build.
Define: With the persona created in the previous step, does your original problem still make sense, or are adjustments required?
Brainstorm: As a group, brainstorm ideas of the problem that you’ve motioned as a winning issue to solve.
Prototype: Create a visual aid to demonstrate to your ideal audience who can relate to your target persona.
Test: Take interview feedback and incorporate adjustments based on the most common themes.
Iterate: Continue testing and iterating until you reach a high satisfaction level that meets your development limitations.
Rational Product Management Framework
A commonly used approach for companies that require a proper inclusive approach to a product release that involves all stakeholder departments in a targeted launch. It focuses on both the management perspective and the technical side. It gives managers a strong voice in strategic planning, research, and opportunities and curates budget allocations. The process empowers engineers by providing capabilities for diligent tracking, encouraged reporting, and a prioritized sequence of jobs to be done.
Inception: Early brainstorming stage to sift through until a viable option is selected.
Elaboration: The selected idea begins preparation for development.
Construction: The development team builds and provides a beta version.
Transition: Ready for production launch.
This process adds value to teams that already incorporate user testing, feedback, and data into their standard development process.
PLG focuses product development and marketing efforts on giving the actual product what it needs to convert Users into paying customers or higher frequency adoption rates with User Success as the North Star guiding the process. Narrowing the entire company’s goal of implementing PLG into all customer-facing processes allows for a familiar experience for the customer at every stage of the lifecycle. Think of it as visiting a Starbucks in every city you travel to vs. a local cafe.
One vital aspect of PLG is that it is highly collaborative across all functions and teams, which takes a top-down approach. From Product to QA to Sales, everyone is contributing to the same goal of creating a conversion machine that could propel their company to the realm of fantasy animals, like unicorns.
What is A-CAR?
Attract, Convert, Adopt, and Retain is a framework that Marketplace Studio has been investigating to see its potential in the marketplace ecosystem. It is a not-so-unique process that blends everything but remains agile enough to morph into the mould of most marketplace startups.
The problem of creating any new feature, workflow, or integration is always just that: an independent build that does not assist in driving these metrics in the correct direction. Why is that? Well, for us anyway, perhaps we are only aiming for the mountain but haven’t taken a proper measurement to adjust our trajectory accordingly. For context, we mainly incorporate Design Thinking into our Product Discovery Process and focus on feedback and the problems to solve for what is built.
Sharetribe is our primary platform partner, and we have used the near-limitless platform on almost every build we’ve done at Marketplace Studio. This allows us to take an MVP out-of-the-box marketplace and customize and layer in new workflows, for which we use design thinking.
The first 2 phases of A-CAR guide the Design and Build process, while the remaining phases highlight the importance of post-launch processes. The idea behind it is that it provides the context required to build a scalable marketplace and then bakes in the mindset that forces any new feature to work towards driving adoption and retention—absolute critical metrics for any marketplace.
Attract: Will This Help Attract More People?
For a marketplace and any business, the first problem to solve is bringing people to the platform. Forget about sales or conversions; let’s focus on making people aware that we are open for business and can solve their problems.
If you’re considering building a marketplace or are in the middle of a build, ask this question for every feature you’re scoping, designing, testing, or developing: Will this help attract more people?
A feature required for an MVP might be excluded, but perhaps it's a professional services marketplace for auto detailers. The feature list is:
List a Service
Book and Pay
Do those features add an attraction value to the marketplace? Yes.
What about a customized feature allowing a Customer to track the location of the mobile auto detailing service while en route to the booking location? Does this add an attraction value to the marketplace? Yes.
However, if we follow NNL (Now, Next Later), only one feature can be designed and developed at a time. This is why it isn’t black and white; instead, we need a simple scale for each aspect of A-CAR. This way, if the location tracking is compared to a different feature in the backlog, it can have a structured scorecard and winner-takes-all.
Convert: Real People, Real Money
If you had a budget of $500 a month on marketing for paid ads, would you spend it in the second month after launch without questioning why your Signups/Listings/Bookings didn’t meet your expectations? Well, at a previous company, we did, and with a much higher ad budget. Think of it like this: if you’re sending your website traffic down a funnel and some barriers block potential conversions from becoming a valued marketplace member. Would you spend more money getting more potential customers or try to lower the barriers and, eventually, remove them altogether?
This phase aims to reinforce that the product team foresees the new features or integration’s barriers to completion and can attempt to address as many as possible before moving into development. If some aren’t aware, it is far cheaper and quicker to change specs and a design than it is a production-ready feature.
Additionally, this framework is meant to be high-level and more strategic to layer on top of a team’s adopted PDP. The team will likely need to use a Design Thinking approach or a variation to accomplish the paragraph above.
Adopt: Keep Coming Back
For marketplaces and some SaaS companies, the teams will track Adoption Frequency KPIs through a variety of metrics such as:
Stickiness Metric (DAU/MAU)
DAU = Daily Active Users
MAU = Monthly Active Users
Frequency of Value-Added Action(s)
Time to First Value-Added Action
Churn / Retention
And many others
Deriving from our experience, apart from the MVP requirements, moving into Phase 2 and down the backlog, the features are prioritized based on the unique criteria of that marketplace. Some may be scored based on User Feed, Founder Desires, Defensibility, Sales-Enablement, Growth, etc.
The Adoption part in A-CAR section suggests a handful of ideas to incorporate into the Product Development Process. Does this new feature drive adoption?
Positive Impact on Adoption Frequency (DAU, WAU, MAU)
Positive Impact on K-Factor
Users are becoming advocates for the marketplace and telling their network
Positive Impact on Growth
Repeat Users (Customers or Sellers)
Positive Impact on Desired Behaviour
Leakage prevention, positive reviews, positivity in the community
Positive Impact on Time to Value
Short enough Development cycle where it can be in production sooner to provide more value, quicker
With many businesses, if not all, it is always more cost-effective to keep a current User/Customer vs. acquiring a new one. That is what this section focuses on an exceptional level of User Happiness.
At a previous company, a committee was formed, and the first task was to create an award that would be earned during our weekly all-hands meeting. The award was meant to symbolize an employee going above and beyond expectations and delivering happiness to the customer. Anyone was eligible to win this, and a co-worker would nominate you if they noticed their colleague's impact earlier that week.
The trophy was (hopefully, some of you guessed it) a statue of Disney’s Buzz Lightyear tied to a lamp. We deemed the trophy the “WOW” award for making our customers say “Wow…!” after we did or said something above and beyond.
This is an excellent example of how a company adopts this mindset and is encouraged in product design and development and across all company functions.
Retain: Stay a While
We have covered the three sections of the methodology: Attract, Convert, and Adopt. To be as direct as possible, the central theme that carries through each is a specific level of happiness. We will unwrap this in the results section below.
Retaining customers is not only focusing on reducing Churn, something everyone else is trying to do; it includes much more. Fundamentally, it focuses on the LTV (Lifetime Value) of a User and how to ensure customers have been safely secured in the rocketship before takeoff.
LTV/CLV (Customer Lifetime Value) estimates how much value (revenue) a customer represents throughout their usage. A SaaS company calculates it by the Curn Rate or Average Revenue per Transaction. For example, if Churn is 5% and the company earns $250 monthly, 250 / 0.05 = $5,000.
The above KPI has a fundamental flaw for a marketplace or even a SaaS company because it is 1-dimensional. It only takes into account a single source of revenue and not the other branches of benefits a happy customer has on the business. Here are some examples.
How does a happy customer contribute to vocalizing your business or advocating for it?
U-Conversion (For Marketplaces)
If a customer has one booking as a Buyer, how do you flip them to being a Seller and vice versa?
Having a panel of Users to use every time a company department needs feedback on a project.
Retaining Users is much more than just a KPI; a dashboard of KPIs can measure it, but this will be unique to your company. The idea is not solely to focus on Churn or LTV; it is about keeping a happy customer for as long as possible, making them advocates who tell everyone about how nifty your product is or fanatics who will never switch to a competitor.
Results: Happy Winners
By layering in the A-CAR method, you can accurately focus on the essential areas of the entire business, not just just a feature or release. It ensures that new and existing customers are happy with the product and company they are supporting. Yes, an often overlooked fact: customers are supporting your business, and without their support, your business will sink.
Again, we do not suggest that A-CAR replace your current methods or frameworks; just layer on top like a roof of your home. It completes the building and adds the required security for the resident.