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Knowing When to Pivot Your Marketplace Strategy with Olivia Mihaljevic

The marketplace you envision isn’t always the one you end up building. This was true for Olivia Mihalievic. She founded LIVD, a B2B marketplace for employee lifestyle benefits. LIVD’s buyers are companies that wish to give their employees the freedom to pick and choose benefits that work for them. Its suppliers are companies that offer employee benefits for everything from food to travel to household necessities and home office supplies. While LIVD found success as a B2B marketplace, it began on a different foot. 

“Initially, we started as a marketplace for beauty services,” says Olivia. “[We paired up buyers with] nearby nail artists, makeup artists, barbershops, hair braiders.”

While being hyper-localized and hyper-personalized were critical to LIVD’s initial value proposition as a B2C beauty services marketplace, they would eventually be the factors that would compel Olivia to take LIVD in another direction. 

Why LIVD Pivoted from Beauty to Benefits

So, how did LIVD go from B2C beauty to B2B benefits? Olivia describes her decision to pivot due in part to opportunity and in part to an insurmountable bottleneck. 

The opportunity: Success in B2B partnerships

Initially, to onboard suppliers,Olivia would go out, meet people, and sign them up, one by one, onto the platform. While this labor-intensive approach had some success, it wasn’t scalable. In her efforts to grow LIVD, she asked a question that would eventually change the course of the company: “How do we go from one to many?” 

On a quest for volume, she started approaching colleges and schools to sign them on as partners. 

“We'd get in front of students as they were graduating. We would pitch LIVD. From there, we were able to go from one-on-one to rooms with 50-plus potential suppliers and get them signed up on the spot to our platform. We realized that we were really passionate about that and really good at that.”

Olivia’s focus on partnerships proved so fruitful that it eventually led to LIVD’s transformation to B2B.  

The bottleneck: Scaling B2C appointments

In its early days as a B2C beauty services marketplace, LIVD encountered difficulties scaling. “We knew we needed to remove that face-to-face meet-up.”

Olivia found that when her buyers and sellers met face to face via her hyper-personalized and localized marketplace, there were too many variables to grow the business quickly. It was difficult to have enough volume to meet buyers' needs in terms of distance, scheduling, and pricing. She also encountered difficulties keeping suppliers busy enough so they wouldn’t churn. 

“When people are filtering and searching for things, you need to have a lot of suppliers in order to hit all of those variables. If someone is looking for a specific price, you need to have a number of suppliers who will be able to meet that price point in their location.”

Ultimately, scaling the first iteration of LIVD was inhibited by the face-to-face interactions required by the beauty marketplace business model. This realization, paired with LIVD’s success in B2B, precipitated the pivot that would turn LIVD into the B2B benefits marketplace it is today. 

How to Know When a Marketplace Strategy Isn’t Working

LIVD’s pivot is the perfect example of something we speak about at Nautical: the first iteration of your marketplace won’t be the last. It’s just like how Amazon started as an online bookstore and iterated until it became the preeminent horizontal marketplace it is today. For start-up marketplaces, it’s best to get a minimum viable product up and running, so you can start gathering real-life learnings and iterate your marketplace from there. 

The big question is, how do you know when something truly isn’t working — and how do you know when something is?

Olivia breaks down two gut checks she used to feel confident in her decision to pivot.  

1. Be ruthlessly honest

The market gap for a marketplace may seem straightforward, but it’s not until it’s live and used by suppliers and buyers that its deficits and opportunities are truly evident.

For Olivia, pulling the shoot on LIVD’s initial beauty marketplace wasn’t cut and dry. She knew something was amiss with LIVD’s marketplace model, but committing to a complete pivot — and abandoning her vision  — required a lot of sitting, stewing, and asking hard questions. 

“A really hard point to get to is where you see a little bit of traction, and you're like, okay, do I just need to keep grinding? Am I close to something? Or am I totally off base? I think for us, it was really being honest about what we had built and where we wanted to go,” says Olivia. “It’s challenging because you spend a lot of effort and energy building something. And then you have to start again.”

2. Seek expert counsel

Before making the pivot, Olivia sought counsel from her network. “We talked to our advisors. We talked to people in our network, people that we trusted. We talked to other start-up founders, marketplace founders, and people that had been through it before.”

Even beyond the decision to pivot, Olivia finds consulting other founders invaluable because many problems are shared across start-ups, even if the start-up isn’t a marketplace. 

“Sometimes when you're in the weeds and building something, you think, ‘Oh, this is only a problem I've only encountered,’ but oftentimes challenges are pretty common across start-ups.”

Staying Agile with a Minimum Viable Marketplace Approach 

When it comes to building a marketplace, Olivia gives sage advice: “What absolutely needs to be built? What's nice to have? What's a need to have? What can be built later? […] Determine the minimum viable product that you need to launch and then build your roadmap accordingly.”

As evidenced by LIVD’s journey, a minimum viable marketplace is never meant to be the last version of a marketplace. A minimum product mentality keeps marketplaces agile and open to receiving new information about users’ needs. Understanding that V1 isn’t the endgame can prevent operators from spending too much time and budget on a build that will inevitably change. 

Despite the trials and tribulations of making the enormous leap from beauty to benefits, Olivia wouldn’t change a thing. 

“Even though there were a lot of hard times that we went through, I’m happy that we went through it because I'm super happy with the product that we've built now,” she says. “I don't think I would have got to that point had I not tested a bunch of things out, figured out what worked, figured out a lot of things didn't work, and then made choices as I had new information.”

Advice for Other Founders: Embrace the Journey

While LIVD’s time as a beauty marketplace delivered hard knocks, Olivia’s ability to learn quickly and focus on the company’s strengths turned the marketplace into a success. Olivia now sees pivoting as a necessary part of building a marketplace:

“A lot of being a founder is trying things out, being okay with failing, and kind of reframing it,” she says. “What have I learned? How am I better off? What can I do quicker and better and faster? I'm happy that I had that experience because it brought me to where we are today.”

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Olivia: [00:00:00] My co founder and I, we were first time founders. So I think we, we really underappreciated like how hard it was going to be to build a marketplace. You know, we went in with really great intentions and I think a lot of knowledge in terms of what we were building, but I think, you know, when the reality really set in, it was very, very challenging to build that for me was really the biggest challenges is just, um, you know, kind of going through that discovery and realizing like how hard it actually is to build a marketplace, right? Like you're, you're essentially building two. Two businesses in one. 

Niklas: Welcome to Operation Marketplace, a series where we talk to the people behind marketplaces, we dive into their mission, how they found success, and talk about the hurdles that they faced along the way. I'm your host, Niklas Halusa, co founder and CEO of Nautical Commerce.

Welcome to Operation Marketplace. I am your host, Niklas Halusa, the co founder and CEO of Nautical Commerce. Today on this episode, we have Olivia Mihaljevic. [00:01:00] And, uh, she's the founder of a marketplace called LIVD, which is an incredible story. It's got pivots. It's got, you know, real trench fighting. Um, it's got a, it's a story of, uh, somebody who's really taken her business from, you know, all the various parts of the life cycle through all the stages of being a marketplace and working through all the marketplace problems.

Um, and, uh, and, and the stuff that, that, that we'll be sharing today, I think will be really useful for anybody, um, who is either facing challenges in their business today, you know, thinking about what the go forward strategy is, or somebody who's thinking about, you know, what are they going to run into, you Uh, uh, when they build a marketplace, so, uh, welcome, Olivia, uh, we'd love to hear a little bit about, you know, your background, your story, you know, how you got to this and then maybe a little bit of the story of, of lived as well.

Olivia: Yeah, for sure. Thanks so much for having me. Super excited to be here today and, you know, share a little bit about my [00:02:00] journey and, uh, My time building lived like where we started, where we're at now and kind of everything in between. So hoping that, you know, I'm able to share some of the insights for other marketplace founders that, you know, might be listening and kind of going through similar challenges or, um, you know, facing something that seems really tough, but, you know, it feels like maybe they're the only ones that are experiencing it.

So, you know, hopefully people are able to kind of. See pieces of their story in my own as well. Um, so, yeah, I can get started and give a bit of a background on myself. 

So, prior to starting lived, I worked in a corporate job for about a decade. So, 8 of those years were spent in marketplaces. So, give me a really good foundation in terms of marketplaces.

So, working on that. B2C and B2B side, uh, so worked in a variety of roles over over that time in terms of product, marketing, loyalty, pricing strategies. So I'm kind of got a really good overview in terms of what that looks like, you know, um, in terms of the B to B side and then also on the demand side as well.

[00:03:00] Um, and so, uh, spend a bit of time before, um, I kind of went off on my own to start my business. 

Like I've always been very curious, um, and, and. I love figuring things out. Um, I'm I love kind of piecing things together and figuring out how do I take a product from an idea to what actual, you know, inception and bring something to the world.

So I think that's something that I've always had. Um, and I really wanted to spend a bit of time in a corporate job to really understand, you know, the ins and outs of different business units, working with teams, managing budgets before I was ready to go off on my own. So, um, when it was time to start lived, Um, I, I really felt like I was in a good spot in my personal and professional life to really take a risk and, um, you know, go off and start a marketplace.

So that's kind of, you know, the journey of, of what led me to this. And then, you know, kind of the inspiration for, you know, where did live come from, like what, what kind of inspired me to leave a stable corporate career where, you know, I was getting a [00:04:00] paycheck and, uh, getting promotions, leading a team, like what would make me give that up and, you know, kind of, Join, uh, you know, start a company.

Um, so how the inspiration for LIVD came about is, um, I moved to a new city and I was looking for someone to help me with beauty services. Uh, so I kind of went to, you know, all the traditional routes. Like I went online, I asked friends and family people within my neighborhood. Um, and I was having a really difficult time really finding someone to, to offer the services that I trusted.

Um, and then I knew, uh, was going to be able to provide a good service. Um, and so really the booking and customer experience perspective, like the actual discovery and then booking of that, um, was really shitty. So, um, it was something that I was really passionate about fixing. Um, and so that's kind of where the initial, um, idea and inspiration for, for the first version of lib came about.

Niklas: That makes sense. And my understanding is it's not quite the business that you're at today. [00:05:00] And, uh, and you've gone through a couple of evolutions. And so can you talk us through a little bit of, of, you know, that first part of the business? you know, what that origi and then how that develop today. And uh, you know w you didn't.

Olivia: Yeah, for sure. We’re actually going through that right now. So we’re going through a really substantial pivot. initially we had started as a marketplace for beauty services. So Um, with nearby artists. So think of, you know, nail artists, makeup artists, um, barbershops, hair braiders. Um, and so we paired them up. So we were a hyper localized and a hyper personalized marketplace.

Um, and so we launched that we scaled that to about 2 hours, um, outside of Toronto. So in and around neighboring cities, um, and we had, Artists on the platform. Um, and so what we learned quite quickly is, is really how difficult it is when you're building a hyper [00:06:00] hyper personalized and hyper local marketplace.

It's super challenging to scale. And so, especially when you're bootstrapped, which we have been our entire journey. So I think that was kind of the first learning for us is, is really how difficult that is. Um, and I think, you know, most importantly, what we learned from that first version of the company was really an understanding of our founding team, like what we were super passionate about building.

Um, and I think. You know, in my prior, um, corporate experience, I had exposure to B to C and B to B, and I think what I really loved was B to B. And I found that in the 1st version of our startup as well. Um, the team was really passionate about B to B, my co founder and myself, and we realized that we were really good, um, in terms of partnerships.

So, um, for the 1st version of our startup. What we did is we developed a lot of partnerships on the B to B side. So we partnered with local universities and colleges, um, in order to scale quickly. So, what that looked like is, you know, [00:07:00] initially we were recruiting 1 to 1. so I would go out. I would meet people.

I would sign them up to the platform. Not super scalable, you know, really labor intensive. Um, not super great, you know, when you're trying to expand, but in the early days, that's kind of what you have to do. Um, and then we started thinking like, you know, how do we go one to many? Um, and so what we did is we started doing partnerships with, with local community colleges and schools.

Um, and so we'd get in, in front of, um, their students. So as they were graduating, we would pitch LIVD. So from that, we were able to go like, you know, one to one in order to get into, you know, rooms with 50 plus. Potential suppliers, um, and get them signed up, like on the spot to our platform. Um, and so we realized that we were really passionate about that and really good at that.

So that was kind of the first key learning for us was, you know, I think we're onto something with B2B. Um, and so that was kind of the first learning and we thought that, uh, we would eventually pivot. The business, um, and offer lived as an interesting employee [00:08:00] perk. Like we knew we wanted to go B2B and we wanted to go the corporate benefits room.

And so we thought initially we could do that. 

But, um, the second biggest barrier was when people meet up face to face, it's really challenging to scale. And so that was kind of the second learning that we encountered was that, you know, um, we need to think of things that are more scalable, um, and that, don't have the restraint of people meeting up face to face.

So those were kind of the first two learnings that we had, um, that really fueled the pivot. So we knew we wanted to go B2B, and we knew we needed to remove that face to face meet up. Um, and unfortunately, with what we were building with beauty, that face to face meet up, like we couldn't continue in another way.

So we ended up having to kind of scrap that piece and start again. Um, and just really focusing on what On the B2B aspect, um, and, uh, employee benefits, uh, for us, what was difficult to scale is, um, you know, when you're, when people meet up face to face, um, and you're running like a really hyper personalized and hyper localized marketplace, there's a lot of variables that go into that, so you're [00:09:00] looking at things like, you know, distance that people will travel, you're trying to balance scheduling, you're trying to balance pricing, um, and we had a very open platform where we enabled our suppliers to, to be able to, um, control a lot of those things.

Um, and so. It means that, you know, when people are filtering and searching for things, you need to have a lot of suppliers in order to hit all of those variables. So someone, you know, if they're looking for a specific price, you need to have a number of people that will be able to meet that price point in their location.

You know, maybe they travel to them that offer their service. So there's a lot of kind of variables that go into that when you open it up. And so I think that's what I was referring to is, is just, you know, The more personalized you get, the harder it is to manage and scale because the numbers need to increase.

But then you're also trying to balance out, you know, making sure your suppliers are busy enough so they don't churn. So I think that's also, you know, something to, to think about when you're running that hyper, hyper personalized, hyper localized marketplace.

Niklas: Got it. That makes sense. And, and the current [00:10:00] iteration of the business, it's still beauty services.

Olivia: It is not. No, no. So it's quite open-ended. So we actually removed that, that completely. Um, and so, so we're focused on fringe benefits for employees. Yeah, so, so it's a pretty drastic pivot, but you know, a lot of learnings that I was kind of going through went, um, went into that decision making. So it was, you know, kind of the 1st iteration of knowing that we wanted to go B to B.

That was the 1st thing, knowing that we wanted to offer this to employees. That was the 2nd and then figuring out, you know, how do we make this more open ended and removing that face to face meet up? Um, that kind of was the final thing that, um, made us move away from beauty.

Niklas: Got it. That makes sense. And how did you pick the initial fringe benefits that you decided to focus on?

Olivia: Yeah. So a lot of our strategy has been around partnerships for the supply side. So, um, you know, going back to what we learned in the first version of the company is really [00:11:00] developing partnerships. So how do we go one to many? So as we scale at our benefits, like how do we find things that, um, you know, From the beginning, we're not, um, individually going out and trying to recruit and, and find companies to, to join our platform.

So that's, we have a few partners right now, um, that we're working with that enable us to, to be able to do that at a bigger scale. So that's how we're starting, um, initially as we build out our kind of more localized, um, offers.

Niklas: That makes sense. And one of the things that you've said a couple of times now is that you're very strong at partnerships.First of all, why? And second of all, How do you do it? What's the what's the trick?

[DIFFERENT TYPES OF PARTNERSHIPS IN B2B: the way she thinks of partnerships]

Olivia: Yeah, so I think it's something that we're learning a lot. Um, about, um, and I think, you know, there's a few ways to think about partnerships. B2B partnerships are very common. So there's channel partnerships where you might be using someone's network and paying them, doing a rev share agreement or.

Getting, you know, exposure to their customer base. So that's kind of typical. [00:12:00] Um, and then there's, you know, other types of partnerships where maybe they're not, um, they're in a similar business line as you, but they might be like, adjacent competitor and, you know, they might have a similar customer base. So you, you might want to partner with someone in order to, you know, Increase your offerings as a whole. Um, and their customers might find value in that. 

So that's kind of the way that we're thinking about our partnership. So I think channel partnerships will be big for us. Um, and then, you know, looking at partnerships as a way to scale as well. So, um, you know, we're not kind of recreating the wheel. And, um, you know, we're partnering with other companies that may have an established network and offering it It on our platform for, for our users.

Niklas: And how do you deal with the fact that, you know, in the beginning, obviously you had some partnerships that came over from, from, you know, that middle period, but how do you deal with the beginning of inking a partnerships or wanting to ink a partnership? And not yet having the, the scale [00:13:00] to be able to, you know, lean in and offer a huge amount of value day one.

Right? So that value kind of being in the future. Um, effectively, how do you deal with the cold start problem of. Well, the chicken and the egg problem, I think it's probably the right term, you know, needing folks to offer things with, without having a customer base necessarily that, that, uh, that, uh, they would be able to monetize.

Olivia: Yeah. And I think it comes down to a lot of things, but. The one thing I think I can kind of pinpoint is it comes down to your relationship with that company, right? Like where you're starting at now and where you want to go together is going to evolve. So I think it's, you know, about having that foundation and building a relationship with someone to say, Hey, this is where I'm at today.

You know, I might just have a few users on the platform, but this is how I want to expand. And I want to bring you along on that journey with me. Um, so I think it's, you know, just finding those partners and it's not easy. It's not, you know, you're not going to have a hundred, 100 percent success rate. I think it takes a lot of work, um, to find those [00:14:00] people that truly believe in you that, you know, want to, to partner up with you.

So I think it does take a lot of work, a lot of persistence. It's, you know, One of the very, one of the many hard things and building a company. So, um, I think that's, that's the way we've thought of it at least is, you know, finding those people, those, those early people that believe in you and we'll want to give you a chance when maybe, you know, your network's not as developed as you want it to be for, you know, them to see all the value that they, that they eventually will.

Niklas: And, and how do you find those people, right? What do you look for to know that this is somebody, you know, who will believe in you, who, who, you know, who you think there's an opportunity with, um, feels a bit like, you know, Boiling the ocean, right? Where do you, where do you start?

Olivia: Yeah. So to give a good example for that. So, um, one of the benefit categories that we're trying to build out on our platform, um, is childcare, um, and eldercare. So we're looking for companies that, you know, might offer those services that we can, uh, put on our [00:15:00] platform, um, that employees will have access to. So, um, so when we think about specific categories, that's kind of one way to boil it down.

So, you know, you're, you're thinking about something very specific, like I can make a list of, you know, these are the companies that offer these services. How do I find them? Right? And one way is just, you know, kind of cold outreach. Like, I use LinkedIn DMs, um, you know, I'll try to find someone that has a connection that I can get a referral to.

So, you know, whether that's going to other founders, going to my advisors, going to people within my network, like just kind of tapping into different communities or founder communities I'm a part of. So it's kind of, you know, looking at it from a few different perspectives of, you know, how do you get a meeting with someone?

Niklas: You mentioned we, a few times in your co founder. 

Olivia: Yeah. So my co founder, Bolang, uh, she's our technical lead. So she's a full stack developer and she handles all of our tech stack. 

Niklas: Where do you draw the line between what you do, uh, and what she does?

Olivia: Yeah. So for us, it's kind of a clear division. Like I handle the business side, um, and then she handles everything technical.

So we're a super small team. Um, [00:16:00] so. Um, there's kind of a clear division in that. I'm non technical. I don't come from a technical background. I'm not a coder. Um, and that's her life. Like, that's what she loves. So, um, it's uh, yeah, definitely a good a good mix. I'm super thankful to have her because building a company is really challenging.

Building a marketplace is really challenging. And I think having a team makes it a lot better.

Niklas: Okay. So, so you would recommend a co founder?

Olivia: I definitely would. Yes. Yeah. For building anything like this

Niklas: and what, what else does your team look like? Where have you, where have you put your money?

Olivia: Yeah. So for us, um, like with our, with our rebuild, we've really focused on simplifying things. So we bootstrap to date. So, um, no external investors. So really focused on kind of keeping costs low, um, building smartly. Um, so that's really been a focus for us.

Niklas: Got it. And so, you know, if you sort of give a feeling for, you know, all your experiences, you kind of say, okay, you know, you're talking to a new, a founder or somebody who's thinking about building a marketplace, but then maybe they just [00:17:00] started and they're trying to think, Hey, I need to make a budget for the next year, two years, three years.

What do you think matters to hire? Where, where do you think, you know, if you sort of think about yourself, where have you potentially, you know, spent money where you really feel like you shouldn't have, where do you feel like you've had the best return on money to be able to build and prove out your model And And, uh, and, and get to where you are. 

Olivia: Yeah, no, I think that's a really great question. I think it comes down to like what you're building and looking at your team strengths as well, right? So if you're, you know, a solo founder and you're non technical, you're going to need someone to build out your tech stack, right?

Like you're going to have to bring on a co founder or hire a dev studio or kind of figure that out, right? Like you physically can't build it if you're not a coder. So I think it's, it's kind of fundamentally like looking at your, you know, your team strengths. Like. What can you as a team, whether you're a solo founder, you know, if you have co founders, that's amazing because you can kind of share the division [00:18:00] of labor.

So that's even better. But kind of, you know, first, I would say, like, looking at your team and like, what can you what can you handle? Like, what can you learn? Um, and then coming up with a plan of, you know, where are the gaps in your team? Right. And are you able to fill that with, you know, potentially advisors, um, you know, potentially like contractors?

Right. So like, I would kind of see fulltime employment as something that you want to delay as long as you can. Right. Um, like try to get as far as you can without spending a ton of money. Um, and so that's the perspective I would look at is, you know, first looking at your team and then kind of identifying any gaps and then trying to fill those gaps, um, you know, in a, in a smart way.

Niklas: Makes sense. And so you, you mentioned coding, obviously that's to those who can code coding seems like a, an obvious achievable thing to do a lot of people out there who have great market based ideas who may not know that code. And from my experience, the risk with dealing with code. Is if you don't know [00:19:00] how to manage technical folks, or don't know where, what to build and what not to build, it can be really expensive and developers are, reality is expensive, uh, maintaining code is, is expensive.

Um, how, how have you figured out, or what have you bought? What did you decide to build? You know, where do you, where do you put your development? Your coding best?

Olivia: Yeah. So the first version of our apps, um, we, we, um, built them natively. So we use Kotlin and Swift, which again is very expensive. 

Um, and the second version of our app, we, what we decided to do is build cross platform.

So what that allows us to do is build quicker and cheaper. Um, so I think it's kind of, you know, understanding again, what you're building, like what your budget is. Um, really what your goals are. Um, you know, are there tools that you can use? Are there ways that you can save money? Um, you know, like, what are your, as you kind [00:20:00] of look at, like, your minimum viable product, like, what absolutely needs to be built, right?

Like, what's a nice to have? What's a need to have? Um, you know, what can be built later? What can be like a version 2. 0 or something? Um, and so kind of looking at, you know, That full customer experience. Like what's the minimum product that you need, um, in order to launch. Um, and then, you know, building your roadmap accordingly.

Niklas: So, so if you think about, you know, what you've built and what, what have you not built, like what have you specifically avoided, for example, you know, which fires, there's this line, let fires burn. Right. Which is, have you decided you're, you're, you know, you're willing to let burn? 

Olivia: Yeah. So for us, I feel like it's, you know, kind of, as we look at like what are nice to haves for us, um, there is, there's many that, you know, we're, we're, we're thinking about building out, um, in the future.

Um, and it really, it's. Um, it's kind of additional benefits. Um, a big one for us is, um, integration with, uh, payment process, uh, payroll processors. Um, [00:21:00] so thinking of easier ways to, you know, leverage employees pay, um, uh, for, for tax advantage reasons. Um, and so those are kind of more very custom integrations, um, that, that we're gonna start exploring this year, but that's something that isn't version 1 for us.

So that's, that's really a big one. You know, when we look at like. Where do we wanna go and where do we see additional value for both employees and, and our, you know, employers? Um, and that's a big one for us, but it's, you know, it's not something that we're gonna build day one. Um, it's something that, you know, we need to find the partners.

Build the infrastructure. Um, and so that's something that's more of a longterm project. So I think that's, yeah, probably, you know, one of the examples that directly comes to mind of something that, you know, isn't a today conversation, but it's something that's, you know, in the back of my mind that I do want to build. It's just not been a priority for right now.

Niklas: It makes sense. And you've mentioned funding a couple of times now, budget mentioned bootstrapped. That's a, that's a decision and it's a big one. [00:22:00] And it's one that's really hard to walk back. Once you go down the funding route. It's really a one way door heavily. Why do it your way?

Olivia: Our path is definitely, we would love to go down the VC path. Um, I think for us, um, it's not something that we're doing right now. Um, I don't think it's the right time. Uh, but I think it will be, um, and we do plan to fundraise later on in this year. So, um, what we're trying to do right now is to just get as many people and users on our platform, um, and really kind of go into a fundraise with, you know, Um, good traction, um, and then use that to fundraise.

So, uh, we're, we're definitely not at the stage right now. It's not a today conversation for us, but it is something where I feel like, um, we need to do in order to scale the business the way that I want to.

Niklas: So, uh, if you look about, look at your fundraising goals and the money you want to get, what, what are the common issues that you see from your customers, from your suppliers That you would want to be able to [00:23:00] solve, you know, what, give me a bit of a day in the life of the stuff that takes time for you, that's expensive to handle. You know where you'd like to deploy capital?

Olivia: Yeah, I know. That's a great question. I think it's something that, you know, a lot of founders struggle with.

That, you know, you're raising money. Like, how do I come up with a viable plan to get me to that next stage? Um, and I think it kind of goes back to what we chatted about earlier. Um, and really looking at your team, right? Like, what are your strengths? You know, where could you use support? Um, and I think when you're building a technical product, like that's always going to be a component, right?

Like making sure that you have enough. technical resources to, you know, get through your road map, get through those priority items like we were just talking about. Um, and so for us, I think that will be a big focus is, you know, having more engineering support. So we're able to, um, improve the platform, improve that user experience.

Um, and then I think another big part is the sales side. Um, so when you're building B to B, I think sales are incredibly important. So, you know, thinking about how do you effectively reach customers, [00:24:00] um, whether that's like an outbound strategy, you know, focusing more inbound, whether that's partnerships, um, all of that takes time and resources.

So I think that will be a big component as well. Thinking about, you know, having that right sales team in place, continuing to grow that so that, um, you know, you have a big enough pipeline, um, and you're able to scale. So I think those are kind of, you know, two elements that, um, immediately are top of mind for me.

And I think, you know, would be for other founders kind of building in a similar space.

Niklas: So give us a bit of a picture of what kind of questions you deal with every day. I mean, one of the things that I like to ask people is, you know, what are the most, especially in marketplaces? What's, what are the most common phone calls, ask complaints you hear from the, the buyer side.

So the demand side, and what are the most common issues, problems, things like this that you deal with on the supply on the vendor side?

Olivia: Yeah. So I think some common ones, I said, you know, it kind of depends on your stage, but it could be, you know, technical [00:25:00] challenges, whether that's like. Outages error message, things like that, right?

Like, kind of, um, you know, some technical issues, um, or it could be, you know, on the supplier side, it could be, um, their offerings or, um, making sure that, you know, your integrations are working, or if they have any updates, like, you know, kind of making sure that's that's functionally working. 

Um, and again, on the customer side, it could be both technical, it could be, you know, utilizing your software, like navigating new features, um, like understanding if, you know, maybe they're adding new, new people, um, how does that, that look, or they, they kind of need support.

So it could be a variety of different things. Like, I guess it kind of depends on, you know, whether you're talking about like the customers or your, your actual suppliers, you know, what their challenges might be.

Niklas: And now going back a little bit, changing. You know, direction. I want to hear a little bit more about the war stories in the, in the, in the beauty marketplace world.

Olivia: It is. It's [00:26:00] super hard. Yeah. I think if you ask any marketplace founder, that's. You know, building something hyperlocal it's, it's super, super challenging. And if you, you know, add on that layer of hyper personalization, it's kind of like, you know, building a startup and hard mode.

Niklas: Yeah. And how, how did that feel grinding against that, that hard mode?

Olivia: Yeah, I think it was really, really challenging. I think, you know, my co founder and I went into it. We were first-time founders, and I think we really underappreciated like how hard that was going to be. Um, like I had a background in marketplaces, so I thought I had a good understanding of like what I was getting into.

Um, but it was really challenging. Like there was some really, really tough days, right? As you're, you're trying to build this out, as you're trying to scale, as you're trying to, you know, balance your supply and demand and grow. Um, But there's a lot of variables that you're trying to solve for, um, and we chatted about a few of them earlier, right?

Like, you're trying to solve for, like, time and distance and pricing, um, and you're, you're trying to figure out, like, how much do you open up the network, right? Like, how much [00:27:00] control do you give your suppliers? Um, is it more of a managed marketplace or is it more open? And for us, it was more open, right?

And, you know, looking back, would I have made it more managed? potentially. Um, but we really wanted to make it supplier-focused and make it a great experience for suppliers. Um, and they love that. But that was a lot of complexity to manage. So I think, you know, as I think back on those days, there was a lot of struggles that that my co founder and I went through.

And, you know, just trying to think of our strategy and how much, um, you know, how we grow, what that looks like. If it's how much we're managing, how much we're giving control to our suppliers, what that looks like, like, as you release features, how do you communicate that, you know, to the supplier so that, you know, you just don't release a feature and no one's updating it.

So there's a lot of things that go into that as you're managing, um, that that marketplace.

Niklas: And so how did you, how did you figure out when to pull the ripcord? When, you know, I've seen so many businesses that go [00:28:00] through this for a really long time. And the question that always comes out, that I always think is, when is enough, enough?

Olivia: Yeah, I think that's a really hard point to get to, is like, you know, when you see a little bit of traction, and you're like, okay, do I just need to keep grinding? Like, am I close to something? Or, you know, am I totally off base? And I think for us, it was really being honest about, you know, what we had built, and, Like where we wanted to go.

Um, and then also about our team strengths, right? Like, what were we genuinely happy building? And I think for us, a lot of it came down to like, we really enjoyed the B2B aspect and we found a lot of passion in that, that, you know, really kept us going. Um, and so we kind of just. Decided, you know, we really need to double down on that, right?

Like, if that's a strength, like, this is kind of pivot time. Um, and so I think for us, it was, you know, took a couple months to come to that realization. And we started putting the pieces together. Like, you know, I think this is time to make a move. And I think it's always challenging, right? When you build something, you test something out.

And and then you [00:29:00] decide like, okay, this isn't working. I got to make a shift. Um, and I think it's challenging because you spend a lot of effort, energy and building something. And then you have to start again. 

But I think there's also some beauty and opportunity and that as well for startups, right? Like, When you build a startup, you, you're able to, to kind of have a clean slate and with a pivot and, and start again.

Um, and you can test things out, you're able to, um, you know, launch something. And so I think there's a lot of opportunities in that as well. Like, you know, if something, 

if a few things are working, but not everything's working, and maybe it's fundamental things that, that can't be fixed. I think that's kind of when you know that it's, it's time to make a shift, even if it's really challenging, which, you know, it most of the time is.

Niklas: Yeah. And did you, did you talk to people about it and how much of this was you kind of sitting in a sitting and stewing at home?

Olivia: Yeah, no, that's a, that's a good, that's a good point. And I think it starts with like, you know, sitting and stewing and then, um, it kind of, it, you know, [00:30:00] How we approached it was, you know, starting to reach out to people.

So then we talked to our advisors. We talked to, you know, people in our network, just people that we trusted. We talked to other startup founders, people that had, you know, whether they were marketplace founders or other other founders, like people that had been through it before. Um, and, you know, kind of assessing the situation and figuring out like, is this the time to make a pivot?

Is this the time to, you know, make a big shift? Um, and I think that was really important, especially being a first time founder, right? Because you kind of see some signs that things are working and you don't necessarily know is, is it the time to, To make a big move and start again, or should you kind of keep going at something?

So I think, you know, leaning on people that have done it before is, is really important. Like having that community, um, it is really important when things get tough

Niklas: and where do you find those, you obviously bootstrapped it, which means you don't, for example, have access to VCs who typically, you know, try to help with that kind of thing.

How do you find one of these with these mentors, the right person to listen to? And everybody [00:31:00] has, everybody has opinions. Everybody has ideas.

Olivia: So I think for me, I look for people that have done it before. So, um, people that have built and scaled companies, um, and people that I value their opinions. So that's kind of one camp.

Um, and then other startup founders, like I'm part of a few communities of startup founders, some are market place specific and others are more, um, just, just founders in general. So some female founder groups. Um, and I think, you know, being able to have a community of people that are going through the same thing is super important, um, because there's a lot of highs and lows that happen when you're building a startup.

And, you know, oftentimes those are within the same day, right? Like, you might have something phenomenal that happens in the morning. And then at the end of the day, you have something really bad that happens and you're, you're trying to balance yourself out. So, you know, having a community of people that you can go to.

Um, in both of those situations and just get feedback and, you know, kind of know that you're not alone and like 

sometimes when you're, you're in the weeds and building something, you think, oh, this is like, You know, only a problem I've only encountered, but, you know, oftentimes [00:32:00] challenges, um, are, uh, pretty common across startups.

Niklas: And if you were to go back now and give yourself advice before starting on this Journey, would you have done something differently?

Is there something that you missed? Is there a step that you missed or a realization that you, you can generalize here?

Olivia: Yeah. So I think for me, it was, it was really kind of going through the journey. Like, I think I wouldn't have ended up where we are today and what we've built. If I didn't go through the journey, right?

Like the first version of, of lived was learning as a founder, what I was good at building, which was B2B. It was learning that, you know, I'm We need to build something where people aren't meeting face face to face. So those were kind of the biggest learnings that we went through. Um, but I think I wouldn't have got to that point had I not gone through that journey.

So I think, [00:33:00] you know, even though there were a lot of hard times that we went through, um, I think I'm, I'm grateful for it and happy that we went through it because I'm just super happy with the product that we've built now. And I don't think I would have got to that point had I not kind of, you know, tested a bunch of things out, figure out what worked, Um, figure out a lot of things didn't work and then kind of just make, you know, choices as you have new information.

So I think, you know, a lot of being a founder is trying things out, like, Being okay with failing and kind of reframing it in a way of like, you know, what have I learned? Like, how am I better off? Right? Like, what can I do quicker and better and faster? Like, because I had that failure rather than just seeing it as, as like, Oh, I failed. And you know, you're, you're really sad about it. Like kind of reframing that in a, in a different way. So you're learning and you're making better choices. So I think, you know, kind of going back, like, I'm happy that I had that experience because it brought me to today.

Niklas: Yeah, it's one of the coolest things that is in the tech community, in the Silicon Valley community, is this idea that, that failure is not [00:34:00] something to be shunned.

Yes. And it's a really, really important change that's happened and is part of the culture that makes, I think the US so successful in something like this is that, you know, that's really been held up as something that, um, is honorable. And, and I think, you know, the people who, who really have been through the ringer on this and have a lot of experience are the first to defend.

Folks who have gone through pivots have had to fight it out a few times because yeah, they know what it takes and they know that, that, you know, you can't, the biggest mistake is to punish that. Now, you know, you've stayed with, with a marketplace model. You start with a marketplace model, stay with it. You had marketplaces beforehand.

Yeah. Is that a coincidence or is there something about the marketplace model that That, that you're really attracted to.

Olivia: I love marketplaces. Like as a, you know, I'm, I'm, I feel like I'm such a marketplace nerd. Um, I love it. Um, I just love the complexity of marketplaces, right? 

Like you're essentially building two businesses, you're building something for your suppliers and [00:35:00] something for your, your, your demand side. And, you know, often times they're, they're two different needs. Um, and so I think it's just really complex and there's a lot of challenges that go in that. 

And, you know, I'm such a builder. I'm very curious by nature. So I think for me, it, it's something that, um, I'm very interested in. Uh, so I think that's, that's kind of what drove me and why I've spent majority of my career in marketplaces and why I love them.

They're, they're super challenging, but you know, once they get started, they're, they're very attractive.

Niklas: Can you talk through a little bit about what the revenues and the costs are? Don't have to give numbers, you know, what are the activities on the cost size, particularly because you're bootstrapped. So you, you, you, you know, you, you have to figure out the profitable model.

Yeah. What are the activities on the supply side and on the operating side that you have to, you know, factor into whether that's a revenue model that works for you whether that's the right price

Olivia: Yeah, for sure And I think a lot of work, you know went into that to figure out what is that right price? um, and I think when we think of like the you know The kind of the [00:36:00] operating costs I can kind of give like high level of you know Some of the costs that We run through the platform. 

So payment processing. Um, so we use Stripe. So, you know, there's a cost for every transaction that goes through our portal. Um, so that's a big cost is payment processing. 

Um, and then, um, verifications. So we use Twilio. So text verifications. Um, So that's another cost. Um, and then just general operating costs.

So like, you know, server costs, um, AWS costs, like hosting costs. Um, that's a big one as well. So those are kind of like, you know, three buckets to think through. Um, and again, it depends on, you know, what, what kind of business you're, you're running, like, what are some of your costs, um, and what you need to factor in.

But I think you need to think of all of those things as you're, you're building at your pricing model. Um, Um, And, you know, thinking about how do you go to market doesn't make sense to do a subscription. Do you have different tiers within the subscription? You know, a lot of companies might start out with like a freemium version and then have like a paid paid subscription tier, or it could, you know, [00:37:00] there could be various tiers.

So I think, you know, thinking about those numbers, um, it takes a lot of work to figure out what's right for your business. And, and, you know, you might set something and then as you're getting new information, again, you might need to make changes. So I think it's, you know, kind of, About making the best choice for the stage that you're at and knowing that you'll probably have to make changes like as you scale or as your cost change

Niklas: and what do you assume you're, you're still somewhat in the price discovery.

We are. Yeah. What do you need to put in place to be able to do price discovery? Well, what is sort of the foundational building blocks?

Olivia: Yeah. So I think the biggest one is really looking at, you know, what is the market? Um, what are people charging? What are your competitors charging? You know, looking at your own internal costs.

So, um, kind of just what we've discussed, like, you know, putting a budget together, looking at what costs go in for for every single customer to be on your platform. What are your monthly costs? What's your burn rate like? So, you know, really getting into those numbers for your business. Um, and then coming up with a price point that makes sense.[00:38:00]

Niklas: Got it. That makes sense. And so, you know, one last one just on the, on, on, on, on the business, what's the, the, the thing that you found the hardest about either building the business about running a marketplace? Is there anything that you can share with somebody else, what their journey is going to include.

Olivia: Yeah. So I think for me personally, um, the biggest challenge that I faced is my co founder and I, we were first time founders. So I think we, we really under appreciated like how hard it was going to be to build a marketplace. Um, especially building a hyper personalized and hyper local marketplace to start.

Um, I think it's just a really challenging route. Um, and I think, you know, we went in with, Really great intentions. And I think a lot of knowledge, um, in terms of what we were building. But I think, you know, when the reality really set in, it was very, very challenging to build. Um, and so I think that for me was really the biggest challenges is just, um, you know, kind of going through that discovery, um, and realizing like how [00:39:00] hard it actually is to build a marketplace, right?

Like you're, you're essentially building two, two businesses in one. Um, and it's, it's very, very challenging. So, um, for me, that was a huge learning. 

Niklas:And so would you, would you do it again? 

Olivia: I would a million percent. Yeah. No, I definitely would. Yeah. 

Niklas: Olivia, it's been really great having you on the podcast. I thoroughly enjoyed the conversation and thank you for making the time.

I know you've got a, uh, a big business to build. You've got a big year ahead of you. Um, so I appreciate you, you, you, you coming here and sharing a bit of your story. Where can somebody find you if they want to reach out to you, if they want to be on lived? Um, if they want to learn from, from everything that you've experienced.

Olivia: Yeah, no, first of all, thank you so much for having me. It's been awesome, you know, talking about marketplaces and sharing a little bit about our journey. Uh, so yeah, if anyone that's listening that, that wants to, to get in touch with me, the best way is probably LinkedIn, uh, pretty active there. So people can just, you know, feel free to shoot me a DM.

Uh, so that's probably the best way to find me. Wonderful.

Niklas: Thank you, [00:40:00] Olivia. Best of luck to Lyft. And good luck for 2024. 

Olivia: Thanks so much. You as well.