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How to Deliver Value in the Three-Sided Marketplace

Managing Expectations

28 May, 2021

John McMahon
John McMahon

Head of Product at Obsesh

John McMahon, a former Senior Director of Product at Giving Assistant, speaks of his efforts to deliver value in the three-sided marketplace by developing a profound understanding of shoppers, brands, and nonprofits and their unique mindset, motivation, and pain points.


I joined my previous company as a senior product manager but was soon promoted -- after one of the co-founders left -- to the Director of Product. The company was a three-sided marketplace that allowed online shoppers to save at their favorite brands and donate some, or all, of those savings to nonprofits of their choice.

When I joined the company, I was entirely focused on one side of the business -- shoppers. As I transitioned to my new role, I realized that I didn’t know nearly enough about the needs of brands and nonprofits. However, in my role of a Director of Product, I had to work with all three stakeholders, stakeholders whose motivation and concerns I was unfamiliar with.

Actions taken

I started to develop relationships with people on my team and started to collect bits and pieces on the needs of brands and nonprofits. I also spoke directly with brands and nonprofits and attended sales calls with both.

Sales calls were just a way for me to be an active participant. The VP of Business Development would lead those calls, and I would sit in to get a sense of what was valuable to brands and nonprofits. I would be able to ask them questions on their pain points and learn more about the expectations they had for our product. It wasn’t a deep dive because I didn’t want to divert the focus from closing a deal or upselling a current brand. But, it certainly was a way for me to get a bit closer to stakeholders I didn’t know much about.

I also coordinated interviews with brands and nonprofits to get a better sense of their mindset, motivation, and pain points. Unlike sales calls, interviews were far more structured and insightful. I was able to put together an interview script and ask specific questions. I would focus on a specific problem and would drill further until I would get a comprehensive understanding of the problem. If it would be helpful, I would also share during the interviews prototypes that were designed to solve the problem.

The next thing I did was to work with my direct reports to make sure that they were clear on the problems faced by brands and nonprofits. We would take that information to define our OKRs. When paired up with the company goals, this information was a baseline for a definition of OKRs. All my direct reports, whether product manager or senior product managers, would be involved in the process of defining OKRs. They would take that back to their team, which would then execute their assignments with full understanding.

We learned that brands cared most about acquiring new shoppers and getting more gross merchandise value. In the end, we were able to drive 30 percent more shoppers to brands and 40 percent more sales to brands. We were also able to drive more donation dollars to nonprofits by simplifying the process of getting shoppers to donate to them. We also saw an increase and repeat donation, which speaks to the retention of a specific cohort that we facilitated. Shoppers were excited about our product and the ability to do their regular shopping while also supporting nonprofits. In my second year in the role, we managed to increase the donation rate almost six times. Over the lifetime of the business, that allowed us to drive more than 5 million dollars of donations to nonprofits.

Lessons learned

  • When I came to the company, many processes were broken, and many things were more complicated than they needed to be. I initiated a user research program that allowed us to better understand brands and nonprofits, but I also helped introduce OKRs, cross-functional teams, etc. All of that contributed to the stellar outcome we achieved.
  • Whatever you are delivering to users, you need to learn about them well first and understand their mindset, motivation, and pain points. You can use product analytics to understand what they are doing, but that doesn’t explain the Why piece. This is where user research plays a part. Running interviews on a specific problem or conducting widely casted surveys helped significantly, and paired up with product analytics made the critical difference.
  • Talk to users at least on a weekly basis. Put in place user research, and if your resources are scarce, start small and seek to expand. You should know that nothing can replace firsthand feedback received from users.

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