Experiences are the next step in marketplace evolution

I recently gave a talk on my thoughts on the future of marketplaces and had requests to post it here. The next few posts will lay out the talk in more detail and slides will go up with the final post. This is post 1 of 3.

When we think of marketplace companies today, the first ones that come to mind are often companies like Airbnb and Uber. However, marketplaces have been around for thousands of years; they're a natural consequence of civilization. From the open air markets of ancient Greece to eBay and now Uber, there have always been people who needed something and people who could provide it.

Let's start with the two most recent shifts in marketplaces. First, the early 90s movement from physical to digital led by Amazon and Ebay. These companies removed the need to have supply and demand near each other, and the need to even know the other person in the transaction. Because the transaction was facilitated by a trusted third-party, the size of the marketplace was no longer dependent on personal connections. Second, the on-demand and sharing economy introduced the idea of making the most of excess capacity and paying for services rather than goods. And then, this spread across many different industries from transportation to fashion.

To me, it seems like the next evolution is the movement to experiences. The term experience can mean many different things but here, I'm using it in the specific context of a set of related services. While companies like Uber and Airbnb create great experiences, they're focused on a single step. Similarly, companies like Operator and Magic are aggregators so you have a single place to go but they also don't go from start to finish.

For example, if you wanted to plan a dinner party for eight people, no single service would help you organize your guests, set the date, find a chef, account for dietary restrictions, plan the playlist, select the wines and then cook and clean for the dinner party itself. However, to have a concierge who could manage the whole series of tasks with appropriate input from you would lead to an incredible dinner party experience. Now of course, there's a cost to doing all these things but many of these tasks already exist today in disparate services. You can use Doodle to find a date that works and get dietary preferences. You can use Kitchit and Taskrabbit to cook and clean. You can use Spotify and Pandora to find the right playlist. You can use Delectable and Minibar to supply and deliver the wine. All you need is someone to pull it all together. Once you connect the great solo players, the marketplace of experiences is like the conductor of an orchestra.

Whether it's a digital assistant who connects to all these services behind the scenes or an actual human being using tools that manage the connections manually, experiences are the next big step when it comes to the evolution of marketplaces.