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Lenny's Podcast: Product | Growth | Career
Marketplace lessons from Uber, Airbnb, Bumble, and more | Ramesh Johari (Stanford professor, startup advisor)

Marketplace lessons from Uber, Airbnb, Bumble, and more | Ramesh Johari (Stanford professor, startup advisor)


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Ramesh Johari is a professor at Stanford University focusing on data science methods and practice, as well as the design and operation of online markets and platforms. Beyond academia, Ramesh has advised some incredible startups, including Airbnb, Uber, Bumble, and Stitch Fix. Today we discuss:
• What exactly a marketplace is, if you boil it down
• What you need to get right to build a successful marketplace
• How to optimize any marketplace
• An easy litmus test to see if there’s an opportunity to build a marketplace in the space
• The role of data science in successful marketplaces
• Ramesh’s philosophy on experimentation and AI
• Advice on implementing rating systems
• Why learning isn’t free

Listen now on Apple, Spotify, Overcast, and YouTube.

Find the full transcript at: https://www.lennyspodcast.com/marketplace-lessons-from-uber-airbnb-bumble-and-more-ramesh-johari-stanford-professor-startup/

Where to find Ramesh Johari:

• LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/rameshjohari/

• Website: https://web.stanford.edu/~rjohari/

• X: https://twitter.com/rameshjohari

Where to find Lenny:

• Newsletter: https://www.lennysnewsletter.com

• X: https://twitter.com/lennysan

• LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/lennyrachitsky/

In this episode, we cover:

(00:00) Ramesh’s background

(04:31) A brief overview of what a marketplace is

(08:10) The role of data science in marketplaces

(11:21) Common flaws of marketplaces

(16:43) Why every founder is a marketplace founder

(20:26) How Substack increased value to creators by driving demand

(20:58) An example of overcommitting at eBay

(22:24) An easy litmus test for marketplaces 

(25:52) Thoughts on employees vs. contractors

(28:02) How to leverage data scientists to improve your marketplace

(34:10) Correlation vs. causation

(35:27) Decisions that should be made using data

(39:29) Ramesh’s philosophy on experimentation

(41:06) How to find a balance between running experiments and finding new opportunities

(44:11) Badging in marketplaces

(46:04) The “superhost” badge at Airbnb

(49:59) How marketplaces are like a game of Whac-A-Mole

(52:41) How to shift an organization’s focus from impact to learning

(55:43) Frequentist vs. Bayesian A/B testing 

(57:50) The idea that learning is costly

(1:01:55) The basics of rating systems

(1:04:41) The problem with averaging

(1:07:14) Double-blind reviews at Airbnb

(1:08:55) How large language models are affecting data science

(1:11:27) Lightning round


• Riley Newman on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/rileynewman/

• Upwork (formerly Odesk): https://www.upwork.com/

• Ancient Agora: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ancient_Agora_of_Athens

• Trajan’s Market: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trajan%27s_Market

• Kayak: https://www.kayak.com/

• UrbanSitter: https://www.urbansitter.com/

• Thumbtack: https://www.thumbtack.com/

• Substack: https://substack.com/

• Ebay: https://www.ebay.com/

• Coase: “The Nature of the Firm”: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Nature_of_the_Firm

• Stitch Fix: https://www.stitchfix.com/

• A/B Testing with Fat Tails: https://www.journals.uchicago.edu/doi/abs/10.1086/710607

• The ultimate guide to A/B testing | Ronny Kohavi (Airbnb, Microsoft, Amazon): https://www.lennyspodcast.com/the-ultimate-guide-to-ab-testing-ronny-kohavi-airbnb-microsoft-amazon/

• Servaes Tholen on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/servaestholen/

• Bayesian A/B Testing: A More Calculated Approach to an A/B Test: https://blog.hubspot.com/marketing/bayesian-ab-testing

• Designing Informative Rating Systems: Evidence from an Online Labor Market: https://arxiv.org/abs/1810.13028

• Reputation and Feedback Systems in Online Platform Markets: https://faculty.haas.berkeley.edu/stadelis/Annual_Review_Tadelis.pdf

How to Lie with Statistics: https://www.amazon.com/How-Lie-Statistics-Darrell-Huff/dp/0393310728

• David Freedman’s books on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/stores/David-Freedman/author/B001IGLSGA

Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals: https://www.amazon.com/Four-Thousand-Weeks-Management-Mortals/dp/0374159122

The Alpinist on Prime Video: https://www.amazon.com/Alpinist-Peter-Mortimer/dp/B09KYDWVVC

Only Murders in the Building on Hulu: https://www.hulu.com/series/only-murders-in-the-building-ef31c7e1-cd0f-4e07-848d-1cbfedb50ddf

Production and marketing by https://penname.co/. For inquiries about sponsoring the podcast, email podcast@lennyrachitsky.com.

Lenny may be an investor in the companies discussed.

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Lenny's Newsletter
Lenny's Podcast: Product | Growth | Career
Interviews with world-class product leaders and growth experts to uncover concrete, actionable, and tactical advice to help you build, launch, and grow your own product.