Online marketplaces are king in today's business world. In the digital, on-demand era, platforms that connect buyers and sellers for goods and services have taken over.
A decade ago, my wife Stephanie and I saw this coming and set out to build a marketplace of our own. We founded Voices.com, an online marketplace that connects voice actors and their talent agents with creative producers, transforming the traditional model into an on-demand digital service.
Starting this business took hard work and self-education. What keeps us going is our genuine love for our work. We've found a niche market where we can express ourselves creatively and have a positive impact on the world, all the while recognizing the unique dynamics at play in starting, growing and operating an online marketplace.
That said, like any other business owner, we have learned quite a few lessons along the way, both in how to work together as a married couple and how to scale a business.
Do what you love
Though it seems obvious, the most critical factor of starting a successful business is a love for the industry. Stephanie and I are passionate about the voice industry, but starting a business – especially one that crosses into tech – is difficult, grueling work that can take a toll on your personal life.
Although we had contacts in the industry and experience in how it operated, neither of us held an MBA, let alone have taken business classes at university level. This meant that much of the backend work required hours of self-teaching and trial-and-error. Had we not had a passion for the industry, neither of us would have grown the business into the leader it is today.
Always remember that it's your hunger and love for your industry, your product and your customers that will get you through the tough times.
Find your niche
Finding a niche market is the sweet spot for start-up entrepreneurs. Before founding Voices.com, I attended audio engineering school; and upon graduating, I ran a recording studio in London, Ontario. Stephanie is a classically trained singer, performing at venues around the world; and for a brief period, she became a voice actor herself.
Entering a niche market allows business owners to focus on a specific skillset and create a community of people who have similar needs, aspirations and challenges without having to compete against some of the bigger companies. It also allows business owners to create and define their own category of marketplace.
When Stephanie and I founded Voices.com, on-demand voice acting was unheard of. For us, this meant focusing equally on talent and clients to build a marketplace that was beneficial to both sides. Find your niche and be the best at it.
Balance both sides of the marketplace
Having an appreciation for both sides of the marketplace gave us an advantage when building the business. Not only did we have a network of industry professionals, we already had experience being the voice talent as well as being the client procuring a voice-over.
A memorable exercise we did early on was taking a sheet of paper and writing each other's' names at the top with a line drawn down the middle. This paper served to delineate our roles and responsibilities. In short, I was responsible for the buyers, those clients at ad agencies, video production companies and corporate marketing departments while Stephanie connected and communicated with the voice actors. By establishing some boundaries, it allowed us each to take full ownership of a distinct part of the business, which we've found is key as a married couple. It also meant we were able to focus equally on both the supply (talent) and demand (companies/agencies in need of talent) sides from day one, and has ensured that neither were neglected as the platform grew.
Starting and growing a business is not easy, but doing it in an industry you're passionate about, and with someone who shares your passion, makes it easier.
About the author: David Ciccarelli is the co-founder and CEO of Voices.com, an online voiceover marketplace that focuses equally on talent and producers.