Karlis Lapsins (left) and Andy Bauch (right), the Founders of Morty.
Every month we feature some of our Everything Marketplaces community members to help highlight their story, the journey building their marketplaces, and get a glimpse at what's ahead.
In this feature we highlight Andy Bauch, who's the Co-founder of Morty. Morty is a marketplace that makes it easy to discover & book nerd culture activities, starting with escape rooms. Andy first joined Everything Marketplaces in the initial idea stage and has since built a loyal community around Morty, has thousands of escape rooms listed on their platform, and is now backed by notable angel investors with a bright future ahead.
My Co-founder Karlis and I are both nerds and most of the activities and experiences that we’re obsessed with are very hard to discover. In our case, we're usually looking for fun stuff to do stuff like escape rooms, weird virtual art exhibitions, themed pop ups, and things like that. Yelp (what many turn to) is useless with this and our ability to interface with other folks from the community is minimal. That makes asking around in FB groups basically state of the art. Geeks like us also spend $87B on these sort of hobbies every year, so there's a tremendous overlap between the types of activities we do and market for them.
With that said, we decided the world needed a “Strava for geeks” that would help us unite as a community and make it easy to go on these adventures together: discovery, planning with friends, calendaring, booking, recording your experience, collecting rewards, and of course discussing and meeting new people.
I immediately called up Karlis and asked him if he had this problem with finding geeky stuff and people. I then made a spreadsheet of questions and started reaching out to other enthusiasts, along with people that they know. I’ve done customer development for dozens of concepts and after a few days of conversations, it was pretty clear we’d struck a nerve with this one.
After initial concept validation with enthusiasts, we started mocking up the UX and talking to suppliers at the same time. We got a few suppliers signed up at a 15% take rate before we had even finished our designs and started building.
When we finally launched our private beta on TestFlight it wasn’t an immediate hit. Despite our promising early conversations, it took us 86 builds before we reached a version where we started seeing strong signals of product market fit.
It turns out that we needed to build more features at a more polished level than we had anticipated. But one day things changed, and suddenly enthusiasts were reaching out several times a day and asking for new features and reporting bugs. Prior to this I was having to ask everyone to try out the new builds.
We started chatting with investors a few months into the pandemic, but since a decent number of our nerd culture experiences are in-person, we found that most funds were extremely sheepish at the time. After a few weeks, we shifted our focus entirely on angel investors because they were generally less risk averse with that concern. We also found that angels were often more personally excited about what we were building, so once we made that shift the raise became much easier and smoother.
We initially used the funds to bring on some brilliant folks on a part-time basis so that we could increase our horsepower in software engineering, product design, data analysis, and marketing.
Karlis and I were really pumped to see that many former colleagues we had worked with were eager to help. These are folks at Shopfiy, Tinder, and other top startups that were just excited to work together again and had a few hours a week to spare outside of their 9-5 jobs. Being able to recruit this talent really accelerated the business and was made possible by the initial capital that we raised.
I saw a great quote in a Forbes article “Hobbies have a way of making even CPAs and financial planners lose their inhibitions and spend like drunken sailors.” Basically, this articulates that nerds have a lot of disposable income. The biggest and emerging cities in the United States have nerds to thanks for driving a large amount of the growth.
In terms of trends, there are a few winds of change carrying us. The first is that nerds are no longer given wedgies in the schoolyard. Instead, nerds are helping drive culture, so they’re now at the forefront. You can look at the biggest grossing films and games these days, which reflect this and obsessions with the likes of Wanda from the Marvel Universe. The nerdy universe is trending mainstream now and at an increasingly accelerating rate.
Although most of our marketplace is virtual right now, the in person experiences are really coming back. This is also being driven by experiential entertainment taking over failing commercial real estate on a national level. Malls are being converted into this stuff, so we're seeing VR arcades, go karts, ropes courses, and the likes. They’re willing to take a loss on the real estate, with the hopes to attract new shoppers. These are disruptive trends that we're seeing.
We looked for all the usual things when evaluating this market: high fragmentation, low monogamy, viable starting niche, all the stuff you learn about in Angela Tran’s awesome A Guide To Marketplaces.
In our specific case, we were trying to crack the chicken and egg problem and we soon realized that we’re a B2C marketplace where the consumer has a lot of needs, even outside of the transaction. They also want to track the experiences that they’ve been to, see where their friends have gone, and to also see how the enthusiast community reviews them.
In order to help build the initial demand side of the marketplace, we started building features that the enthusiast side of our marketplace gets huge value out of, regardless of which suppliers or how many are signed up.
We then realized that we're building a consumer app first. We ended up putting our collective experience and years of product learnings into building the best single-player consumer experience. Now that folks are starting to use Morty, suppliers are much more eager to sign up and it's easier to think about it as a marketplace.
“Alexa, plan an adventure for me and my friends.”
I’m joking, but that’s our north star. We want to make it stupidly easy for us to get together around nerdy plans, with zero risk that any of us will be disappointed by the experience. We're eliminating the planning work and transactional friction that also comes with getting a group together for these experiences.
Connect with Andy in the Everything Marketplaces community.