Good App Marketplace/Bad App Marketplace

Hugh Durkin
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At Netscape in 1998, Ben Horowitz and David Weiden wrote the first version of Good Product Manager/Bad Product Manager. They wrote it because they observed varying levels of effectiveness across product managers and wanted to set clear guidelines, expectations, and standards for the role.

Today - specially in a world of analytics tools, AI, and mature product management tools - their advice then may not be relevant now, but the framework they created is still a helpful way to compare and contrast what “world class” and “not so world class” looks like.

I’ve spent well over a decade working on Platform Product and Partnerships teams at Facebook, Intercom, and HubSpot. I’ve helped build and launch App Marketplaces and App Partner Programs. I’ve also been “on the other side” as a partner of other App Marketplaces and App Partner Programs. I’ve made and learned from plenty of mistakes along the way.

And, over the past few years, I’ve spent way too much time analysing and evaluating over 100 App Marketplaces - the mature ones, the new ones, the large ones, the small ones. The good and the bad.

In the spirit of Good Product Manager/Bad Product Manager, here’s some observations on what makes App Marketplaces “Good” or “Bad.”

The Good, The Bad

Good App Marketplaces focus on customers first. A good App Marketplace helps potential customers quickly understand if the Platform they’re evaluating will “play well” with the other products and services they’re already using. A good App Marketplace reassures potential customers that they can “grow into” the Platform they’re evaluating, as they grow their business and their team. A good App Marketplace helps existing customers find solutions to problems they have, and helps them quickly install, try, and buy solutions to those problems. A good App Marketplace gets out of the way, creating fast connections between customers and partners through outbound links, contact information, and pricing information. Good App Marketplaces are free of friction, interruption, and noise.

Bad App Marketplaces operate out of self-interest. Bad App Marketplaces confuse their own customers - and customers they wish they had - with self-serving lead-gen forms and nudges to sign up for their own products. Bad App Marketplaces contain no outbound links to the websites of partners that invested time and effort into building integrations with their products. Bad App Marketplaces are impossible to find, usually several clicks away from homepages and landing pages. Bad App Marketplaces are a side-project, and look like they are.

Good App Marketplaces contain a wealth of information for customers, and for go-to-market teams working for the Platform that builds and operates the App Marketplace. Good App Marketplaces are a “source of truth” for customers and for the people who sell to them and support them. Most answers to most questions they have will be quickly answered by a good App Marketplace. Good App Marketplaces are modern and multimodal, with a variety of assets and asset types available to customers and partners - from videos, to shareable case studies, to rich descriptions of how to install, configure, and use products available through them. Good App Marketplaces never sit still - new listings are added and removed all the time, listings are fresh and up to date, and partners tend to their listings as they would a physical store in a real-world shopping mall.

Bad App Marketplaces leave customers - and the people who sell to them and support them - with more questions than answers. Listings on bad App Marketplaces often contain nothing more than a title, a short paragraph about the integration, and a partner logo. Light as they are, listings on bad App Marketplaces are often years out of date, and often recommend products and businesses that no longer exist. Browsing listings on bad App Marketplaces is like browsing the pages of the 1958 Downers Grove Telephone Directory.

Good App Marketplaces are honest and unopinionated, elevating and promoting the best products and solutions for customers. Bad App Marketplaces elevate and promote products and solutions based on financial incentives. Good App Marketplaces know customers, and the people who sell to and support them, are smart and savvy. Bad App Marketplaces try to confuse and coerce customers into buying products they don’t need.

Good App Marketplaces focus on quality and quantity, with clear and transparent listing requirements for partners, and minimum thresholds to stay listed. Good App Marketplaces let customers decide which products are important, and which are not. Bad App Marketplaces aggregate a small subset of the ecosystem, focused on big brands and big names only. Bad App Marketplaces promote yesterdays solutions, tomorrow.

Good App Marketplaces, and the products listed within them, extend the core product value of the Platform they’re connected to, and attract commensurate investment and support from leadership teams, board members, and shareholders. Bad App Marketplaces are a “once and done” effort, an anathema that primarily exists to silence customer requests (silent customers are usually busy switching to competitors).

Good App Marketplaces help “Product” companies graduate to become legitimate “Platform” companies - the cherry on top of a delicious Platform cake, with fully baked API coverage, developer tools, and partner programs. True Platform companies don’t build or operate bad App Marketplaces. They know better.

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