Overcoming the Chicken & Egg Problem

Photo by Daniel Tuttle on Unsplash


The chicken-and-egg paradox is a common problem for startups. A marketplace needs buyers to attract sellers and sellers to attract buyers. Much like how a young professional needs experience to get a job, but a job to gain experience. Successful tech startups, including Airbnb, Reddit, Facebook, and Amazon, have discovered a simple solution: curating information that buyers want.

Startups often distill relevant yet hard-to-navigate information into a filterable or ranked list to attract buyers and position themselves in the sales pipeline of smart sellers. Other times, startups create user-centric platforms where individuals look for information or audiences. These types of platforms form the basis of what is referred to as the “attention economy”.

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Reddit is an excellent example of a successful startup that used crowdsourced curation for its platform. Founder, Alexis Ohanian, took inspiration from Hacker News and created subreddits. The founders collected links from around the web then manually and automatically curated them into relevant subreddits. The platform became so popular that many people now use Reddit within Google search for higher quality results by adding the text “site:www.reddit.com” before their query.


In the case of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg used an easily navigable web interface that pulled the names and images of fellow Harvard students to attract his initial users. He then allowed them to curate their own profiles. By curating a relevant set of information and expanding user control, Facebook overcame the chicken-and-egg problem.


Similarly, Airbnb’s founders – Brian, Nathan, and Joe – scraped accommodation listings from Craigslist to attract its initial audience. Once they hooked customers, they curated and improved listings to offer better value to their hosts. Airbnb’s user-centric approach was key to its success, which has grown to become a global hospitality powerhouse. They famously hired local photographers to improve the attractiveness of listings and provide more value to their hosts, resulting in a better experience for all of their users.


Amazon’s Founder Jeff Bezos created a platform that allowed people to purchase books even if they were not in inventory. Bezos found a list of all the books in print and marketed them through his website. When someone made a purchase, he would buy the book from another online seller and provide the buyer’s postal address. If he couldn’t find the book, he would visit local second-hand bookstores in Portland, Oregon, to source the book and post it himself, often at a loss. This user-centric approach paid off as customers found the website reliable and returned for repeat purchases. Over time, Amazon expanded its inventory, diversified its offerings, and employed more sophisticated supply chain management strategies. These strategies built upon the initial foundation of curation and customer service. By overcoming the chicken-and-egg problem in its early days, Amazon has grown to become the world’s largest online retailer, pioneering the industry and transforming the way people shop.

Our Own Journey

At Plug.events, we work with the mantra “you win or you learn.” And we have learned a lot! One of the things that we have learned is that while the strategy for solving the chicken-and-egg problem is always the same, the particular tactics depend on the context, and tactics are complicated. It is not simply a matter of manually curating content until your fingers bleed and fall off but of working smartly, and efficiently over time to curate large quantities of reliable data in a sustainable workflow.

We had been attempting to prove our model with two small dance communities that we were very familiar with, forró and balfolk, but at a certain point, we realized that to survive, we needed to grow the user base very fast, across a wide array of communities, ideally related to each other with a large amount of intersection.

To achieve this, the tactics we explored and settled on can be put into three buckets:

  • Doing it for Them
  • Making it Easier
  • Making it Worthwhile

Doing it for Them

This means collecting events from around the web and publishing them on behalf of organizers. We are partnering with another startup that provides a system that scrapes the web for content, structure, and labels then delivers it in a neat package. This system can also be augmented to check for updates on the sources of that data, such as changes in venue, descriptions, or dates, and send an alert to the event administrator on Plug.events.

Making It Easier

By making the website more user-friendly, organizers and our supporters will be able to add events more quickly and easily. In practice, this means comprehensively reviewing the user experience (UX) of the site through multiple lenses

  • Analytics: Our product analytics tool shows us what people are doing on the site and where they might be having trouble.
  • User Stories: Based upon a set of three personas, we create a list of user stories of the format: A person (who?) wants to do something (what?) because (why?).
  • UX Heuristics: 10 usability heuristics for user interface design by Jakob Nielsen.
  • Graphic Prototyping and User Feedback: We generate clickable prototypes of proposed redesigns or specific steps in the event creation process and test them with real users to capture their feedback.

By using these methods, we created a large list of issues that people were facing when creating an event, this allowed us to design solutions. We tested those solutions with people who were both close to the project and others who had a fresh or more objective perspective.

Many of those solutions are small fixes and updates to text, labels, and descriptions on the site, so that people can understand exactly what is happening and the relevance of each element on the screen. Other changes are entirely new features that streamline the flow using ‘smart’ predictive methods, meaning users don’t have to enter all of the event information manually.

Making It Worthwhile

Lastly, we are also working on a string of new features and benefits that make it more attractive to add events directly to Plug, including:

  • Features that will increase the number of users finding events through Plug.
    • A simplified version of the website presenting the information in a short, digestible calendar format.
    • More ways to access our event information from the applications people already use.
    • Easier sharing tools that present event content in image formats that are more suited for social media.
    • Better event suggestions and notifications.
  • Event embedding so that organizers can post once on Plug and publish to multiple places.
  • Subscription management so that our partners have another income stream and allowing their core community to actively support and engage with them.

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The chicken-and-egg dilemma is a pervasive issue for startups, but we have learned that it can be overcome by curating information that ‘buyers’ are looking for. The strategy remains the same, but the tactics depend on the context, and here are ours:

  • Curating large numbers of events ourselves using modern web scraping techniques and machine learning,
  • Improving the site usability to make it easier and quicker to post events directly on Plug,
  • Adding features that make publishing on Plug worth the effort for organizers.

This, we believe, will increase user engagement and eventually allow organic growth to take over.