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Episode #37 – Connor Finlayson - Building Marketplaces
October 15, 2020
Podcast

Episode #37 – Connor Finlayson - Building Marketplaces

Connor Finlayson is the founder of Unicorn Factory, a no-code marketplace that connects businesses in New Zealand businesses to local freelancers.

In this episode, Ben and Connor discuss:

  • Why Connor uses Airtable
  • Building a custom approval system for his marketplace
  • Connor's thoughts on Zapier and Memberstack (among other tools he uses)

Building marketplaces with Connor Finlayson Podcast-MP3 for ... Tue, 9/29 3:42PM • 35:29

SUMMARY KEYWORDS zapier, freelancers, table, workflow, messaged, works, build, parabola, automate, platform, flow, filter, people, update, factory, record, web, marketplace, tools, stack

SPEAKERS Connor Finlayson, Ben Tossell

Ben Tossell 00:00 Hey everybody, it's Ben here, founder of make fat, a platform teaching individuals and companies how to build custom software workflows and tools without writing code. This show explores the people behind the no code tools and the stories of folks using them to automate work and launch companies. For those of you don't know Connor runs a freelancers marketplace is all built without code. And I met him do a lot of mini intro himself, but he's gonna walk in walk us through some of the setup that he's done. And we can just sort of get some questions asked, if you want to put them in the Questions tab, we can try and like batch them. So it's not so stop and start. But yeah, I'll have little Connor and take away

Connor Finlayson 00:42 Hi, my name is Connor, I started a freelancing marketplace called unicorn factory. I started about I say a few years ago before it is before it kind of turned into what it is now was kind of just like a referral service. But I have friends where I would just refer work to them. And then I kind of stumbled into the web flow world and I kind of figured that I'm building out a bit of a platform would be a real good way to get additional work, you get more referral revenue. And overtime, it just kind of evolved into basically just a bunch of landing pages for different freelancers. And yeah, after that, I discovered Zapier so I managed to automate a lot of the processes that I was doing manually at the time. And yeah, now I, it's kind of evolved into what it is. Now we have over 300, freelancers and museum. And yeah, I basically just get them lates. The whole platform is built using no code tools, I use web flow for the front end, ie a table for the database Zapier to automate everything I use parabola to do a lot of the data synching between all the different platforms and member stack for payments and gating content. But yeah, I think that's like, it's like a bit of an intro. I think a lot of people might have seen my video on that I did on how to build a marketplace without code. So I think this chat here is kind of going to be a little bit of a, like a continuance of that awesome.

Ben Tossell 02:20 Yeah. So gentle, walk us through like the basic setup of how it's like, how it's put together, and what does what.

Connor Finlayson 02:27 So I'll just share my screen, I think that would probably the easiest code. So yeah, it's real simple. It's just a directory here, the entire front end is built in workflow. We've got a bunch of freelancers on here, each Freelancer has a profile page with a bit of an About section case studies that they can add skills, they can add their rates, kind of a bit of a similar setup to something like dribble or something like that. Yeah, the way it works is business can basically jump on to a profile page, fill out the contact form. And basically, what I do is I use Zapier to basically forward emails. So I think there are a few things that I can probably show, um, the first step is the signup process. So what I have done here is I use member stack to basically sign up users and give them access to the user dashboard that I have created. And basically, this is what the user dashboard looks like. There are basically a series of community jobs that freelancers can apply to. And yeah, so the way that it works is all this part here is all hidden the member stack,

03:41 there is also

Connor Finlayson 03:42 have like additional rights, which shows them like a whole bunch of additional things there, I'm gonna log into my account in a second, so you can see what it looks like. But the first step of the entire process is that they can apply to join. And the way that that works is they just jump into a table and fill out a form

Ben Tossell 03:59 that

Connor Finlayson 03:59 basically it's everything that I require in order for them to have basically in order for them to create a profile for them. So it's a pretty simple, straightforward process. As soon as a user submits all of this, I send them a confirmation email if I approve your profile. And then what they can do is they can just get they basically verify the account, they basically get access to the user dashboard. So I'll just show you what it looks like on my account.

04:24 But quick question, why did

Ben Tossell 04:25 why did you? Why are you using air table form instead of a web flow form to sign up?

Connor Finlayson 04:30 The main reason why use air table is because I use multiple platforms, I use web flow air table, I also have like mailing I use mailer light to do a bit of email automation. And basically what I The reason why I use air table is because it's easier for me to sync data between all the different platforms from there. Now in theory, you could use the web flow CMS to store all the data but I just kind of find it a was a lot more visually pleasing. So the main thing that I love about your table is that you have filter views, which basically says things like if I approve a freelancer that moves them into a special view, which then triggers all the automation in Zapier. Now, that is not possible in, say webflow. Or maybe it is possible, but it'd be really difficult to keep an overview of what's going on. So your table is just has the functionality that I need to trigger a lot of the things in Zapier that allow me to automate a majority of my processes, does them?

Ben Tossell 05:34 Yeah, so just sort of taken out, take one thing out of it, and just keep it straight with air table.

Connor Finlayson 05:38 Yeah. So I honestly think that if anyone is like working on building a marketplace, or directory of some sort, using air table is kind of like the place to like to store all the data, it's just the best way to go. Because just the fact that you can filter things out. And the zeca integration here table has as well allows you to trigger a whole bunch of actions based on people being moved into different views. And that is like, something that I don't think any other tool can do at the moment. So yeah, it's second to none. I think your table like I don't think I could really run the unicorn factory or automate it to the extent that I have if it wasn't for your table. Alright, so so just keep going in like,

Ben Tossell 06:24 is there? Can we not see the can we not get into the air table, then what can we bid on a project on unicorn factory was just direct messaging to person.

Connor Finlayson 06:34 Okay, so the way that the the way that this part works is that you, I just make introductions to clients. So a client will submit a project through the community brief page. And what I do is it just creates a project brief like this, and it has the budget levels, how many interests have been made, what skills are required, and if they want to have an introduction to this particular client, or they need to do is just click on this button here, hit the submit button. And what that does is trigger automation to let me know that they want to be introduced to a client. So there's no bidding as such. But this is a feature that's only available to users who have a premium account. And I charge $25 a month for that, or $99 a year. So that's kind of just like one of the added features that I give us a nice, yeah, I

Ben Tossell 07:27 didn't know that. This is just a demo. This is like a, like an explanation of how Conor built his own marketplace. So sort of an inspiration to show how you can build your own marketplace with sort of automatic messaging. And you can use this for various different things. So yeah, it's more of a demo workshop.

Connor Finlayson 07:47 So this here is basically everything. In the uniform factory, I have like a bunch of tabs, ones for freelances. So unfortunately, I can't show you everyone's details on me because I've got people's email addresses in there, and so on. So I'll just make a pet those of you here in this case, I only got my details in there, because I don't mind if you have my email address. But basically what this is, is a view that I have for all the different freelancers. And within. So basically, what I have here is I have things like current statuses, locations. And so with these drop downs, what I do is I basically use this to trigger different types of actions. So we now have Freelancer signs up, they automatically get their member stack with just the tag. And what that does is it moves them into a view that triggers like an email sequence. Then, when I've stopped reviewing the application before the information that they filled out, which gets sent to here as the profile picture, all that kind of stuff. Again, they get like a bit of a notification saying, Hey, your reviews currently in your applications currently in review. And basically, I use those statuses and those dropdowns to basically create a filter view that views that trigger certain types of actions in Zapier. And so right now, yeah, this is kind of how it's set up. I think the most important thing to consider is when all of this information is seemed to say with flow, you need certain things like the workflow, the workflow membership, item ID, so all of that information is stored in here. So this for example, here is the individual skills that someone can add to their profile. So that's things like Facebook marketing, SEO, web flow, all those types of things. Each of those skills has their own item in a workflow collection called skills. And each of those items has a workflow ID attached to it. So what I do here is I basically create a list of all the workflow ID comma separated workflow IDs that a user has that will be attached to your protocol so that then when the automation starts, I can automatically add all of that. I think there's a video on I think being made a video on how you can use custom requests and Zapier to basically send multi reference items to a, for example, my case, a profile, that is probably one of the most requested questions I have. That's how you can automate that part of the process. So yeah, this is basically the setup, the kind of stores everything that you need to know in order to send data to workflow and all the other platforms that I use. Then I also have a client dashboard. Those are basically all the clients who have made inquiries again, I filtered out only myself. And basically, you can see how many inquiries a client has made. I use this and I use this particular section to send them to custom audiences and workflow. That's something that you can do through Zapier so that you can then run ads targeted specifically at people who have hired freelancers through the Marketplace. Then I also have a messages tab, which basically is all the inquiries that freelancers get. Now a quick note about the messages tab. There was a period where we had a lot of people come to the Unicom factory, and basically spam freelancers. So what I did was I built a approval system, where an inquiring would come in like this, and I need to manually approve it before the email is forwarded on to a sub one of the freelances. This is something that I highly recommend doing on you. Because as your platform grows, standards and evitable, I never thought it would happen to me, but it did. And it happens a lot. So having like an approval system like this allows you to make sure that you don't spam, freelancers, or whoever, like is your customer on your website. Yeah.

Ben Tossell 12:34 Yeah, we had the same thing where we had like a marketplace like this, then a ton of some will just send like 50 messages, all the same spamming. So we had the approval system the same as this with the checkmark before it, like starts a automation. Um, one question, I just want to remember what the what the record ID formula was, someone just asked about that. And just maybe explain why that's what it is in the messages

Connor Finlayson 13:05 code. So what the formula really, which is pretty simple. It's just record ID. And so the if not more complicated than that, but the reason I use this is because I this first field here has to be a unique identifier. If you want to update it going forward, say for example you have so Mr. Jones is probably not a great example. But let's go back to freelances. If you do not have a unique ID in the next first column. What will happen when you try to update things or find those particular records is that it won't, it might update or edit the wrong record. So I highly recommend just creating unique identifiers for the primary record is what goes on. And so for freelancers, I give it the email address because obviously if I only have one particular email address, but other than that, I just use record IDs like the unique identifier. And yeah, that's the formula, just record ID. And it will just generate the actual gear table ID that you can then use in Zapier as well. That's pretty much that. Any other questions on like the PVC that I basically use the fee for thing like when a freelancer pays me, the record is stored in there, when a client makes a job submission. It gets stored on there, basically anything and everything that goes through with flow, like go through web flow goes through the platform gets stored in here as like a record. And that just allows me to very easily kind of see what's going on on the platform. I can kind of manually approve things if I have to. And yeah, it's just just a really nice way to keep an overview of like what's going on. The platform as a whole code. So the next thing that I use on that is pretty important is Zapier. So at the moment, I have 32, zaps, that basically power the human contactor. And I'm in my tutorial on how to build a note marketplace without code. I've got three specific examples in there on how you can kind of rebuild some of the key ones. But um, yeah, basically, um, I think one that I think people find interesting is when freelancers update via profile. So I allow freelancers to basically update the pricing, or the rates and all those types of things in their profile. So I'll quickly show you what that page looks like. It's basically all it is. It's a form submission that has a hidden form field with a user's member stack ID so that when they submit the form, I can match it up with the member stack ID in workflow that India tables are so as this particular part here, so what a user can do is they can basically select the experience levels, the rights, the apparent availability, which is really useful if you want to make sure that clients actually managed to get in touch with freelancers who are available, and if they're available to work in house. So what happens here is when they submit that that will automatically update a freelancers profile. So it updates all of these records here. And so the way that I do it, is I use Zapier and I go through the following steps. So step number one is, when a user submits all that information that I just showed on that page, it counts as a form submission with a hidden form field, which is basically the mistake ID. What that does is as soon as that step happens is a person finds that user ID in a table. And this is like the key reason why it's so everything in your table, if you try to do this in straighten web flow, it would be really difficult to like manager and also to keep an eye on what's working, what's not working. But what it does then is when it's an air table, it pulls all the information associated with that particular user, including their workflow item ID for the profile. And then what it does is it updates that isin with all the information that they submitted in the form. So you can obviously two ways that you can update items is the update item action in Zapier and the update live item in Zapier. The update live item basically allows you to automatically you don't need to republish your site, and um, yeah, it's pretty awesome. And then the update item updates it but you need to publish your site before the actions are live on the website. And then from there, I also make sure that the record in your table is updated with the latest submissions for that form. And then I also send myself a notification for slack. So basically, I the way I kind of approached this was I just gone and have a look at like the process logo for manual. And once I figured out what I need to do manually, then it's very easy for me to automate the entire process as a whole. And so I just basically started off with the first thing was automating the process of a freelancer signing up. The second part of the process was automating all the messages that I get synced freelancers, and it's basically just evolved into what this is now, which is 32 Zach's and, yeah, I kind of feel like when you are working on your particular use case, you will kind of figure out after a while, what we're spending most time on. And usually there are ways to automate it in certain ways to improve certain types of processes. So yeah, I highly recommend just breaking it down in steps that you need to take manually. So for example, first I need to do this and I need to do this and I need to do this and then use a tool like Zapier to kind of automate all these processes. Um, so yeah, that's kind of what I have to say about sappy I think anyone who knows that there kind of has like a good idea of how it works. Anyone who hasn't given a try yet? Try it. It's a game changer. It's probably the most expensive note code tool that I use, but it's worth it. It really does like a lot of awesome things. What's your

Ben Tossell 19:54 argument on Zapier versus Integra mat? To

Connor Finlayson 19:57 be completely honest, Sophia, I don't think I've given intake or metaphor ago, I tried it. And the first few words, I kind of don't. Um, I had like a few things I tried to set up and it just didn't work. And it was just too much of a hassle. However, the pricing is real good. So, I don't know, I couldn't consider it in the future. But by the time Integra mat came out, I already had set up like teens that that it was kind of like, it would have been a bit of a motion to like, switch it or? I don't know, I'm open to giving it a go on the future. But I haven't honestly spent enough time on Integra mat, the original node code stack just needs to like remain. Yeah. Um, I don't know. But I'm open to giving it a try. Like I know a lot of people who have used Integra mat and speak very highly of it. Um, I like the Zapier interface, I kind of find that simple enough, the pricing is a bit more than all the other platforms that I use, but also kind of just think about, like, what is the actual cost? And how much time does it actually save me. And in the context of their charging, what they charge is not that bad at all. There's not really much to say about me mistake, like milliseconds been awesome for me, because it's allowed me to monetize the platform. I had the directory as it is now up and running for quite a bit of time, but I was sending people like stripe checkout links, and no one would pay. But now that mistake, yeah, now that means the SEC has come in and really like streamline that process of like hiding content from people. And also monetizing the platform. And that's been really game changing only because this, like monthly recurring revenue has been brought in like every single month, and I have now got a mock, I can just put all that money straight into marketing. And it's really accelerate the, the rate at which the platform has grown. And I don't think that would be possible without me understand. With that being said, I also think that like Nimbus tech is probably out of all the tools that I'm using right now the most under develop, they're like a whole bunch of features that they could add, that would really make things amazing, but it really is nothing better than member sec out there that I know of, if anyone knows of anything else, let me know. But um, yeah, um, name is really key. And I think now that they've raised money, and they're like building a little bit of a team, they're gonna be adding features that will allow you to take it to the next level. But just to be clear how I use mistake, I only use it for people to sign up and hide content, I don't store any other information in there. I don't store like the, the amount of leads that they get, and all that kind of stuff. It's just simply the email address your first name, last name. And then based on the membership type, I hide access to certain types of pages, I use it for no more than that arrived. So then I've got another tool that I've discovered that has been game changing. And that has been parabola. Now, parabola, okay, I'm still learning my way around parabola. Um, but when I started with parabola, I completely didn't know how it works. So I plan to use the first time and I was like, I don't get it. And I kind of just left that. But then Aaron, made a pretty awesome video on how he imported pageviews from Google Analytics, and basically put that into an air table collection so that he could sort his blog posts based on page views. So what I did was I was kind of I gave him another chance. And now I consider parabola like one of like, the most valuable tools that I have not the most valuable, well, like an incredibly valuable tool for the entire medical sector as a whole. So if anyone doesn't know what it does is, it basically allows you to update big data sets, kind of what Zapier does for individual records, that parabola does feel like huge records. So for example, if you want to make sure that your web flow collection is exactly the same in as in your table, what you'd want to do is you'd want to sync the data with each other. And this is and that's what if you use parabola for it, basically, since everything that some will flow to get a table and yeah, it's incredibly awesome. Um, I recommend checking that out. I made a Moodle video tutorial on how I built this particular ranking system for freelancers. It is slightly more technical because you kind of need to understand how to I Jason buck. Once you've had a pile around, like a few times, and you've traveled in error a bit, then you'll kind of figure out how it works. You'll start to understand how to how to read documentation on like the API documentation pages for the tools that you use. And then from there, you can really do whatever you want.

Ben Tossell 25:22 What's the benefit of having parabola? Do the sink for web Cloner? table? If yours apps have technically already done that?

Connor Finlayson 25:32 Great question, as I'm building more things in Zapier, like you can't do anything retrospectively. So like if you, for example, set something up a workflow, and you, for example, don't have a bunch of if my data is stored somewhere, then you can't use that to retroactively basically zetros data's that data over to say, Good table wherever you need to go. And that is kind of the problem the parabola solves, instead of looking at it as like a one off action, for example, using web hooks. Basically, what this does is it just pulls entire databases. So for me, it was most valuable because it allowed me to retrospectively fix a bunch of things that I hadn't initially set up in sets. So it kind of just makes sure that at any time when you want to continue on, or when you want to build the things that you are basically starting with like a sync database between the two. Yeah, so those are like the main points that I use. Yeah. So just in summary, with flow to the front end, Zapier for like actions to automate actions like when someone submits a form when someone signs up all that kind of stuff, meaning the SEC hide home teams forever to sync data with each other. And yeah, that's pretty much it.

Ben Tossell 27:00 We'll mention that you did. You said jet boost as well.

Connor Finlayson 27:04 Yeah, and Jeepers. So jet boost is honestly, so simple, but so beautiful. It basically, if anyone has tried to build, like a directory in webflow, you've probably come across the MC setup tutorial in in the workflow forums. And basically, the idea behind this is that you can filter things like collection lists, and then mix it up tutorials really awesome. But then Chris, Bill chippers. And basically what it is, is there's a real simple setup, it's kind of like if you sit up in the stack before, then this will be super easy. All you need to do is you can install it all and then what it does is that filters basically your collection list based on the variables that you select. It's awesome. I love and yeah, this is kind of what it does, you can kind of do things like, um, you can search for certain types of skills and filter it all out. And yeah, it's been a game changer, just from like a user experience perspective. As soon as I installed this, the amount of inquiries that we started getting for freelancers, we just got a shot through the roof, just because it was like a lot easier for people to find the right freelancer, especially if it was high for like the location that they were, and all that type of stuff. So Jeepers, easy to set up. And if you're struggling with it is an awesome tutorial in the workflow showcase that basically shows you how a particular Chip Foose chicwish systems set up and you can basically just copy and paste what they have done, and you should get up and running. And also Chris's custom support to spread the word I think I mean, I messaged him like every two days, just with random things. Yeah, his responses he had.

Ben Tossell 29:07 He said he messaged me because we use jet booster mega pads. And one morning, he messaged me a screenshot that somebody had, like, suggested that he messaged me like over his girlfriend because I obviously messaged him that much for Hawk support. So yes, it's been a game changer for us, too. It's been one of the key tools we use.

Connor Finlayson 29:28 Yeah, for sure. I mean, yeah, it's super. And the pricing of it's great as well. I think it's really cheap. And like the amount of time that the amount of time that it saves you or maybe not con but like it's just like the added functionality given the price. It's just such good value. So

Ben Tossell 29:47 yeah, just hail is asked, can't MAC filtering be done directly between air table and web flow? Seems like column filtering on any accelerate table?

Connor Finlayson 29:56 Um, yes. So there would be ways around the so I assume what you're asking is can I, for example, I have like collection pages for people who have certain skills. And filtering on web flow

Ben Tossell 30:11 can only be single filter. But you can't multiple, you can't click, in this case, web flow skills, and we're going to show those results. And if you embedded an air table, you could do, you could do multiple things. But it's a different because this is on the web flow CMS. So this would be actually, because it filters across multiple different collections. That's where it starts getting difficult where you want to be able to say, skills and locations. MIT, sort of.

Connor Finlayson 30:44 Yeah, exactly. Yeah, exactly. So you can't just on the web flow, CMS, you can't have like an SEO Wellington page, even though I think you could, arguably, you could, but it doesn't make sense to me to do it. Because that will mean that some pages have like one person directory. Um, this is just a real cool way to do it. Like if people are like looking to see other people in New Zealand, and they can submit via location like that. It's just as good. Yeah, it just looks great. I think it starts getting weird when you have like, if you have a page where you only have like one particular Freelancer skill, or in this case, like most freelancers. So this is the kind of the moment here,

Ben Tossell 31:29 if you were setting up this marketplace again, today, we just do the exact same stack. And when you build it in the same way, what would you do differently?

Connor Finlayson 31:38 Yeah, I would use the same stack. And I'd go through the same process. Because the cool thing is, is like it's quite easy to like, yeah, just like making perfmon on things. So I actually think where I am now is probably as good as I could get it, given the tools that are out there, and you give it a like at the moment. And so it's very easy to make, like slight adjustments and all that kind of stuff. So I'll definitely do it a lot faster. But I'll use the exact same processes, or do the exact same pose. And yeah, I'm actually gonna be testing that very soon, because I'm going to be building the uniform factory Canada. So I'll be able to give you some updates on how that works.

Ben Tossell 32:19 Yeah, Paul, if you're having an issue with member stack, I just encourage you to reach out to this their support, because they're really quick, say that maybe Pat sent you and they should be quicker. So now how Allison's asked me as a platform for sale.

Connor Finlayson 32:37 So I know the unicorn factory is not for sale. It's my baby. I love it. Yeah, I'm not going to tell you. However, I have just sold. And no code marketplace for hospitals.

32:53 I built the

Connor Finlayson 32:56 hospitals I did with a friend. So it's not like a huge, huge sale, by basically started working on my share the company's thought, um, we basically built something out. And now I'm basically doing like one on one training with them, basically showing him how you can basically turn the hustling company into lightning, like a uniform factory, feature wise. So if anyone wanted to build a marketplace, like the unicorn factory, I can do one on one coaching, I basically walk you through the entire process that I went through, I basically break it down into like three main stages, which is I'll show you how to like build a web flow with more of a focus on like how to structure the CMS rather and how to use web flow as a tool. But if you need help with like, apathy, as well, then I show you basically all the automation. And then I also have, and then I also do like a little bit of paid acquisition, so you can get traction and stuff like that. But, um, if anyone wants against America, we'll I'll just like build your own thing. It's takes time for sure to learn all the tools, but there are heaps of resources out there that allow you to at least get started. And then if you think that, like the unicorn factory has become, it's just like an iteration on a previous version of something. I, I basically only do like a lot of these things, because it would be annoying for me to deal with it manually. So yeah, I'll just kind of give it a practice now. And if you have any issues with Chapman,

Ben Tossell 34:29 perfect, well, yeah, appreciate your work.

Connor Finlayson 34:32 I got to be I basically just I just basically tell you what being tells me.

Ben Tossell 34:38 Well, yeah, I really appreciate you coming on and showing us this and we'll, we'll end the webinar there. And so for any technical issues, but yeah, we've got bear in the end,

Connor Finlayson 34:48 internet museum. It's like we're just on the other side of the world. This takes this takes so much time. Thanks. Thanks for having me. Paint. We were bound to had technical issues one way or the other. So I'm happy we've kind of covered them all. Yeah. But yeah, that was fun. Sweet.

Ben Tossell 35:09 Well, chatting soon juicy time.

35:12 Alrighty,

Ben Tossell 35:14 but thanks so much for listening. You can find us online at maker pad.co or on Twitter at make fat. We'd love to hear if you enjoyed this episode, and what we should do next.

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