Cover image for How to Grow a Multi-Sided Platform: Start with Single Player Mode
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How to Grow a Multi-Sided Platform: Start with Single Player Mode

ben profile image Ben Halpern ・2 min read

I got this question in a DM and felt like answering it more broadly. Obviously by founding DEV, I have some ideas on this topic.

It started by focusing hard on "single player mode".

The platform sort of grew from me delivering content and seeing if it would get it shared around social media, etc. This pre-dates even having the dev.to website.

I started the website by interviewing popular developers, like this post:

Here's a trick: People are pretty willing to say yes to being interviewed if you make it easy for them.

Gradually I added more "networky" kind of functionality, but only as it made sense for the number of daily users. There was no sense in having too much functionality early on besides my own blogging, but I just added one thing at a time. This takes a long time even in the best case scenario, so this had to be a solo project until it started looking promising.

I then found @jess and then @peter to co-found the company when it looked like that was actually a pretty good idea, but this was more than two years from its inception. This was also an element of evolution. These two brought in very different, complementary skills into the venture. Whenever we have the opportunity to expand, we look for people who bring in new perspectives and skills.

From there we followed our nose for interesting ways to make the platform more appealing for more people. But it was all with the feeling that it's hard enough to even get your friends and family to actually use things you've built. It's hard to change people's habits, so you have to be truly committed to observing how people react to things, having empathy for different use cases and committing a lot of time to the project.

Anyway, that is what worked for us. I think each situation has different opportunities, but the idea of starting with somewhat "single player mode" and evolving as needed seems like a repeatable pattern in general. DEV is a multi-sided marketplace for ideas which started as a one way flow. Any marketplace could have a similar dynamic.

Happy coding!

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Ben Halpern


A Canadian software developer who thinks he’s funny. He/Him.

The DEV Team

The team behind this very platform. 😄


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I'm starting an ssh chat nowadays, hope you guys ready to experience and try it out. Meanwhile it runs only locally, but I'm almost done setting up the server. :) You're all invited!


Sounds cool, let us know if it is ready to try 😉


Hi it's ready!!!!!!!!!
Come overhere :D

ssh chat:@


Cool stay tuned! In the next few days the final stage will be over and I'll share you guys the command line on how to connect to from every computer/shell/terminal.

Sounds cool. What dev stack and are you open sourcing it?

Yes it will become open source. You will connect through ssh with a single command line, no ssh key/ssh gen, single line, you will recieve a gui written in Perl Curses library and you will chat with me and everybody else whereas there's also a tiny Python web server for security reasons that writes down the messages you send me to the server :)

Cool! Look forward to seeing it!

Stay tuned, I'll let you know even perhaps in this very comments thread at the first days.


This is honestly the exact way it is done if you are going to do it yourself initially. If you have lower resources but lots of willpower & a very strong work ethic. You will sacrifice almost every hour of life to reading, learning, moderating, creating, answering, analyzing etc.

In return you will have something of value or something people want to invest in that is very low risk (you can then keep more equity/control which matters long term). Most startups fail, but investing in devto rn is low risk because the risky parts are working (mostly).

It's generally better to learn this way than raise for a shiny new idea, never tested unless you have the correct experience/funding.

Notice the patience to wait for solid numbers before making moves.


Yes, definitely.

Given the track record I'm pretty confident somebody would throw money at a new thing I was doing if I ever go off and do a new thing. I'd be curious to see whether it's a road I'd even be interested in venturing down if the opportunity presented itself. Hard to put myself in those shoes without literally being presented with the scenario.

As it stands now for DEV, we just take each next step as an opportunity to choose to do what's ultimately right for the community and the company which shifts a bit from opportunity to opportunity.


Yes. You could raise well already from the serious ones based off current performance. 😳

People raise on much less experience & skill. It's not needed if you can do the early work (code, content, traction).

Money is control in these kinds of scenarios (it's clear you could repeat what is happening here, regardless of raise). MZ can do what he wants with FB due to early retention (look at fb cap table or whatever).

For dev, communities tend to run naturally in cycles a bit like product. The concerns become non-technical usually: "I remember the old days when Ben & team would answer & say nice things but nowadays you only see them on a yacht on IG & Ive been banned on DEV 3mths for calling it an ice-cream horse!!". It's more often mismanagement + some competitor pressure (medium?) not technical issues or missing features. Usually, those issues were always there underneath the whole time. The great digg > reddit migration was mostly that (the v4 redesign didn't help). Look at what happened to other big communities to determine the fate of yours, there are a bunch of cases.

Fb is an example of how to extend lifecycle (know existing ageing audience, capture new ones by being well monetized to take competitors, pivot whole org etc).

trends.google.com/trends/explore?d... product lifecycle.
trends.google.com/trends/explore?d... when you drill down.
trends.google.com/trends/explore?d... devto is pre Aug 08 here it seems (in the cycle, not scale).
trends.google.com/trends/explore?d... you can just see it lifting at the end.
trends.google.com/trends/explore?d... + power marketing
trends.google.com/trends/explore?d... saturating what's next?

Everything like goo & craigslist followed this adhoc style to some degree as people were making things up as they went (Apple being a key exception).

Arriving in tech today seems way more intimidating than watching the useless nonsense as it turned into 'industry standard' ways of doing things. To anyone new reading this, free up 18mths (ramen startup), copy Ben's technique of rolling start & be fearless. 👍

Start soon as change is underway. 😊

Very self-aware! I think a lot of people go through a similar journey, but I think with less general intentionality. I think there's a lot of repeat exposure learning with our platform.

Knowing that so much of our community's content is distributed broadly to the greater web, we can trust that you'll probably stumble on the platform a few times before it starts to click, and we're okay with that. We could probably speed up the conversion cycle by being more in your face with our messaging to sign up, or by restricting content in some way, but that would be incredibly counter to what we're about.

So we've sort of settled on just going with the flow, creating gentle nudges to get more involved without interfering with the main purpose of just letting people read useful content. And then we allow the chaos of "word of mouth" do do its part. Someone might share a post in their team's Slack and someone else might say "oh what's this dev.to thing all about anyway" and there is some possible aha moments there—but we try not to over-manufacture this kind of behavior. If we stick to delivering value, we grow.


We're still there in some ways.

We still have a long way to go, but it's funny how no amount of progress can convince some people that your thing is useful. Skepticism is basically a law of the universe. 😄

But we've always just embraced skepticism as a very healthy reaction. People should be skeptical about new things to a pretty decent extent. It takes a long time for things to really get to the point of delivering value and a lot of people give up and shut a project down before they get to that point.

We also have the issue where some folks probably remember old, crappier versions of our platform as what the platform is all about. It's almost better if they forget they ever created an account.


@ben , great post and I love how engaged you are with the DEV community :)
This reminds me of cdixon.org/2015/01/31/come-for-the...
Ideas for "single player mode" that have worked / could work today? I'm focused on product / marketing / growth content and want to create a community like you have for DEV.


I thought this was going to be a post about videos games.
Though to speak about building video games, build with multiplayer in mind first because it will force you to make your game deterministic which will save you a huge re-write.

When I was building Swap-N-Pop (Tetris attack clone) so many other people tried making clones as well and they stopped when the found out that their game was non-deterministic and they'd have to overhaul their game to achieve their goals (community multiplayer game).

Also, write test code on day one this will help you hold less state making debugging easier as well.


@ben great post. I love the fact that post on DEV does well on google.

Recalling, from this line:

Here's a trick: People are pretty willing to say yes to being interviewed if you make it easy for them.

How does one make it easier? I find it difficult to interview someone I have no previous connection with.


This is very similar to the concept of developing something based on a personal need. Once you've developed something that solves your personal needs and does it well, then you can release it to others who may also have a similar need. Taylor Otwell does this constantly with his projects, and it's how Laravel became what it is today.


Great insight, thanks for sharing. I've been following Nick and Ernesto at switcherstudio.com and their ride. So good to see things get up.