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Any business owner will tell you that one of the most difficult parts of sustaining and growing a business is getting people to know that your company exists and keeping customers happy enough that they want to tell others about your product or service.
This is why we took the trouble of summarizing some of the best advice from the book "Traction: How Any Startup Can Achieve Explosive Customer Growth" and compiling it into the free downloadable business starter kit below.
Based on insights from interviews with more than 40 successful startup founders—including Paul English (Kayak), Jimmy Wales (Wikipedia), Dharmesh Shah (HubSpot) and Alexis Ohanian (reddit)—"Traction" will teach you how to:
You can read key concepts from the first 14 chapters in this post or download the entire audio and text book summary (as part of our free business starter kit) below:
It is quantitative evidence that your company is growing rapidly due to customer demand for your product or service.
After interviewing 40 different successful startup founders, Gabriel Weinberg and Justin Mares identified 19 different “traction channels” you can use to obtain rapid growth. While most startups focus only on those they have heard before, the most successful ones leverage a combination of these, especially channels ignored by the competition:
One of the major challenges startups face is having a great product that people love but not getting enough traction. This is why it is important to focus 50% of your time on developing your product and the other 50% on testing different traction channels (The 50 percent rule).
Working on both of these fronts in tandem has several advantages:
To start, you need to first define your traction goal: How many new customers will you gain and at what rate?
To put this into context, think about the three phases of startup growth:
Since startup growth happens irregularly—there will be peaks and valleys along the way—it is best to test all the different traction channels available to you. Once you’ve exhausted one, you can move on to another until you hit the growth spurt you’re looking for.
Begin by reaching out to those who already have real-world experience in your industry and have a clear understanding of what you aim to do.
Investors who can grasp and envision the potential of your product are much more likely to invest in it, even if you still don’t have a lot of traction just yet.
And if you don’t get much of a positive response, remember that even if you have a small amount of clients, a significant and constant rate of increase in the number of customers who engage with your product over time is always a positive sign for investors.
There are many startups who throw in the towel too early. Much of startup success depends on going after the right market at the right time.
To find out if it’s time to pivot, make an honest assessment of whether there is real engagement with your product. Even if there are only a few enthusiastic adopters of your product, the fact that they exist provides a glimmer of hope. Ask yourself: Are they outliers? Or early adopters? If they’re the latter, then you might just be a bit ahead of the market and should wait it out.
Many startups make the mistake of wasting valuable marketing dollars on every distribution strategy they can think of, instead of zeroing in on the one channel that can generate the most ROI for every dollar spent.
The name Bullseye refers to the framework used to identify your single most successful traction channel. The first step to do this is to think of at least one viable idea for each of the 19 traction channels.
One way to identify viable marketing strategies for your specific startup is to do some research into what has worked (and not worked) for other successful companies in your industry that offer similar services or products.
To zero in on your one successful channel, start by experimenting with low-priced traction tests to identify those that have the most potential. The ones that generate the best results can be moved from the outer to the middle ring.
Next, continue your traction experiments with those in the middle ring to determine which channels you should focus on by answering the following questions:
Finally, Weinberg and Mares recommend focusing on the one traction channel that can bring the most growth for your particular startup phase. One you’ve zeroed in on your target, keep experimenting to further optimize your strategy and scale it until it is no longer generating significant growth or costs too much.
According to startup adviser Andrew Chen, “over time, all marketing strategies result in shitty click-through rates.”
Since all successful marketing strategies will eventually become saturated, Weinberg and Mares suggest brainstorming innovative tactics others haven’t tapped into yet for reaching new customers.
To scientifically determine your most effect channels, use online tools such as Optimizely or Unbounce to run A/B tests, which are nothing more than showing one version of a page or post to one half of your audience and another version to the other half.
In order to make decisions based on concrete numbers rather than assumptions, keep track of all your numerical results in a spreadsheet and compare them before deciding on a specific channel strategy.
To ensure that you don’t get off track anywhere along the way, make sure to clearly define a traction goal that is aligned to your business goals. For example, if your goal is growth rather than profitability, then an example of a traction goal could be 100 new users per day.
Once your end goal is defined, you can then work backwards and set specific, quantifiable subgoals, along with milestones or steps needed to get to those subgoals.
In the end, what you have is the Critical Path you should follow to reach your end traction goal. Anything that doesn’t move you further along your Critical Path should be ignored for now.
To make sure you’re making progress, you can incorporate periodic assessment of these goals into your management processes and even plot them out on the same calendar where you have visualized your product development milestones.
One of the ways to exploit underutilized channels is to analyze each of the 19 traction channels mentioned in the first chapter of this book and determine which have been ignored by your team for whatever reason.
Almost all founders have an inherent bias against certain traction channels because they believe they will not be successful, but this is precisely why this tactic can lead you to channels and tactics that are being ignored by your competition.
Start by identifying those traction channels, especially the ones you know least about. Mentors who have had success with these channels can provide advice that can lead you to a cutting-edge channel strategy.
One of the best ways to acquire your first customers is to target blogs read by potential customers.
"The need to do something unscalably laborious to get started is so nearly universal that it might be a good idea to stop thinking of startup ideas as scalars. Instead we should try thinking of them as pairs of what you’re going to build, plus the unscalable thing(s) you’re going to do initially to get the company going."
Getting covered by traditional media sites like The Washington Post or The New York Times can help you not only gain significant traction, but also boost your credibility and reputation in the eyes of your users and followers.
“The news has fundamentally changed. Think of The New York Times. When they decide to publish an article about you, they are doing you a huge favor. Blogs are different, as they can publish an infinite number of articles and every article they publish is a chance for more traffic (which means more money in their pockets). In other words, when Business Insider writes about you, you are doing them the favor.”
One way to garner attention is to experiment with unconventional PR tactics.
“Customer appreciation is a simple way of saying ‘be awesome to your customers.’ The goal is still generating publicity. However, if you fail to get press coverage, you still have happy customers and a stronger, more relatable brand, which significantly increases word-of-mouth effects.”
Buying ads related to keyword searches – these ads come up along with the organic links when a word or phrase is searched for. Payment is made for each click by a user on the ad (pay-per-click).
The genealogy service used AdWords even before building its product to identify the most desirable product features, and then continued with it as the core traction channel to drive customer acquisition.
"Over time, all marketing strategies result in shitty click-through rates."
Social ads involve advertising on sites like Facebook and Twitter, while display advertising is seen across the internet on websites. These are not only great for creating awareness, much like conventional advertising, but can also be used to push sales and drive greater customer engagement.
"Content only goes anywhere if people care about it... With social, it's word of mouth on crack."
This is conventional form of advertising as done via media like TV, radio, magazines, newspapers, billboards and direct mail. The exact form chosen depends on the age of the target demographic, its mindset, etc.
“One thing I learned at Smart Bear is that I have zero ability to predict what’s going to work.”
It involves use of a variety of tools to improve ranking in search engine results. This is one of the main forms of inbound marketing.
“The problem with Uber is that there’s not a lot of search demand for it. I mean nobody searches for “alternatives to taxicabs that I can hire via my phone.” It’s just not a thing. And this is a problem with a lot of startups that are essentially entering a niche where nothing had existed previously. . . . There’s just not search volume.”
You can access the full audio and text summary of the Traction book here, as part of our free business starter kit: