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Most startups don’t fail because they can’t build a product. Most startups fail because they can’t get traction. Startup advice tends to be a lot of platitudes repackaged with new buzzwords, but Traction is something else entirely. As Gabriel Weinberg and Justin Mares learned from their own experiences, building a successful company is hard. For every startup that grows to the point where it can go public or be profitably acquired, hundreds of others sputter and die. Smart entrepreneurs know that the key to success isn’t the originality of your offering, the brilliance of your team, or how much money you raise. It’s how consistently you can grow and acquire new customers (or, for a free service, users). That’s called traction, and it makes everything else easier—fund-raising, hiring, press, partnerships, acquisitions. Talk is cheap, but traction is hard evidence that you’re on the right path. Traction will teach you the nineteen channels you can use to build a customer base, and how to pick the right ones for your business. It draws on inter-views with more than forty successful founders, including Jimmy Wales (Wikipedia), Alexis Ohanian (reddit), Paul English (Kayak), and Dharmesh Shah (HubSpot). You’ll learn, for example, how to: ·Find and use offline ads and other channels your competitors probably aren’t using ·Get targeted media coverage that will help you reach more customers ·Boost the effectiveness of your email marketing campaigns by automating staggered sets of prompts and updates ·Improve your search engine rankings and advertising through online tools and research Weinberg and Mares know that there’s no one-size-fits-all solution; every startup faces unique challenges and will benefit from a blend of these nineteen traction channels. They offer a three-step framework (called Bullseye) to figure out which ones will work best for your business. But no matter how you apply them, the lessons and examples in Traction will help you create and sustain the growth your business desperately needs.
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Part 1: How to think about Traction
Part 2: The Nineteen Traction Channels
Table of Contents
All startups have a product. What differentiates the winners from the losers, however, is successful startups generate “traction” – real customer growth and momentum. The pursuit of traction in the marketplace should be the central aim of anyone who is trying to get a startup off the ground.
Generating traction has to be an obsession for startups. Apply five principles:
1 Use Bullseye to start generating traction
2 Always spend 50% of your time on traction
3 Be prepared to pivot on evidence of more traction
4 Watch for channel saturation – it’s coming
5 Always have a traction goal that moves the needle
Principle 1 Use Bullseye to start generating traction
Traction is a sign that your company is taking off and will be able to find enough customers to stay in business. The whole point of a startup is you have to grow quickly. Simply put, to keep the doors open as a startup, you need to generate traction ASAP.
There are at least nineteen different channels you can use to generate traction. Companies have excelled using each and every one of them at different times. However, there will usually be just one or two which will work for you. The best way to find your traction channel is to use the Bullseye Framework:
Note you start Bullseye by visualizing how each of those nineteen channels might work out for you in practice. The criteria you then use in step 2 to narrow your choices down to the best three are:
．Which traction channels look most promising?
．How probable is it that this channel might work?
．What would be the cost to acquire a customer?
．How many customers could you reasonably expect?
．How long would it take to see success?
Once you identify your best three traction channels, you then start running some tests for each of those channels. You do this in parallel rather than sequentially so you can get answers quickly. As you run those tests, keep track of:
．How much it costs you to acquire a customer.
．How many customers that channel could generate.
．Whether the customers you get are a good fit.
Most of the time, one of the three channels you test will end up shining for you. When that happens, you then focus all your resources and efforts on optimizing that channel. You keep running experiments in that traction channel to uncover effective tactics and scale them.
“It is very likely that one channel is optimal. Most businesses actually get zero distribution channels to work. Poor distribution—not product—is the number one cause of failure. If you can get even a single distribution channel to work, you have great business. If you try for several but don’t nail one, you’re finished. So it’s worth thinking really hard about finding the single best distribution channel.” — Peter Thiel, founder, PayPal
“Being newly founded does not in itself make a company a startup. Nor is it necessary for a startup to work on technology, or take venture funding, or have some sort of ‘exit. ’ The only essential thing is growth. Everything else we associate with startups follows from growth.” — Paul Graham, founder, Y Combinator
Principle 2 Always spend 50% of your time on traction
Traction is so important to the survival of a startup that fully 50% of your time should be allocated to generating traction. You can spend the other half of your time working on your product. This “50% Rule” has several important advantages:
1 You’ll actually end up building a better product because you will be able to incorporate knowledge from your traction efforts into your product development. Feedback from early customers will help you get more customers in the future.
2 By working on traction and product develop- ment in parallel, you will be experimenting and testing different traction channels before you launch. This gives you a head-start so when your product is ready, you can grow rapidly.
3 Bullseye is a lean approach to marketing. You run some cheap experiments and then expand what works and drop what does not.
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