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Book Summary – Traction: How any Startup can Achieve Explosive Customer Growth

Traction - Book summary

Most startups fail because they cannot get enough customers before they run out of money. In Traction: How any Startup can Achieve Explosive Customer Growth, the founder of search engine Duckduckgo, Gabriel Weinberg, shares a fresh way for businesses to think about different phases of growth, with practical tips on how to test and use 19 potential channels to get more customers and achieve massive growth. In this free Traction summary, we’ll briefly outline the concept of traction thinking and the 19 traction channels.

What is Traction?

To succeed a startup must grow quickly. Traction is the measurable evidence of customer demand. Depending on the nature of your business, it could be the number of app downloads, the number of free/paid subscribers, the number of sales transactions etc. It signals that your company is taking off, and makes it easier to attract investors, talents, partners and publicity. The sales and marketing channels through which you acquire customers are your “traction channels”.

Traction Thinking and Frameworks

For any business to succeed, you’ll need to achieve 3 things: a viable product/service, a large enough market, and a way to reach your customers. From the onset, spend 50% of your time on product development and 50% on traction development, use the Bullseye framework to systematically test the channels and find the most promising one, then use the Critical Path framework to focus your limited resources on what matters most. Here’s an overview of the key components of traction thinking. You can get our complete summary bundle for more details.

Traction Book Summary _Traction thinking

The 50% Rule

Startups often spend most their time/resources developing their products; by the time they realize they need to get more customers and try to ramp up their sales/marketing efforts, they’ve run out of money. As you develop your product, you should concurrently test your traction channels, spending 50% of your time on product and 50% on traction. That way, you can get market feedback to refine your product and start building a customer base, so you can grow quickly once your product is ready. A startup is like a leaking bucket, and your role is to gradually plug the holes so the water (investments) you pour in won’t leak out. Learn more about the 3 phases of growth in our complete Traction book summary

The Bullseye Framework

You can’t predict which traction channels will work; the only way is to test them. Bullseye is a framework to help you identify the most optimal channel that your startup should focus on. In the full summary we elaborate on how to work through the 3 rings: to brainstorm what’s possible, then run cheap strategic tests to find the more promising channels, before finding the 1 most promising core channel and mastering it. We also  take a closer look at how to test various strategies, track and optimize your results. After you’ve extracted the most from your current core channel, rerun the Bullseye to find the next best channel.

The Critical Path Framework

One of the key challenges for startups is deciding which opportunities to pursue. The Critical Path shows what’s most essential, so you can focus your limited resources on what truly matters. You’ll need to define what traction means for your business, set a quantifiable traction goal, define the key milestones that are absolutely essential to reaching this goal, then stick strictly to the Critical Path.

The 19 Traction Channels

All of us tend to be biased toward/against certain traction channels, because of what we’re most familiar with, or our personal preferences. The goal of this book is to help you to become familiar with full range of traction channels. That way, you can overcome your biases, and never run out of new ways to get more customers. Here are the 19 traction channels at a glance.

Traction Book Summary _19 traction channels

We’ll now zoom in on 2 of them in more detail. You can get a full overview of the rest from our complete summary bundle.

1. Targeting Blogs

This channel is about targeting blogs and link-sharing communities that feed them (e.g. reddit, Product Hunt, Hacker News). Most blogs are glad to share about great products that benefit their readers and make money in the process.

List down all the possible blogs or link-sharing communities. To find the relevant blogs in your space, use tools such as search engines, YouTube, Delicious, StumbleUpon and Social Mention. You can also ask people what they’re reading online.

Start your tests by contacting a few blogs that represent different customer segments and invite them to write about you. Then, monitor the click-through rates (CTR) and conversions (e.g. the number of signups and customers) per strategy.

Some strategies include:
(i) Sponsoring personal/small blogs. Entice influential bloggers to spread the word and/or place your ad on their blogs in return for early access to your product.
(ii) Creating a special offer for your ideal targets together with a draft guest post that bloggers can use.
(iii) Creating pre-launch waiting lists.
(iv) Offering free bundles for blogs/conferences for early exposure.

2. Publicity or Public Relations (PR)

Conventional publicity channels include newspapers, magazines and other news media. If you have a great story with a broad-based appeal, they’d generally want to write about you, since they make money from ads and want to attract more readers or viewers.

Start with the smaller media sources which “filter up” to larger ones. For example, if you get covered on Hacker News and subreddits, you may get the attention of LifeHacker or TechCrunch, which may then get the attention of the New York Times.

Build relationships with reporters covering your market/niche. Read what they write, follow them on social media, share comments on their articles, and offer them your insights as an industry expert.

Make your story newsworthy. Contact the reporters only when you have a solid story, and keep your pitch short and sweet.
(i) Reporters are usually interested in major milestones or events, e.g. a breakthrough solution or a special industry report. Merge small milestones into a big impactful announcement.
(ii) Craft a compelling narrative that touches people emotionally and makes them want to share it.
(iii) Once you have a solid story, get as much buzz as possible, e.g. submit your story to link-sharing sites, share it on social networks (amplified with social ads), and contact relevant bloggers and influencers who may share or comment on the story.

Getting more from Traction

Ready to gain traction for your business? Learn more about traction thinking and all 19 traction channels in our complete summary bundle including a one-page infographic summary in pdf, an 18-page text summary in pdf, and a 26-min audio summary in mp3 for information on each of the other 17 traction channels.

Traction - book summary bundle

This is a comprehensive and easy-to-read guidebook on marketing, sales and how to get customers. Each of the 19 traction channels are detailed in a separate chapter in the book, with useful background information, examples and practical tips on testing, channel strategies and tactics. This is a useful resource for any startup or business that wants to grow quickly and get more customers. You can purchase the book here.

Wish to learn more about gaining traction and helping your startup to grow? Do also check out this other summary of Gino Wickmans’ Traction: Get a Grip on Your Business. Or, read our Running Lean summary to learn how to ensure your startup is on the right track!

About the Authors of Traction

Traction: How any Startup can Achieve Explosive Customer Growth is written by Gabriel Weinberg and Justin Mares.

Gabriel Weinberg is the founder and CEO of DuckDuckGo—a search engine that allows users to protect their privacy by disabling ads and online tracking. DuckDuckGo had more than three billion searches in 2015. Previously, Weinberg was the cofounder and CEO of Opobox, which was sold for $10 million.

Justin Mares is an entrepreneur, and the cofounder and CEO of Kettle & Fire (which offers the first shelf-stable bone broth). Previously, he co founded CloudFab, which was acquired by Exceptional Cloud Services.

Traction Quotes

“Almost every failed startup has a product. What failed startups don’t have is enough customers.”

“Often the most underutilized channels in an industry are the most promising ones.”

“You can get a competitive advantage by acquiring customers in ways your competitor isn’t.”

“Always consider your traction efforts in terms of whether they are moving the needle for your traction goal.”

“Your traction strategy should always be focused on …marketing activities that result in a measurable, significant impact on your traction goal.”

Click here to download Traction book summary and infographic

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