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My Highlights

Traction is a sign that your company is taking off.

Traction is basically quantitative evidence of customer demand. So if you’re in enterprise software, [initial traction] may be two or three early customers who are paying a bit; if you’re in consumer software the bar might be as high as hundreds of thousands of users.

…startups get traction through nineteen different channels.

…traction channels…are marketing and distribution channels though which your startup can get traction: real customer growth.

…often the most underutilized channels in an industry are the most promising ones.

…the nineteen traction channels…

Targeting Blogs
Popular startups like Codecademy, Mint, and reddit all got their start by targeting blogs.

Publicity is the art of getting your name out there via traditional media outlets like newspapers, magazines, and TV.

Unconventional PR
Unconventional PR involves doing something exceptional like publicity stunts to draw media attention.

Search Engine Marketing
Search engine marketing (SEM) allows companies to advertise to consumers searching on Google and other search engines.

Social and Display Ads
Ads on popular sites like reddit, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and hundreds of other niche sites can be a powerful and scalable way to reach new customers.

Offline Ads
Offline ads include TV spots, radio commercials, billboards, infomercials, newspaper and magazine ads, as well as flyers and other local advertisements.

Search Engine Optimization
Search engine optimization (SEO) is the process of making sure your Web site shows up for key search results.

Content Marketing
Many startups have blogs. However, most don’t use their blogs to get traction.

Email Marketing
Email marketing is one of the best ways to convert prospects while retaining and monetizing existing customers.

Engineering as Marketing
Using engineering resources to acquire customers is a significantly underutilized way to get traction.

Viral Marketing
Viral marketing consists of growing your customer base by encouraging your customers to refer other customers.

Business Development
Business development (BD) is the process of creating strategic relationships that benefit both your startup and your partner.

Sales is focused primarily on creating processes to directly exchange product for dollars.

Affiliate Programs
Companies like HostGator, GoDaddy, and Sprout Social have robust affiliate programs that have allowed them to reach hundreds of thousands of customers in a cost-effective way.

Existing Platforms
Focusing on existing platforms means focusing your growth efforts on a mega platform like Facebook, Twitter, or the App Store, and getting some of their hundreds of millions of user to use your product.

Trade Shows
Trade shows are a chance for companies in specific industries to show off their latest products.

Offline Events
Sponsoring or running offline events—from small meetups to large conferences—can be a primary way to get traction.

Speaking Engagements

Community Building
Companies like Wikipedia and Stack Exchange have grown by forming passionate communities around their products.

What failed startups don’t have is enough customers.

…spend your time constructing your product or service and testing traction channels in parallel.

Traction and product development are of equal importance and should each get about half of your attention. This is what we call the 50 percent rule: spend 50 percent of your time on product and 50 percent on traction.

…if you focus on traction from the beginning, then you can figure out very quickly if you’re on the right track.

…splitting your time evenly between product and traction will certainly slow down product development. However, it counterintuitively won’t slow the tie to get your product successfully to market. In fact, it will speed it up! That’s because pursuing product development and traction in parallel has a couple of key benefits.

First, it helps you build the right product because you can incorporate knowledge from your traction efforts.

The second key benefit to parallel product and traction development is that you get to experiment and test different traction channels before you launch anything.

When you constantly test traction channels by sending through a steady stream of new customers, you can tell if your product is getting less leaky over time, which it should be if your product development strategy is sound. In fact this is a great feedback loop between traction development and product development that you can use to make sure you’re on the right track.

…startups take off because the founders make them take off…The most common unscalable thing founders have to do at the start is to recruit users manually. Nearly all startups have too. You can’t wait for users to come to you. You have to go out and get them.

Put half your efforts into getting traction. Pursue traction and product development in parallel, and spend equal time on both. Think of your product as a leaky bucket. Your early traction efforts are pointing you toward the holes worth plugging.

Set your growth goals. Focus on strategies and tactics that can plausibly move the needle for your company. Get some hard numbers.

Learn what growth numbers potential investors respect. How much traction is needed for investors is a moving target, but a sustainable customer growth rate is hard for investors to ignore. Potential investors who understand your business are likely to appreciate your traction and thus invest earlier. Traction trumps everything.

Find your bright spots. If you’re not seeing the traction you want, look for bright spots in your customer base, pockets of customers who are truly engaged with your product. See if you can figure out why it works for them and if you can expand from that base. If there are no bright spots, it may be a good time to pivot.

Work through Bullseye. Maximize your chances of getting traction: brainstorm, prioritize, test, and then focus. Do not overlook underutilized channels. In face, those channels are more likely to be the ones that will work best.

Talk to founders a few steps ahead of you. Research how past and present companies in your space and adjacent spaces succeeded or failed at getting traction. The easiest way to do this is to go talk to startup founders who previously failed at what you’re trying to do.

Hold on to your other channel ideas. Compile your brainstorming ideas for each traction channel in a spreadsheet with educated guesses that you can confirm through testing. Even after you’ve chosen your core channel, you should keep these ideas around for future runs of Bullseye.

Look for customers where other aren’t looking. Keep a lookout for the cutting-edge tactics that haven’t yet succumbed to the Law of Shitty Click-Throughs. Run cheap tests to quickly validate assumptions and test new ideas.

Constantly optimize. You should consistently run A/B tests in your efforts to optimize a traction channel strategy.

Keep it numerical. Look for ways to quantify your marketing efforts, especially when deciding which traction strategies to pursue and comparing them…

Lay out your milestones. Determine your traction goal and define you Critical Path against that goal, working backward and enumerating the absolutely necessary milestones you need to achieve to get there.

Stay on the Critical Path. Assess every activity you do against your Critical Path and consistently reassess it. Building such assessment into your management processes is a good idea. Quantify traction subgoals and put them on a calendar so you can properly monitor your progress over time.

Actively work to overcome your traction channel issues. Being on the cutting edge of the right traction channel can make a huge difference in success. Which traction channels do you know most about? Which traction channels do you know least about?

Run tests on a variety of smaller blogs. See what type of audience resonates best with your product and messaging.

Sponsor small blogs, especially personal blogs. Providing influential bloggers early access or offering early access in exchange for spreading the word are other effective strategies.

Offer something unique to your best targets. Build a special offer just for them and put together a draft guest post that they can run with.

Focus on the right smaller sites. Press stories often “filter up,” meaning major news outlets are often looking to major blogs for story ideas, which in turn are looking at smaller blogs and forums.

Build real relationships with the specific reporters covering your startup’s market. Read what they write, comment, offer them industry expertise, and follow them on Twitter.

Have newsworthy milestones to share. Contact reporters only when you can package your milestones into a compelling emotional story. When you do make a pitch, keep it short…

Do something big, cheap, fun, and original. A publicity stunt is anything that is engineered to generate a large amount of media coverage. Publicity stunts need to be creative and extraordinary to succeed.

Be awesome to your customers and good things follow. Common ways to do customer appreciation well are through gifts, contests, and amazing customer support.

Prepare for failure. Success in this channel is unpredictable. You should have a defined process for brainstorming and selecting ideas, but also understand that not every idea will work.

Contact small sites directly for display ads. Ask them to run your ads for a small fee.

Use social ads to build awareness of products and create demand.

Create compelling social content.

Personalize your email marketing messages.

Build an email list of prospective customers whether you end up focusing on this traction channel or not.

Set up a series of automated emails.

Use online tools to test and optimize email campaigns.

Build a viral loop into the product. There are several types of viral loops, including word of mouth, inherent, collaborative, communicative, incentives, embedded, and social.

Shorten viral cycle time. The shorter this time, the more loops will occur and the faster you will grow.

Look for viral pockets.

Test using an existing affiliate network.

Keep your payouts simple.

The next place you should look for more affiliates is your customers.

Cultivate and empower evangelists.

Set high standards from the start.

Bootstrap off an existing audience.

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