Manuel Brandt

Book Notes: Traction

Notes after reading the book “Traction: How Any Startup Can Achieve Explosive Customer Growth“. The alternative version of the books is “Traction: A Startup Guide to Getting Customers“.

I recently read a book from the DuckDuckGo Founder & CEO Gabriel Weinberg about how successful startups achieve customer growth, called “Traction” in the book.

📖 “The only essential thing is growth. Everything else we associate with startups follows from growth.”

Traction channels are “marketing and distribution channels through which your startup can get traction: customer growth.” Until you start testing channels, it’s difficult to tell which channel is the best one for you right now.

What’s the Bullseye Method? 🎯

A framework for this testing of traction channels is the “Bullseye Method”. It’s a 4-step process to identify the best channel and grow fast once you found it.

First, some general notes from the book about traction:

  • It’s very likely that one marketing channel is the best for you at any time, i.e., outperforms all other possible channels.
  • Poor distribution, not the product, is the number one cause of startups failing.
  • All successful startups have one channel that makes most (80%+) of their new customer growth. They put all they can into that channel until it’s saturated and then repeat the bullseye method.

The 4 Steps To Find Your Traction Channel 📈

1 – The Outer Ring: What’s Possible

  • First, you brainstorm every single possible traction channel.
  • You should think of at least one execution idea for every channel.
  • It’s important to be fully open to all channels. We usually have some channels we don’t even consider, like public speaking because it’s uncomfortable. However, you have to be better than your competition, who is also not open enough. Being open will bring you a competitive advantage.

2 – The Middle Ring: What’s Probable

  • The second step is running cheap traction tests in the channels that seem most promising.
  • You can talk to founders a few steps ahead of you in a similar niche to get help on picking the channels to test.
  • You can and should run multiple tests at the same time.
  • When testing, you are not trying to get a lot of traction in a channel just yet. You are simply trying to determine if it has potential.
  • You need to focus on speed and getting data from your tests.
  • A test in this phase should typically only take one month and cost ~$1000.
    • The book doesn’t talk about it, but I can say that some tests require a higher budget, i.e., newsletters or influencer marketing. Still, the lesson is to be fast and go in with a low budget!
Screenshot from the book of an example of what this testing could look like.

3 – The Inner Ring: What’s Working

  • Focus exclusively on the channel that works best and that will move the needle.
  • It’s important to ask if a channel will really “move the needle”. Asking your friends and family might work to get first customers fast and cheap; however, it’s not scalable.
  • The insight that successful startups have one channel that makes most (80%+) of their new customer growth is key here. You want to pick the channel that will have the best results and focus all your work and budget on it. This will result in the fastest growth.
  • Picking the channel is not enough. You have to optimize your chosen channel to make it the most efficient it can be. Focus your team and financial resources on that instead of running multiple channels.

4 – The End of Your Channel

  • Over time, all marketing strategies become saturated.
  • If that happens to you, you need to pivot and find a new channel.
  • To achieve this, repeat the bullseye method.

Conclusion 👨‍💻

The “Bullseye Method” is not a secret technique. It’s how you find your right channel to grow, and most of it is obvious. However, it helps to have a clear framework like this, plus it does come with a few significant insights.

The best insight is that most successful startups have one channel that brings them most of their growth. One channel will always perform best, and you’ll get the best growth results by putting all your budget into that channel. Also, if you focus on one channel, you can optimize it better because you also focus the resources of the team on it.

However, that also means that you’re highly dependent on one channel, which is a risk. In my opinion, you should try to therefore work on different strategies next to and inside that channel. Let’s say the channel is paid ads, then you should try Facebook Ads, LinkedIn Ads, and Google Ads for example inside that channel, plus have some budget for SEO and outreaches for example.

If there’s a change to Facebook, and it doesn’t perform, you could switch to Google Ads for a while, and consider if it’s time to pivot. Even though you currently don’t run Google Ads, but you tested them before and discontinued because Facebook was better, you can come back to that old test and pick it up again. If those are not interesting, you still have some channels that you at least started to work on.

Also, I think a strategy like this works best in B2C. Scalable marketing for a B2B software product like Blogtec is all about making people aware of you and staying in their head by keep being shown to them, e.g. through retargeting ads. In the end, all you want is to be top of their mind at the moment they need your product. Using multiple channels, helps to do that.

So, while the framework and the idea of focusing on the channel that brings the best results is great, I would add to only focus max ~80% of your efforts on that channel, and also inside that channel never get dependent on just one part.

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