In a few days, Gabriel Weinberg's new book Traction: A Startup Guide to Getting Customers will be released. I was lucky enough to receive a pre-release copy of it, and for the most part all I can say is that it was an excellent book. The core of the book is embodied in the blurb:

Most startups end in failure. Almost every failed startup has a product. What failed startups don't have is traction -- real customer growth.

The premise of the book is very simple. Your startup will die unless it gets customers. As a result, you must focus the bulk of your early efforts on getting customers. Building a cool product is also great, but far more startups have died due to a lack of customers than due to a lack of a cool product. If you are a techie reading my blog, there is a very good chance that you've already been there and done that - I certainly have.

There are several takeaways from the book, which I'll sketch out here.

Traction is everyone's job

Many startups split the labor early, having a techie and a marketer. Weinberg advocates having two roles - 50% tech/50% marketing, and also a business side. The reason is that tech and marketing are not really distinct activities at the early stage - 100% of efforts need to be devoted to getting customers.

This can take many forms. Examples include AirBnb, who created the illusion of a real market by renting out their own homes. Many companies require a lot of personal sales, and there is no reason the tech side should not be involved in such sales (and very good reasons they should not be insulated from them).

As anyone who has ever read my blog probably knows, I'm solidly a techie. But this is one lesson from the book I've taken 100% to heart.

Systematically explore and exploit your traction channels

A traction channel is a strategy and methodology for getting customers. Weinberg lists many of the more common and uncommon ones in the book, including SEO, SEM/PPC, spam, billboards, publicity stunts and the like. The list of channels is quite complete, though many of them will be inapplicable to most startups.

Far more interesting than the list of traction channels is the "Bullseye Framework" which is a buzzword for systematically exploring and exploiting your traction channels. Basically, it consists of working through Weinberg's list of traction channels and choosing the 3 which you believe to be the most likely to succeed. Once this list is chosen, test the 3 channels in turn. Come up with criteria for success, if the channel meets that criteria continue exploiting it, otherwise move on and try the next. Finally, repeat this process as you grow.

That last step is important because traction channel A might be a reliable way of getting 100 customers/month, whereas channel B might be a reliable way of virally growing by 1%/month. When you have 0 customers, channel A is the best - 100 > 1% x 0. Once you have 10,001 customers, channel B is superior - 100 < 1% x 10,001.

Recommendation: go read it

At some point I recommended the Traction Book to a friend of mine, Jared Ranere at Brief. Go sign up for Brief if you deal with a lot of work documents. I went to illegally share my pre-release copy of the book with him (sorry - he promises he'll buy the kindle version when it comes out) since I felt he was focusing primarily on building a good product. I noticed that there was a single book in my "books/startup" folder - the Traction Book. I've read quite a few books about startups over the years, and apparently this was the only one worth keeping.

Go buy the book right now. Traction: A Startup Guide to Getting Customers


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