Traction: How Any Startup Can Achieve Explosive Customer Growth

The Bullseye Framework


  1. Come up with reasonable ways you might use each traction channel
  2. Do not dismiss any traction channel in this step!
  3. Be sure to research other companies in your space to see how they leveraged those channels
  4. Make a spreadsheet
    1. How likely is it to work? 1-5
    2. What is the CTA?
    3. How many customers could you reach?
    4. How long will it take to test?

Rank: Place each channel into one of three columns: Inner circle, the most promising ones; Potential, ones that could work; Long shots, self-explanatory

Prioritize: Now identify your inner circle, the three channels you think are the most promising. If you have more than three then narrow it down

Test: Now that you have your three in the inner circle, design some relatively cheap tests to assess how effective the channels are

The tests should answer:

  1. How much will it cost to acquire customers through this channel
  2. How many customers do you think are available through this channel
  3. Are the customers that you’re getting through this channel the ones you want now

You’re not trying to get a lot of traction through this channel yet, just testing it

If, after testing, none of them are viable, go back and test others!

Focusing: At any stage in the startup lifecycle, one traction channel dominates for customer acquisition

So focus on one at a time once you’ve proved it’s viable, and keep using it until you’ve wrung out every possible piece of value

Traction Thinking

Every failed startup has a product… what they don’t have is enough customers

50% Rule: Spend 50% of your time on product, and 50% on traction

Always pursue traction at the same time as product development

Only focus on activities that move the needle

Start with manual recruiting! Do things that don’t scale

The better an investor understands your space the less traction they’ll need to see to invest

Traction Testing

Constantly running tests will allow you to stay ahead of your competitors pursuing the same channel

Make A/B tests a habit

Always quantify your results

Look for cutting edge tech that hasn’t yet succumbed to the law of shitty click throughs

Critical Path

You should always have a traction goal you’re working towards

  • i.e. 1000 dailies, 10% of your market
  • Draw out all of the milestones along the way

The path to reaching your traction goal in the fewest steps is the “Critical Path”

  • Everything you do should be checked against your critical path

Get good mentors to help you along the way

Define sub-goals for your traction goal to make it more approachable

Don’t rule out any possible channels just because of your biases

Viral Marketing

A viral loop:

  1. A user is exposed to your product
  2. The user tells a set of potential users about your product
  3. These potential users are exposed to your product and become users themselves

Types of virality

  1. Word of mouth
  2. Inherent virality: users get value by adding users
  3. Collaboriation: products encourage you to use them with others
  4. Communications: it’s meant to be used to talk to others within it
  5. Incentives: giving rewards for inviting others
  6. Embedding: sites like reddit or youtube embedding on other sites
  7. Social networks

Viral math

  1. The viral coefficient (K) = invites sent per user * conversion percentage
  2. Any viral coefficient above .5 helps your product grow considerably

Viral cycle time: how long it takes a new user to come through your loop. Shortening this drastically improves growth

Viral Strategy

  1. You need to measure your virality from the start
  2. Draw a map of the entire process and try cutting out unnecessary steps, find ways to make it faster and easier

Distribution Mechanisms

  1. Social media and email are most common
  2. Look for new and unexpected ones

Things to test:

  1. Button vs text links
  2. Location of your CTA
  3. Size, color, contrast of your buttons
  4. Page speed
  5. Adding images
  6. Headlines
  7. Site copy
  8. Testimonials
  9. Social proof
  10. Number of form fields
  11. Allowing users to test the product before signing up
  12. Ease of signup
  13. Length of the signup process
  14. Nothing is too small to test!

Public Relations (PR)

When a blog or traffic based site writes about you, you’re doing them a favor by giving them something to talk about

Start small and ladder up, Trust Me I’m Lying style

How to pitch

  1. Milestones: raising money, launching a new product, breaking a usage barrier, a PR stunt, big partnership or a special industry report all get attention
  2. There’s a great pitch template in the book, and another from Ryan Holiday

Follow influencers in your industry and reach out to blogs they frequently target

Amplify stories once they’re written

  1. Submit to communities like HN, Digg, Reddit
  2. Share on social networks, amplify with social ads
  3. Email it to influencers for comments
  4. Ping blogs in your space, show them it’s getting buzz, then they might want to cover you too

Unconventional PR

Publicity stunt

  1. Doing ridiculous things that get people / media attention
  2. Viral videos

Customer appreciation

  1. Sending gifts
  2. Contests and giveaways
  3. Good customer support

Search Engine Marketing

Starting out

  1. Just test four ads for your main target keywords

Quality score tells you how nice of an ad it is, and ones with higher Q scores will rank higher

Advanced SEM

  1. Advertising on the content network, not just in Google
  2. Retargeting, bringing people back to your site
  3. Conversion optimizer, automatically adjusts your ads to perform better
  4. Negative keywords, prevent your ads showing up for some words
  5. Scripting your ads to run automatically

Social and Display Ads

Display ads

  1. Large ad networks like Google’s Display Network, also TribalFusion, ValueClick, Adblade
  2. Niche ad networks, usually specific sites
  3. Figure out what ads work

Social ads

  1. Linkedin, Twitter, Facebook, StumbleUpon, Foursquare, Tumblr, reddit, Youtube

Offline Ads

Offline ads are super cheap if you get them the right way

You have to know your demographic, then figure out where they spend their time

To do it cheap, look for remnant advertising: Ad space currently being unused, especially for publications approaching print deadlines

  1. Manhattan media or Novus Media help you find them

Track with special URLs, Coupon codes, asking how they found you when they sign up


Your ability to rank on the first page for any keyword should determine whether or not you go for it

Figure out what your customers are interested in, then create the content that will attract them

Don’t waste time on terms that don’t yield traction

The core is to create content that’s good enough to be worth other people linking to

Content Marketing

Can be pursued at any phase really, great for drawing in free users.

Fastest way to grow your readership is guest posting.

Also a great way to build a reputation for yourself.

Create a content calendar.

Email Marketing

Email is still the most effective way to re-engage with your customers, users, readers, etc.

Ask for email addresses in your posts.

Good for referrals, have users refer in friends.

Always be building an email list.

Engineering as Marketing

Hubspot “Marketing Grader” get people to the site and shows them how hubspot can help their marketing

WP Engine speed tool shows how switching to their platform will increase your site speed


  1. Annual promotions: Codecademy’s “code-year” micro-site
  2. Mico-Sites: Hubspots marketing grader, DuckDuckGo’s
  3. Widgets

High level

  1. Provide something of value for free, no strings attached
  2. Make that offer extremely relevant to your core market
  3. Demonstrate that value as quickly as possible

Targeting Blogs

Business development

Partnerships with companies in similar spaces

Create a pipeline of deals, track everyone you could be working with


Cold calling, good techniques in the book


  1. Generating leads
  2. Qualifying leads, determine how ready they are to buy
  3. Closing leads, making the sale

Look for blockages in your onboarding / starting / purchasing that might prevent people from buying, this is anything that makes the process confusing or slow

Better for high price products

Affiliate Programs

Common programs

  1. Retail
    • Coupon / deal sites
    • Loyalty programs
    • Aggregators
    • Email lists
    • Vertical sites
  2. Information products
  3. Lead generation

Depends on how much you’re willing to pay for a customer

You can use your existing users as affiliates, or pay outside people to promote the product

Major affiliate networks

  1. Commission junction
  2. ClickBank
  3. Affiliate
  4. Pepperjam
  5. ShareASale
  6. Adknowledge
  7. Linkshare
  8. MobAff
  9. Neverblue
  10. Clickbooth
  11. WhaleShark Media

Existing Platforms

  1. App stores
  2. Social Platforms
  3. Add-ons and extensions
  4. Other platforms i.e. Airbnb going through Craigslist
  5. Jumping on newer platforms

Trade Shows

The best way to pick a trade show is to go to a lot of them, and see which one you fit best

Put extensive prep into it, make sure you have a significant plan for it

Set up meetings with other people who are going to be there

Go around and actively send people back to your booth

Offline Events

Conferences: Find a way to stand out beyond just buying ads or giving a speech

Host your own conference

Meetups and smaller scale events