In the startup community, I hear about all sorts of must reads. But when does a startup have the time to read the thousands of books suggested? They often forget to allow time to go to the toilet and eat! Well, I have the book for you to either read on the toilet, while you eat, or if you’re doing both at the same time (no judgment…sort of).
“Sustainable product engagement growth (i.e., more customers getting engaged over time) is hard for any investor to ignore…So if you have only a hundred customers, but have been growing 10 percent a month for six months, that’s attractive to investors…
…traction trumps everything.”
What I loved about the book Traction by Gabriel Weinberg and Justin Mares, was how it was set-out. It provided all the strategic thinking in the first five chapters, talking you through a valuable process to follow in order to “brainstorm, prioritize, test, and then focus”. The following 19 chapters were then delving further into specific elements — chapters you can read once you get started implementing the process for your business.
The key topic for this book is implementing a system for any business (consumer or enterprise, large or small) called the Bullseye Framework. And the way you go about this system? It’s called the Critical Path. I’ve developed an infographic to best capture my understanding of the book. It’s certainly not perfect; however hopefully it’s a helpful illustration of the process for you!
Outside the Bullseye Framework system and Critical Path, my five favourite takeaways from this book were as follows:
Takeaway 1: The 50% rule
This rule refers to spending 50% of your early-on time dedicated to product development (startups often spend a great deal more here). The other 50% is then dedicated to traction. Pursuing these in parallel provides you with more effective data for the product’s success, identifying the leaky holes to plug and assisting you in identifying product market fit. This book is dedicated to helping you achieve the 50% on traction, and a book called The Lean Startup provides you with the other 50% — “what Lean is to product development, Bullseye is to traction”…they go “hand-in-hand”.
Takeaway 2: Don’t act scaleable?
You’re thinking what the? This is really about your focus on moving the needle. To do so in the early stages, you want to capture all the data you can to determine the most effective strategies. In order to achieve this, this book tells you to rely on un-scaleable traction strategies (e.g. manually getting users in the door). Then, once the needle moves and you have significantly increased your traction, you can then build strategies to increase this traction further.
Takeaway 3: Biases shmiases
The authors found two interesting things through their research. Firstly, people and companies often utilise the channels familiar to them, or the ones they assume would suit their product or business. Secondly, it’s very difficult to predict the most effective traction channel for your current goal. As a result, tests must be run, data must be captured, and you need to be open-minded. As Gabriel and Justin say “Actively work to overcome your traction channel biases”. I.e. give them ago, capture data, and make informed decisions about changes as opposed to operating on bias. An additional approach may be talking to founders who have failed as well as those who have succeeded at what you’re trying to do.
Takeaway 4: Gotta love processes
When defining your Critical Path against the particular traction goal, the authors suggest working backwards to determine the absolutely necessary milestones to get there. They suggest assessing and reassessing at each milestone along the way, and not being distracted by things not impacting your immediate traction goal (e.g. requested product features). The authors suggest building this behaviour into your management processes, where you not only quantify traction subgoals, but you input them into a calendar to properly monitor your progress over time. If you’re not seeing the traction you want, investigate your valuable customers. Identify why they are engaged and whether this can be expanded on. If there are no bright spots, it might be time to pivot.
Takeaway 5: Rinse & repeat
Once you hit your traction goal, you will develop a new one and your strategies will change. The Bullseye Framework is something you repeat for the new goals as your business scales. The goals must continue to be aligned to your company strategy and change things significantly for your business (e.g. become profitable, raise money more easily, or become the market leader) — i.e. your goals may move from: product market fit goals > downloads/paying customers/daily customers/growth% > % of market share.
The four traps to be aware of are described as follows:
There are a number of great people who were interviewed and are referenced throughout the book. Here some of my favourite quotes included:
Sean Ellis, Growth advisor to Dropbox and Eventbrite
“…don’t start testing until your tracking/reporting system has been implemented”
Marc Andreessen, CoFounder of Netscape & VC firm Andreessen Horowitz
“The number one reason that we pass on entrepreneurs we’d otherwise like to back is they’re focussing on product to the exclusion of everything else”
Andrew Chen, Investor in 500 Startups
“Over time, all marketing strategies result in shitty click-through rates”
Naval Ravikant, Founder of AngelList
“Traction is basically quantitative evidence of customer demand”
Paul Graham, Founder of Y Combinator
“A startup is a company designed to grow fast. Being newly founded does not in itself make a company a startup. Nor is it necessary for a startup to work on technology, or take venture funding, or have some sort of “exit.” The only essential thing is growth. Everything else we associate with startups follows from growth.”
Phil Fernandez, Founder & CEO of Marketo
“Instead of beta testing a product, we beta tested an idea and integrated the feedback….early on in our product development process”
This book certainly hits the mark for Type-A personalities like me, with their clear format, wonderful step-by-step process, and great example strategies and data capturing metrics. My competitive tendencies kicked in as I danced from one traction channel chapter to the next and my brain was overflowing with ideas.
For the cheaters in the group, there are great summaries at the end of each chapter; however if you skip the content in-between, you’ll miss the juicy juicy examples!
Once you’ve had a read of Traction, tell me what you think, and feel free to suggest great books for my next review!
Gabriel Weinberg: I hope this post is on point :)