10 Crucial Lessons from “Traction: How Any Startup Can Achieve Explosive Customer Growth”

Our Engineering Team’s Take On Marketing

Photo by SpaceX on Unsplash

My college experience taught me the value of being able to learn new things quickly, to intelligently switch from one topic to the next without skipping a beat.

I also learned how to become comfortable with ambiguity. No matter how much planning you put into the study and application of engineering, i.e. my field, uncertainties and unexpected surprises always seem to arise.

The capacity for quick learning and the ability to live with ambiguity — these are also two key qualities that a startup team must possess and refine

For example, most engineers know nothing about marketing. But according to Traction: How Any Startup Can Achieve Explosive Customer Growth, you should dedicate 50% of your time to working on traction.

At Edible, we’ve been working on product for a while, two years in fact. We’ve done some marketing in the past (Edible Christmas, LA Magazine article), but it’s always been somewhat of a necessary evil. As engineers we’re wired to build, not sell. But after reading Traction over the past two weeks, taking detailed notes, creating an 88 page slide deck and giving an hour-and-a-half presentation, we’ve gained so much respect for marketing as a data-driven art form. It’s an art form because you must try new things, you must stand out and be creative. But at the same time it must be data driven — creativity is an input, but the output must be systematically analyzed so you know where to focus your creative efforts.

We’ve created a detailed summary presentation of the book and below are ten of our key takeaways from reading the book.

“If You Build It, They Will Come” is a lie.

I’m not exactly sure who coined this phrase and how it ever picked up steam, but this way of thinking — that product is the end all be all — is just straight up wrong. If you work in a vacuum, build in a vacuum, launch in a vacuum, then your startup will fail in a vacuum.

Scale By Doing Things That Don’t Scale.

This a common theme in the book, in Paul Graham’s essays, and of other thought leaders. You have to really work to get those first thousand users. Your “superior” product will never be superior if you don’t lace up your boots and do some grunt work, attending Meetups, looking for honest feedback, talking to strangers, sending cold emails, interacting on social, and providing above and beyond customer support.

Compelling Content Is Everything.

Content is king. It’s free advertising. It takes time, consistency, and quality. It builds links for SEO, it builds communities, it differentiates you as an industry leader, it builds your brand, it gathers leads. You are your content.

Test Everything.

SEM, SEO, email marketing, virality, and publicity stunts hinge on testing keywords and “hooks” in your product. Other things to test are ad copy, button vs. text links, images, call to actions, colors, fonts, and more. Testing everything is important because…

1% Improvements Matter.

The key to going viral is removing every bit of friction that prevents potential users becoming active ones and sharing your product with their friends. Is your sign up button at the top of your landing page? It should be. Is your content as easy to access as one click? It should be. Is your call to action the optimal color? A/B test it and find out. Can you demonstrate value to potential users before they activate? Be creative.

Figure out your conversion rates for various traction channels before you fully commit to one strategy

The Media Machine Has Been Turned Upside Down.

Articles now filter up through the media chain, where link-sharing communities like reddit start talking about some news, niche outlets like TechCrunch and Lifehacker pick up developing stories, and behemoths like the New York Times wrap multiple stories into an overarching narrative. Target the small fish first.

Use Saturated Channels to Measure Your Baseline.

You might scoff at banner or social ads, PPC, or offline ads, but you shouldn’t. Deploy dollars in these seemingly saturated channels to get important data on click through and conversion rates and the comparative responses across different segments of your potential userbase.

“Going Viral” Is Always Engineered To Do So.

Map out your viral loop, how do people come in contact with your product? How can you increase sharability and decrease barrier to entry? Viral videos are plugged all over the net from different sources — every fire begins with a bit of kindling. It almost always takes more than a few strikes of the match.

Every viral video begins with deliberative kindling

Stop Guessing.

Stop guessing who your potential users are. Even worse, stop assuming who your potential users are without data to back it up. If you think your users are “mom’s that wear high waisted jeans” but you haven’t attended the “Mom’s of Santa Monica Who Wear High Waisted Jeans” Meetup or compared clickthrough rates for the “mom high waist jeans” vs “mom jeans” Google Ad keywords, then you have some work to do.

Teaching Sells.

But you already knew that. You’re reading this aren’t you?


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