Gain customer traction for your startup

What is the best way for my startup to get traction?

Let’s first describe what is traction and why it is so important for a startup

Traction, or more specifically customer traction, represents how much customer interest your startup has. Depending on your startup this might be people that purchase an eBook, people that pay a monthly fee to use a SaaS product, people that register for a weekly newsletter, or traffic to your website.

With our startup Menyu, which is a two-sided marketplace, traction takes the form of restaurant owners that claim their restaurant profiles as well as people that visit our website looking for a restaurant menu. Traction is super important to your startup because it represents product market fit and the effectiveness of your customer acquisition / distribution channels.

Let’s dig into each of these before explaining how you can get traction for your startup.

Product Market Fit

There are many different definitions for product-market fit, but in a nutshell, it means finding an underserved market with a strong demand and developing a product that serves it. It sounds easy but finding product-market fit is often one of the toughest challenges a startup will face, especially early on.

This is because there are many things that can get in the way of finding it. No demand for your product, too weak of demand, too weak of a product, competition is too strong, the startup team doesn’t have the correct skills, the startup is underfunded, on and on. But with all these difficulties standing between you and your market fit, the biggest challenge is typically a poor distribution strategy.

Customer Channels

Distribution strategy is the plan of action used to gain traction by developing customer channels, or distribution channels. Many distribution channels exist, but many will not work for your startup. In fact, there are no equally good distribution channels and there likely is only one optimal channel for your startup. Most startups don’t even find ONE. They have a poor distribution strategy, never find a single optimal channel, and fail. This is the leading cause of failure among startups, not poor product design.

Finding an optimal distribution channel is critical to success because it is in fact the secret to gaining TRACTION. That’s right, finding and nailing your core channel is what is needed to gain TRACTION for your startup. Plain and simple.

But you might be wondering what the hell is an optimal distribution channel and how do I find one? No worries, we’re going to explain what it is AND tell you how to find one AND how to get TRACTION.

Let’s get started.

The Bullseye Strategy to Gain Traction

Discussed in Gabriel Weinberg and Justin Mare’s blockbuster book TRACTION

Customer Traction Book

Book on getting explosive customer traction for your startup

the bullseye method is a great distribution strategy for finding one channel capable of moving the needle for your startup, thus getting traction. The bullseye has three rings, the outer, middle, and inner.

The Outer Ring

In the outer ring of your bullseye, place every channel you can think of. These are broad categories of ways to acquire customers. Examples include:

  • Content Marketing
  • Online Advertising
  • Offline Advertising
  • Organic Search
  • YouTube
  • Social Media
  • Offline Events
  • Business Development
  • Speaking Engagements
  • Affiliate Programs
  • Sales, Cold Calling and Emailing
  • Sponsorships

Again, I strongly suggest purchasing the book TRACTION mentioned above. In it, they list many channels as well as in-depth explanations. Once you get all the channels you can think of in the outer ring, select 3-5 channels that you believe could move the needle for you in terms of customer traction.

Do Your Research

Ideally, you’re not guessing at this. Rather, research the industry that your startup is in to see what channels have historically performed well for others in the same industry. For example, our startup Menyu is a restaurant menu marketplace. We know most people searching for restaurant menus are searching on Google, so the Organic Search channel deserved strong consideration as our core channel. Thus, it advanced from the outer ring to the middle ring for us.

The Middle Ring

Once you have your promising 3-5 channels in the middle ring, you want to get specific.
For example, say you selected Paid Online Advertising as one of your channels to test. You now need to decide which specific channels to pursue. Do you buy Google AdWords, Facebook Ads, Twitter Ads, ads on an industry forum, or something else? Once you settle on 1-2 specific channels, you want to spend some money, create some ads, and start testing for traction. It can get expensive in terms of money and time if you’re not careful, that’s why I suggest only testing 1-2 specific channels within each of your 3-5 broader channels.

Repeat this process for your 3-5 broad channels. For example, maybe you also selected Content Marketing for the middle ring. You then narrowed it down to blogs and forums. Next, you reach out to some blog owners and get two that will allow you to write a guest post. You then find the best forum relating to your industry and start posting answers to people’s questions, all while including a link to your startup in the footer of each thread post. You can do as much of this as needed to test the traction.

As you test these channels, you want to track our traction for each. Below is an example of some generic data. The data you track should make sense for your startup.

Source Traffic Conversion % Users
Facebook Ad 3,215 1.1% 35
Google Ad 1,700 1.4% 24
Blog Posts (2) 543 2.2% 12
Forum Participation 986 2.7% 27

And the winner is?

You now have the data. It’s time to decide. You can of course choose more than one if you had positive results across multiple channels but think hard before doing so. Your startup only has so many resources and it’s terribly important that you find and nail your core channel. Let’s look at the above data and talk through choosing your core channel. Keep in mind this example is simplified for demonstration purposes, so we’re not considering things like different ad text, blog traffic, etc.

Google converted better than Facebook but attracted less ad clicks. The Content Marketing converted much better than the Paid Advertising. The Content Marketing also cost drastically less than the Paid Advertising. This means your bootstrapped startup can do more with less.

After thoughtful consideration you decide Content Marketing shows signs of real traction. If you can get 39 customers from two blog posts and 20 forum posts, you can get lots more. You promote Content Marketing to your inner circle, or bullseye.

The Inner Ring or Bullseye

You now know the best way for your startup to get traction – Content Marketing. The goal now is to develop your specific distribution strategy for Content Marketing. You should determine what specific channels you will use (maybe test additional ones other than blog posts and forum posts), a timeline for developing and distributing your content, the human and capital resources required, and the set of KPIs (key performance indicators) that you will use to monitor your traction.

Get Your Startup’s Initial Traction

You now have the plan for getting traction and there’s only one thing left to do – act! Remember, a strategy is a plan of ACTION. Nothing happens until plans are put into ACTION. Start on your bullseye today, narrow your channels down into the middle ring by tomorrow, and have your core channel in the inner ring by next week.

Then, put your plan into ACTION and FOCUS HARD on BUILDING THAT CHANNEL. Then build every day, day in and day out, even if only a few hours per day and sure enough…

your startup will have found its traction

Good luck my friends.

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