Guest Blog Post – Gabriel Weinberg, Founder of DuckDuckGo

HAPPY RELEASE DAY!!!! Today is the launch of Traction – How Any Startup Can Achieve Explosive Customer Growth, co-authored by Gabriel Weinberg and Justin Mares and in support of the release, I’m thrilled to host a guest post by Gabriel Weinberg, founder of the search engine DuckDuckGo, that provides insight to what you can expect from this invaluable startup marketing handbook. The concepts are applicable to any startup endeavor and a resource I’d recommend to any entrepreneur. But don’t take my word for it…the reviews speak volumes.  With success stories like Seth Godin and Alexis Ohanian singing its praises, you can’t go wrong. My advice? One-click. NOW.

6 Common Traction Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

I’ve made every one of these six common mistakes in the pursuit of traction. They’re so easy to make because they’re all counter-intuitive, working against your natural instincts. I hope you can avoid them! Like with a lot of issues, the first step is recognizing and acknowledging you have a problem.

Mistake #1: Not seeking traction early enough.

The secret to a successful launch is to focus on getting traction right from the beginning of product development, by continually pouring a steady stream of cold customers into your product (leaky bucket) while you are building it.

hand holding a tin bucket with holes on black background

That’s the only way to really find out where the leaks are, as your beta customers are too close to you and don’t have fresh eyes. By running fast and cheap traction tests, you also figure out pre-launch what niche to market to initially, what marketing will resonate with that niche, and what marketing channel to use to reach them. In other words, you discover a credible distribution strategy, such that when you launch you can actually get traction right away.

Mistake #2: Not setting an explicit traction goal.

Your traction goal should be enough traction to reach an inflection point in your company. When just starting out, this is usually one of three things:

  1. Enough traction to raise money;
  2. Enough traction to be profitably self-sustaining; or
  3. Enough traction to prove to your extended team that you have product/market fit.

Once you have a hard number, you can measure your traction efforts against this explicit traction goal. If a marketing strategy in its best case won’t move the needle in terms of your goal, then you shouldn’t do it, even if you know it will get you some traction.

Mistake #3: Not considering all 19 traction channels.

cono redondo target con sombra rojoIn talking to and studying hundreds of successful entrepreneurs for Traction (the book), we found that there are 19 different customer acquisition channels companies use to get traction.

A key insight was that often the most successful startups were using under-utilized channels in their industry. In other words, asking what channels are good for B2B or B2C or a particular situation is the wrong question. The right question is how could I possibly use each of the 19 channels, quickly followed by a creative brainstorm. This is the first step in our Bullseye Framework for getting traction.

Mistake #4: Not doing fast and cheap traction tests.

When testing traction channels, the goal is to run fast and cheap marketing tests to roughly answer the following three questions:

  1. How much will it cost to acquire customers through this channel?
  2. How many customers are available through this channel?
  3. Are the customers that you are getting through this channel the kind of customers that you want right now?

Some founders mess up this step by prematurely scaling their marketing efforts. Keep in mind that, when testing channels, you are not trying to get a lot of traction with a channel just yet. Instead, you are simply trying to determine if it’s a channel that could move the needle for your startup. Your main consideration at this point is speed — to get data and to prove your assumptions.

Mistake #5: Not focusing on one core channel.

At any stage in a startup’s life cycle, one traction channel usually dominates in terms of customer acquisition. That is why we suggest focusing on one at a time, but only after you’ve identified a channel that seems like it could actually achieve your traction goal.

The way this step gets most often messed up by founders and marketers is by keeping around distracting marketing efforts in other traction channels, especially earlier efforts that no longer move the needle but once did. This is additionally confusing because oftentimes focusing on your core channel involves channel strategies that utilize other traction channels. One channel is still dominant, but others feed into it. Focusing is the only way to truly become an expert at your core channel, which you need to do if you’re going to uncover cutting edge tactics within it, which often have non-linear rewards.

Mistake #6: Not using a structured approach.

There are nineteen different traction channels, and most founders consider only a few. That’s a big mistake because often under-utilized channels in a given industry have the greatest growth potential. Yet, at the same time, you can’t try all nineteen at once effectively.

You need to apply a framework for getting traction like the Bullseye Framework we present in Traction. It is a simple, three-step framework that involves brainstorming across all channels, testing a few at a time, and then focusing on whatever channel seems capable and most probable of reaching your pre-defined traction goal (you defined one right?). Whether you use our framework or another or your own, please take a structured approach to getting traction.

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