tl dr; Traction belongs on every startup founder’s bookshelf. I’m buying copies for the CEOs of my current Angel Investments. Get it here.
Traction is one of those books that makes you wonder, “Why didn’t anyone write this before?” Gabriel and Justin have done a marvelous job outlining a strategy for solving the #1 challenge facing EVERY new business today: how to get traction – what Naval Ravikant (AngelList) defines as “quantitative evidence of demand”.
The book begins by explaining why getting early customers is so critical for startups today and outlining a high-level strategy for doing it. They recommend considering a lot of different options, systematically testing them, and then focusing like hell on the 1 or two that are working.
The meat of the book – and the reason it belongs on your bookshelf – is the 19 chapters dedicated to each one of the traction channels:
- Viral Marketing
- Unconventional PR
- Social & Display Ads
- Offline Ads
- Content Marketing
- Email Marketing
- Engineering as Marketing
- Targeting Blogs
- Business Development
- Affiliate Programs
- Existing Platforms
- Trade Shows
- Offline Events
- Speaking Engagements
- Community Building
A marketing resource for startup Founders
This is a book that could have only been written by startup founders for startup founders. As founders, we never have the luxury of becoming an expert in any marketing strategy. But we have to know enough about all of them to get started and fill our teams with experts.
There are hundreds (e.g. Content Marketing) or thousands (e.g. Sales) of books on each of these strategies – more than any Founder ever needs to absorb. But I’ve never encountered a resources that gives a comprehensive overview of each of them.
Why I personally liked Traction
As I scan back through my notes I found a few places where I wrote, “Yes, yes YES!” Justin and Gabriel make a few key points that hit home with me.
Begin marketing in parallel with Product Development
I constantly meet entrepreneurs in our online courses & workshops who plan on worrying about getting customers “after the product is built”. This is a big, big mistake.
Phases, goals & patience
The startup entertainment industry loves fairy tales about magical, one-time tricks that instantly take a startup from obscurity to growth overnight. Traction provides a refreshing view of what it actually takes to succeed:
- Set near-term, achievable goals like “Grow from 100 to 500 paying customers” (our Traction goal with SoHelpful)
- Pick a strategy appropriate for the phase of your company (e.g. Don’t start with email marketing before you have a message).
- Be patient – most entrepreneurs give up way, way too early.
Test different options
Most entrepreneurs I meet have just 1 plan for getting customers – whatever they’re already familiar or comfortable with.
Content Marketing worked for Buffer. A viral video worked for Dropbox. Neither may work for you – the only way to find out is to model and test them.
Traction shows you how.
Where Traction falls a bit short
I don’t have many criticisms of Traction, certainly not enough to prevent me from recommending it. But here are a few comments from my notes to help set your expectations.
Although Traction outlines a process in the beginning, it isn’t a step-by-step manual like Ash Maurya’s Running Lean or my book Beginning Customer Development. For experienced Founders, the process they describe is probably good enough – it is actually almost identical to what we’re doing at SoHelpful. But I know from experience that many entrepreneurs will need mentors and help to apply the broader strategies they outline.
I wish Traction focused a bit more on which of the 19 strategies are most applicable at different Phases. I’m probably overly-sensitive to this issue because all of my time is currently spent on helping entrepreneurs with Traction Phase 1 – getting started from nothing. For instance, I constantly encounter entrepreneurs who are trying tactics like PR or SEO way, way too early.
Buy a copy for your next flight
I know … you’ve already got 10 other unread books sitting in your Kindle. Go get a copy anyway.
Traction is an easy, enjoyable, fun read. You can plow through it on your next flight to Silicon Valley and reference later as you need it.
Better yet, update your pitch deck – talk intelligently about growth strategies and you’ll stand out as a good bet for investors.