Every entrepreneur should read Traction. It provides a systematic framework – known as the Bullseye Framework – to grow your customer base and describes how to leverage 19 different channels to reach customers.
I recently attended a talk where one of the authors of the book, Justin Mares, shared some insights on technology marketing, his entrepreneurial journey, and his experiences researching and writing Traction.
Here is the video of Justin’s interview with Franco Varriano.
An Entrepreneur’s Journey
In his short career, Justin has worked in a variety of businesses – each with their unique challenges. During his talk, Justin demonstrated that throughout his career as an entrepreneur he was agile enough to quickly find and exploit the most effective marketing channels to grow the business.
Justin is from Washington, D.C., and attended the University of Pittsburgh. He started his first venture, RoommateFit, while at school.
One of the main reasons people quit university is because of conflicts with roommates. Justin saw, first hand, this problem and set out to solve it with RoommateFit. He thought universities would be interested in it to cut the student churn caused by personality differences.
RoommateFit was Justin’s first experience dealing with challenges faced by many entrepreneurs. RoommateFit hasd a hard time getting traction because universities have a notoriously slow sales cycle and often do not have the money to spend on these types of programs.
Justin spent some time looking at companies in this sector and quickly realized that the growth in the group was too slow and he decided better opportunities awaited him elsewhere.
CloudFab was the first company to offer a web API for 3D printing. Justin’s partner was a heavy user of 3D printing on his own personal projects and saw that the lack of a standard API slowed the production cycle.
Justin was responsible for the revenue growth and marketing of CloudFab. They successfully grew the company through partnerships and eventually sold the company in February of 2012.
Justin’s venture after CloudFab was Exceptional.io – a cloud services company. The company created a tool to track errors for software developers. Justin was their first hire and took responsibility for the company’s marketing effort.
Exceptional.io had limited funding. They needed staff to grow and support the business so they set up shop in Las Vegas where talent is both available and inexpensive.
While at Exceptional.io, Justin had to go though the tough experience of hiring and firing staff. The company managed to navigate rough waters, gained traction, and eventually became profitable.
While competitors were raising substantial funds, the management team could not see a clear path to grow the company to a significant size. There were several offers on the table to buy the company and, in April of 2013, Justin and team sold Exceptional.io to Rackspace.
Justin’s experience at several startups convinced him that building product was easier than gaining customer traction. Many companies burn their limited resources developing the product or service only to find that there are no interested visitors coming to their website after product launch.
Most early stage companies, Justin noticed, did not approach marketing strategically and failed because they did not gain traction.
Gabriel Weinberg is the founder of search engine, DuckDuckGo. Justin knew that Gabriel was working on a book about how early stage companies need to grow their customer base and pitched the idea of collaboration.
The book took two years to write. Justin and Gabriel shared the first draft with 40 of their followers. The feedback was clear and strong: the book was too long, the prose was too ‘fluffy’, and readers had a hard time extracting the key concepts.
The feedback provided Justin and Gabriel one of the important lessons for Traction: test the product concept and get customer feedback – as early as possible.
The team cut the book down dramatically and focused on developing the core concepts of the Bullseye Framework and the 50-50 rule. They also provided real life applications of how different ventures were successful in the channels.
How Traction Got Traction
Justin and Gabriel applied many of the principles of Traction to the development and marketing of Traction. They looked at the marketing programs of successful business books, and tested a variety of channels including guest posts, YouTube marketing, podcasting, bonus offers, and affiliates.
Gabriel wrote a post on his blog detailing the marketing effort. It was interesting for me to read the success the team had with email marketing.
The Traction Gems
Justin shared several marketing gems he learned while writing Traction with the audience:
- Many startups commit to too many concurrent marketing activities without testing each channel in advance. Often the chosen marketing channels do not generate meaningful results and the effort drains the company’s precious marketing resources.
- Most startups do not focus enough effort on customer traction and devote too much time on product development.
- A number of the channels in Traction – Justin mentioned business development and cold calling – can generate surprising results. Don’t dismiss these prematurely.
- Be on the lookout for fast growing micro-platforms. If they fit your market profile, claim your space and establish your position early. Large companies dismiss micro-platforms because they consider them as too small. But many of these micro-platforms are filled with the passionate customers who can make a market happen. Justin used the example of how Zynga was early on Facebook and leveraged it to build its social gaming business.
Justin advises startups to know their market well and be open to experimentation.
This article is part of my Digital Marketing guide.