How Any Startup Can Achieve Explosive Customer Growth by Gabriel Weinberg and Justin Mares: Summary and Notes

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One sentence summary: Through rigorous research and by interviewing successful startup founders, Gabriel Weinberg, and Justin Mares reveal what it takes to achieve explosive growth by identifying nineteen traction channels that startups can use to attract paying customers.

One paragraph summary: The main message from Traction: How Any Startup Can Achieve Explosive Customer Growth by Gabriel Weinberg and Justin Mares is a book for players in the startup scene. By conducting extensive research and interviews, the authors identified nineteen traction channels that startups can use to gain a foothold in the market. The book reviews each traction channel in detail, and you will love the examples and case studies from companies like Duckduckgo, Reddit, Wikipedia, Google, and many more.

What is traction? Traction is the sign that your company is taking off. It is an indication that things are working as planned. It can also be regarded as quantitative evidence of customer demand. Weinberg and Mares say the pursuit of traction is what defines a startup.

They identify 19 traction channels that startups should pursue. These are:

Main Takeaways From: Traction: How Any Startup Can Achieve Explosive Customer Growth by Gabriel Weinberg and Justin Mares

Now that you know what the 19 traction channels are let us look at the book’s main takeaways.

  1. Until you run tests, it is difficult to know which traction channel works

  2. Define what traction means for your company

  3. Use the Bull's Eye technique

  4. Define your critical path

  5. Talk to founders a few years ahead of you

  6. Build relationships with startup reporters and other players in the industry

Lesson 1: Until you run tests, it is difficult to know which traction channels work

Traction and product development are essential facets of startups. Weinberg and Mares say that startups should spend 50% of their time in product development and 50% in building traction. Why? Because creating something people want is not enough. They point to four common situations where this is often the case.

The first is building something that people want but for which a business development model lacks. The advertising costs could be too high, or people won’t pay. The second is creating a product that people want, but there aren’t enough customers to reach profitability. The third involves creating a product the people want, but that is cost-prohibitive. Finally, you can have a product the people want, but other people are already producing it

The way to get around these traps is by applying the 50-50 rule. The earlier you know the situation you are in, the faster you can adapt accordingly. While splitting time evenly between product development and traction might slow product development, it will actually speed up growth as it ensures that you build the right thing. You will find a similar idea in Hacking Growth ,another book that stresses the need to let the market determine the kind of product it wants.

Lesson 2: Define what traction means for your company

Before setting about getting traction, defining what traction means for your startup and developing a strategy based on this definition is essential. In other words, have a goal in mind and work towards achieving it.

From the perspective of traction, there are three phases when working on a product or service.

From the perspective of traction, there are three phases when working on a product or service.

During phase one, you want to test as many traction channels as possible and see which one will serve you best. This phase is very product-focused. Phase 2 involves scaling up your traction efforts after identifying which ones work best. During phase 3, you can now scale the business confident that the traction channels of your choice are bringing customers..

A traction goal is also needed if you are going to attract investors. Most investors are looking to see a sustainable customer growth rate. If you are having a hard time growing your customer base, find your bright spots. You can do this by finding out what makes some customers love your product. Ask yourself whether you can get more of them.

Lesson 3: The Bulls Eye technique

The Bulls Eye technique refers to a strategy that helps startups narrow down which of the 19 traction channels work best for them. It comprises three steps: the outer ring, the middle ring and the inner ring.

The outer ring: What’s possible\

The outer ring comprises every single traction channel available. Here, you should imagine what success would look like in each channel and write it down. Look for marketing strategies that have worked for your industry and the histories of companies in your space. What have they been doing? What has worked well?

For each channel, identify a channel strategy and implement it. Startup teams should guard against their biases towards specific channels instead, they should be open to any possibility.

The middle ring: Whats probable

For the second step, what you need to do is to run cheap traction tests for the channels that are most promising. Weinberg and Mares advise startup teams to have multiple channels at this stage and run them sequentially. However, the numbers need to be low because the more traction channels you pursue, the greater the risk of errors.

Tests in the middle ring should answer the following questions:

  1. How much does it cost to acquire each customer through the particular channel strategy?

  2. How many customers does the channel bring?

  3. Does the channel bring the customers you want?

The authors also advise startup founders to look for customers where others are not looking. The secret is to test and quickly validate assumptions.

The inner ring: What’s working

The third phase involves focusing on the channel with the greatest impact on your marketing efforts. That’s the bull’s eye. Weinberg and Mares say that one traction channel dominates all others at any stage of a startups life cycle. Your goal is to figure out which one is that and nurture it.

Lesson 4: Define your critical path

Weinberg and Mares define the critical path as the path to reaching your traction goals in the fewest number of steps possible. Several milestones characterize the critical path. It involves doing X, Y, and Z and adding features A, B, C to a product.

Many startups fail because they start doing things outside their critical path or fail to stick to the path altogether. The point is, as a startup, you cannot afford to waste time on things that are outside your traction goals. At the same time, you need to actively overcome your traction channel biases. For the traction channels that you are least aware of, find mentors.

Lesson 5: Talk to founders a few years ahead of you

I cannot emphasise the value of this rule enough as there is always something to learn from people who've ‘been there, done that.’ In startup circles, this is especially important because it saves startup founders tons of time trying to figure out what traction channels to pursue.

If there are no willing mentors — and you are sure not going to lack some — do your research on what others in your industry have been doing. You will find that some traction channels work exceptionally well in particular areas. An example is Wikipedia that relied heavily on community building. If you think that your startup can benefit from community-building efforts, that is a good example to study.

Lesson 6: Build relationships with startup reporters and other players in the industry

Having your startup featured in major news organizations like, the Verge, or Forbes can be a great deal. So, if you have something valuable, don't keep quiet. Follow the right people on Twitter, comment on their posts, and try to get their attention. The process is a two-way street, and there is nothing to be ashamed of. After all, you are delivering the news right at their feet. To increase the effectiveness of this method, contact reporters only when you have a milestone to share.

If you will team up with another company or players in the industry, pursue mutually beneficial relationships. Create an environment where the other partner/s can feel that they are appreciated. Examples of deals include licensing, distribution, and buyout.

Wrap Up

Like Hacking Growth, Traction: How Any Startup Can Achieve Explosive Customer Growth is a phenomenal book. Weinberg and Mares do a fantastic job of identifying the 19 traction channels that matter. They also validate their findings and methods by incorporating the thoughts and examples of successful startup founders. Reading the book will teach you a lot about the business development process in general.

Who would I recommend the Book To?

I would recommend this book to anyone interested in the business development process. The target audience may be startup teams and founders, but there is something for everyone.


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