BOOK SUMMARY

Traction: A Startup Guide to Getting Customers - Summary and review

Updated: April 7th, 2024
Published: January 12th, 2024

Contents

The 3 phases of all products

When talking about traction, Weinberg and Mares suggest thinking in terms of the following three phases.

  • Phase 1: Making something people want

  • Phase 2: Marketing something people want

  • Phase 3: Scaling your business

Each new phase requires a different strategy. At the very start you can resort to doing things that don’t scale - as Paul Graham put it in his world-famous essay. But as you grow, you need to find more structured ways of acquiring customers. This is where the Bullseye Framework comes in.

The Bullseye Framework 🎯

This framework has been used by founders building some of the world’s biggest companies like:

  • Jimmy Wales @ Wikipedia

  • Alexis Ohanian @ Reddit

  • Alex Pachikov @ Evernote

Weinberg and Mares interviewed over 35+ others, including the ones above, and put together all of this knowledge about how to get traction into the Bullseye Framework.

The typical startup often has a structure in place for building a product, but lack structure and clarity in GTM and making growth happen: “Let’s write a few blog posts, try out some PR, and make some sales calls. Hopefully we find something that works.”

“Poor distribution—not product—is the number one cause of failure. /../ It’s worth thinking really hard about finding the single best distribution channel” - Peter Thiel

Finding traction is a five step process. The steps are brainstorming, ranking, prioritizing, testing and focusing - see the explanation of what they mean and how to apply them below.

The Bullseye Framework

The Bullseye Framework - A visualization

Step 1: Brainstorm 🧠

The goal of the brainstorming phase is to walk through all the possible 19 traction channels and think about how you can use each one.

We are all biased towards certain channels - so it’s a good exercise to force yourself to come up with some ways you can utilize each channel, to not miss a golden one because we have tunnel vision.

To help feeding the brainstorming look at the following questions:

  • What marketing strategies have worked in your industry?

  • What’s the history of companies in your niche?

  • How does similar companies acquire users?

  • How does similar, but unsuccessful, companies waste their marketing budget?

Also, for each channel and idea consider:

  • CAC

  • How many customers can be acquired before saturation

  • Timeframe needed to run tests

Step 2: Rank 🥇

Organize your brainstorming efforts by ranking them. Thus helps to put the channels in perspective to one another.

To organize, set up a table where you put each traction channel into a column, depending on where it fits in the Bullseye circle.

A) Inner circle

B) Potential

C) Long-shot

SEO

SEM

Offline events

Viral marketing

Email marketing

Offline ads

Community building

Social and Display Ads

Trade shows

Example - ranking the traction channels of a PLG SaaS product, using the Bullseye Framework

Bullseye framework - Traction A B C

To help with the ranking:

  • A) Inner circle - channels with ideas that seem most promising

  • B) Potential - channels with ideas that seem like they might work

  • C) Long-shot - channels with ideas that seem like a stretch

Step 3: Prioritize ✅

Identify your inner circle - the 3 traction channels that seem most promising. If you have more than 3 in column A - sort them around until you only have 3 left. The power of three is to be able to focus in order to achieve real results, while still spreading your bets running things in parallel.

When prioritizing you typically get a few channels you are really excited about, and then excitement drops off.

Inner circle

Exciting ideas

SEO 🔍

Write 2-3 pillar posts on niche topic, build out some useful free tools

Viral marketing 🦠

Record videos on TikTok with tips and tricks, publish weekly LinkedIn posts that ICP will enjoy and share

Community building 🤝

Build out an active community of advocates that share knowledge between each other, give feedback, and spread the word

Example - prioritizing the traction channels of a PLG SaaS product, with the ideas I feel most excited about, using the Bullseye Framework

Step 4: Test 📐

The testing phase is where you put your ideas into practice - into the real world. The goal is to find out what traction channels, of the 3 chosen ones, to focus on.

Be scrappy - lower the barrier and get the experiments out there without spending alot of money. 🧪 The tests should answer:

  • What is roughly the CAC through the channel?

  • How many customers can be reached through the channel?

  • Are customers you acquire through this channel ones you want?

Educated guesses => real answers

In this phase it is not yet about scaling and actually getting alot of traction with the channel. Rather to test the channel out, and replace your educated guesses from the previous steps with real answers.

Inner circle

Tests

SEO 🔍

Write 2 pillar posts on niche topic - run a few think-alouds with people from your ICP, add Hotjar and run some Google Ads to see if people actually enjoy reading them and take a next step - SEO takes time and you want answers fast

Viral marketing 🦠

Record 5 videos on TikTok and publish them to see what resonates and what type of response you get, publish 2 LinkedIn posts for your ICP and see what engagement you get

Community building 🤝

Start with engaging a few users and connecting them with each other. Do they find it valuable? Interview them about their experience

Step 5: Focus 🔭

Ideally, one of the traction channels in your inner circle produced some promising results. Then you can target your efforts to and start to scale that channel.

A startup will always have one dominating channel, that bring in majority of the leads and deals. As you scale you will run into saturating channels and increasing costs. This is an ongoing process where you re-prioritize and run through the steps continously as you grow.

The Bullseye Framework helps focus and structure your experimentation to faster get results, without spending a ton of money and time.

The 19 traction channels

Weinberg and Mares suggest the following 19 traction channels exists:

  1. Viral Marketing

  2. Public Relations (PR)

  3. Unconventional PR

  4. Search Engine Marketing (SEM)

  5. Social and Display Ads

  6. Offline Ads

  7. Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

  8. Content Marketing

  9. Email Marketing

  10. Engineering as Marketing

  11. Target Market Blogs

  12. Business Development (BD)

  13. Sales

  14. Affiliate Programs

  15. Existing Platforms

  16. Trade Shows

  17. Offline Events

  18. Speaking Engagements

  19. Community Building