Home » Articles » Traction (Gabriel Weinberg & Justin Mares) – Book Summary, Notes & Review

Traction (Gabriel Weinberg & Justin Mares) – Book Summary, Notes & Review

Traction (Gabriel Weinberg & Justin Mares)

Buy the book here – Print Kindle | Audiobook

⭐ Review

Rating – 8/10

Fluff rating – 3/10 (very little fluff)

Technically out of date but fundamentally sound. This book gives you the ammunition to drive traffic to your product in 19 different ways. It makes startup success seem like a formula that’s data-driven, experiment-based and accessible to all. It’s honestly exciting.

There’s just so many possibilities in every line of this book. If you thought that sales, TV and social media were the only sources of customers for your business, this book will teach (or overwhelm) you about all the other possibilities you’ve forgotten.

It’s an evergreen toolkit for any startup founder and one I’ll be using throughout my journey. (Just be aware that some of the technical tips/references are out of date)

There’s real case studies, very little fluff and actionable advice. Highly recommend this especially for first-time founders who are heavily product-focused instead of distribution-focused.

🚀 TL;DR (in 4 bullet points)

  • Traction is quantitative evidence of (increasing) demand (e.g. 📈 download rate, revenue)
  • Startups get traction by testing 19 different marketing channels until one stands out – targeting blogs, publicity, unconventional PR, SEM, social/display ads, offline ads, SEO, content marketing, email marketing, viral marketing, engineering as marketing, business development, sales, affiliate programs, existing platforms, trade shows, offline events, speaking engagements, community building
  • To find the best channel for you – brainstorm strategies for all 19 channels, run cheap tests on the most promising ones in parallel and then focus on optimizing/scaling the best one
  • The 50% Rule – spend 50% of your time building and 50% testing traction channels (in parallel) – helps you build the right product (as you get feedback from traction efforts)

🗝️ Key Notes & Quotes

  • “Think of your initial investment in traction as pouring water into a leaky bucket. At first your bucket will be very leaky because your product is not yet a full solution to customer needs and problems… As a consequence, much of the money you are spending on traction will leak out of your bucket… this process is telling you where the real leaks are in your bucket (product)”
  • “Many entrepreneurs think that if you build a killer product, your customers will beat a path to your door. This line of thinking is a fallacy… “if you build it, they will come” is wrong”
  • “Channel experts uncover new channel strategies and tactics, which are often the best ones simply because they are new. That should be your goal with additional channel strategy testing”
  • The 50% Rule – *spending 50% of your time building your product and 50% on testing traction channels (in parallel)
  • Usually in most startups, one traction channel dominates all the others so don’t waste time/resources on others
  • Everything you choose to focus on should relate directly back to your traction goal because traction trumps everything

📑 Short Summary

  • Traction is quantitative evidence of (increasing) demand (e.g. 📈 download rate, revenue)
    • Traction trumps everything – everything (e.g. fundraising, hiring) is easier with traction
  • Startups can get traction through 19 different marketing channels – the only way to figure out the best one is to guess & run experiments
  • Before getting traction, set a quantified traction goal (e.g. 5K users growing 20% per month)
    • The critical path is the path to reaching this goal with the fewest steps – don’t stray from this path as you can’t afford to waste resources on the unimportant
  • The 50% Rule – spend 50% of your time building and 50% testing traction channels (in parallel) – helps you build the right product (as you get feedback from traction efforts)
  • The Bullseye Framework helps you find the one channel (out of 19) that will get you traction
    1. Outer Ring – brainstorm strategies for all 19 channels
    2. Middle Ring – promote best channel strategies from O.R. and run cheap tests in parallel to quantify acquisition cost, number of customers and LTV of each customer
    3. Inner Ring – find the best performing channel and focus on optimizing/scaling it (inore the rest) – if no channel is promising, repeat from Step 1 or develop product more
  • The 19 Traction Channels
    • Targeting Blogs – getting blogs prospects read to write articles, run ads or do reviews
    • Publicity – getting coverage from traditional media (like newspapers, magazines)
    • Unconventional PR – publicity stunts or acts of customer appreciation (e.g. gifts/contests)
    • Search Engine Marketing – placing ads on search engines for particular keyword searches
    • Social and Display Ads – buying ads on websites (e.g. blogs) or social sites (e.g. Facebook)
    • Offline Ads – buying ads offline (e.g. on TV, podcasts, billboards, newspapers etc)
    • Search Engine Optimization – improving your ranking on search engines
    • Content Marketing – creating a blog and writing content to drive search and word-of-mouth
    • Email Marketing – sending emails to potential customers to sell, build familiarity or retain
    • Viral Marketing – getting existing customers to bring others to your product via viral loops
    • Engineering as Marketing – building tools as marketing assets to generate leads
    • Business Development – partnering with other businesses for mutual benefit
    • Sales – Manually/personally generating leads, qualifying and converting them
    • Affiliate Programs – paying people/companies for referring others/getting a lead etc
    • Existing Platforms – Using large userbases of existing websites, apps or networks (like app stores or Facebook/Twitter) to get traction
    • Trade Shows – using trade shows to showcase products in person and build relationships
    • Offline Events – sponsoring/running meetups, hackathons, conferences etc
    • Speaking Engagements – speaking at trade shows/offline events
    • Community Building – investing in relationships between your customers to help them spread the word and bring others into your startup’s circle

📕 Chapter Summary

Preface – Traction Trumps Everything

  • Traction is a sign that something is working – e.g. customers are buying your product, your userbase is growing
  • Traction trumps everything – everything (e.g. fundraising, hiring, press etc) becomes easier with traction
  • Getting traction should be a focus from day one instead of an afterthought

Chapter 1 – Traction Channels

  • Traction is quantitative evidence of (increasing) customer demand
    • E.g. your download rate, revenue, number of transactions etc. is increasing rapidly
  • Startups get traction through 19 different marketing/acquisition channels
    • But many founders only use channels they’re already familiar with/think will work best
    • In reality, it’s hard to predict the channel that’ll work best
    • The only way to figure out what works is to make educated guesses and run experiments

Chapter 2 – Traction Thinking

  • Common startup mistakes – building something people want BUT a) no viable business model, b) for a market too small to be profitable, c) reaching customers is too expensive or d) there’s too much competition
  • All these mistakes can be avoided with The 50% Rulespending 50% of your time building your product and 50% on testing traction channels (in parallel)
    • This helps you build the right product (as you get feedback/knowledge from traction efforts)
      • Your initial investment in traction is like “pouring water into a leaky bucket”
        • At the start – Bucket leaks a lot – your product isn’t a complete solution for customers
        • Over time – you learn/fix the leaks – the right features, positioning, niche, customers
    • You get to test different traction channels pre-launch, meaning significant growth on day 1
  • Before getting traction, set a traction goal to work towards (quantified in hard numbers)
    • E.g. in early stages – get 5K users growing at 20% per month to raise funding
    • Every activity you do should have a measurable, significant impact on your traction goal
  • There are three phases to working on a product/service – each require different focuses:
    • Phase I – making something people want – getting your first customers manually + building your initial product based on feedback
    • Phase II – marketing something people want – scaling your traction efforts to get enough customers so you become sustainable (only after product-market-fit)
    • Phase III – scaling your business – increasing earnings, scaling marketing channels, creating sustainable business
  • Traction trumps everything when raising funds – you need a certain amount to get investors interested
  • If you’re unhappy with your traction, don’t give up too early – consider a pivot:
    • If you have even a few dedicated customers, there could be ways to expand from there
    • Are you too early to market? (Look for evidence of product engagement)
      • If you’re 1-2 years early, use the time to improve/refine your product and get a headstart
      • If >10 years too early – it’s hard to stick around that long

Chapter 3 – Bullseye

  • The Bullseye Framework helps you find the one channel (out of 19) that will get you traction
    • You only need to nail one channel to have a great business – you’re aiming for the bullseye
  • The Outer Ring: What’s Possible
    1. For all 19 channels, brainstorm strategies and write down what success would look like
      • Don’t dismiss or bias against ANY traction channel – you’ll miss out on good ideas
      • For ideas, use this book or successful companies/marketing strategies in your space
    2. Identify the best channel strategy you can think of out of the 19
  • The Middle Ring: What’s Probable
    1. From your outer ring, promote the best traction channels into your middle ring
    2. Construct a cheap traction test for each MR channel to find: the cost of acquiring customers, the number of customers, the profit from each customer
    3. Run channel tests in parallel (not too few/much that you waste time or lose focus)
      • Don’t scale – you just want to see if the channel works first without spending too much
  • The Inner Ring: What’s Working
    1. Find the channel that worked the best and move it to the inner ring
    2. Stop testing all other channels and focus on optimizing/scaling growth in this channel
      • Don’t get distracted with other channels – usually in most startups, one traction channel dominates all the others so don’t waste time/resources on others
    3. (If no channel is promising, repeat process from Outer Ring and develop your product more)
      • Note – hold onto your channel ideas/results so you can use the data in the future
  • Why Use Bullseye?
    • Simple way to direct your traction focus and maximize your results
    • Forces you to take all channels seriously – uncovers extra strategies you wouldn’t find otherwise (and gain a competitive advantage)
    • Helps zoom in on best ideas as quickly and cheaply as possible

Chapter 4 – Traction Testing

  • To get traction, you need to continuously test – first test channels (to see which is most promising) and then test strategies within that channel (to get the most traction)
  • The goal of middle ring tests is to find one promising channel strategy to focus on
    • E.g. channel = offline ads, channel strategy = billboards, magazine ads etc
    • Test one promising strategy for each channel cheaply & quickly – DON’T optimize/scale
    • For each test, find: cost of acquiring customers, number of customers available, lifetime value of each customer
  • Once you’ve found the one channel strategy that works best, move to inner ring testing
  • The goal of inner ring tests is to optimize your chosen channel strategy and find better strategies within this traction channel
    • There’s always things you can tweak in a strategy (e.g. tweaking CTAs, content to write etc)
    • Get into the habit of running >1 A/B tests per week – split your target audience into a control group (A) & experiment group (B) – create a different version of your strategy/a page for each group to see the effect of a change
    • Cheaply & quickly test new strategies WITHIN your core channel – all strategies eventually become saturated & expensive so always brainstorm new strategies to stay ahead
      • Your goal is to become an expert in your channel – find new/untapped channels/strategies (e.g. Zynga using Facebook ads to grow when there was little competition)
      • Idea – brainstorm using the other 18 channels to feed into your core channel (e.g. using social ads to amplify blog posts as core channel)
  • While testing, have systems to track & report your test results – *online tools are great
    • At bare minimum use a spreadsheet to help rank and prioritize your channel strategies
      • Sample columns – Strategy, number of customers available, conversion rate, cost to acquire a customer, lifetime value of a customer
    • Quantify your marketing efforts so you focus only on productive strategies

Chapter 5 – Critical Path

  • Everything you choose to focus on should relate directly back to your traction goal because traction trumps everything
  • Your traction goal determines your company’s direction – make sure you choose the right one and set quantifiable steps/subgoals/milestones to achieve it
  • The critical path is the path to reaching your traction goal with the fewest number of steps
    • Every step in the path should be 100% necessary to reaching your goal
    • Don’t stray from this path – you can’t afford to waste resources on the unimportant stuff
    • Everything you decide to do should be assessed against your critical path – it’s either on the path or not (and shouldn’t be done)
    • Your critical path might not be perfect initially – always reassess after hitting each milestone on the path and getting market feedback
  • The bullseye framework helps you overcome your traction channel biases by forcing you to take each channel seriously
    • Common mistakes – founders ignore potentially profitable traction channels because those channels are out of their field of view, they don’t like them or they seem time consuming
    • Be honest with yourself about your biases and take each channel seriously – it’s a great way to potentially outcompete your competition

The rest of the book helps you approach getting traction through each channel based on interviews with successful founders and other experts with experience in each channel

Chapter 6 – Targeting Blogs

Targeting blogs prospective customers read

  • Noah Kagan of Mint acquired more than 1.5 million customers in 2 years by targeting blogs
    • Middle ring test – he contacted a few blogs that were representative of diff. customer segments and got them to write articles about Mint
    • Inner ring test – instead of standard articles, he tried getting people to embed Mint widgets on their blogs for priority access + direct sponsorships of blogs (ads & giveaways)
  • Tactics
    • Run tests on a variety of smaller blogs first to see what type of audience works best for your product/messaging
    • To find smaller blogs that cover your niche, use these tools:
      • Search engines – search for things like “top blogs for x” or “best x blogs”
      • YouTube – search for product keywords on YouTube to find influencers/popular videos in your industry (that are likely associated with blogs)
      • Twitter – use Twitter search, Followerwonk and Klout to find top accounts in your industry
      • Social Mention – find sites with the most frequent mentions for your keywords
      • Talk to people – ask your target audience directly what they’re reading
      • Link-sharing communities that link to blogs (i.e. Reddit, Product Hunt, HackerNews etc)
    • Sponsor small blogs (e.g. personal blogs) – provide early access in exchange for spreading the word OR build special offers/guest post for them

Sample Middle Ring Test – contact 10 niche blogs to try get them to review your product (or give away something to their audience or even run an ad if they don’t run ads already)

Chapter 7 – Publicity

Publicity from traditional media (e.g. newspapers/outlets, magazines)

  • An article in TechCrunch or The Huffington Post can boost your stature to customers, investors or partners – helps with fundraising, recruiting and partnerships
  • Strategy
    • Understand how Internet-driven media works
      • Before – finite spots on a newspaper – they’d be doing you a favour by writing about you
      • Now – can be infinite articles in blogs/news sites – they want more traffic (articles) to make money from ads so you’re doing them a favour by giving them content
    • Don’t target large media outlets directly – instead find the blogs they read/use for story ideas and get their attention – eventually bigger outlets will email/write about you
      • E.g. target HackerNews -> TechCrunch -> New York Times
    • To get reporters’ attention, be interesting & noteworthy enough to generate coverage:
      • Use big numbers & milestones, make people react emotionally, make readers want to share it and take action, be polarizing and bundle small announcements into larger ones
      • Contact reporters only when you have compelling emotional stories – make your pitches short and sweet
  • Tactics
    • The best way to get early publicity is to start small – use Twitter to build relationships with reporters, use services like HARO or offer reporters commentary on industry-related stories
    • Once you have a good story, draw as much attention to it – *post it on link-sharing sites (e.g. Reddit, HN) & social networks, email it to influencers & blogs in your space for comment
    • Good PR firms can also help – they can figure out the best messaging/positioning, unify your message, set up press engagements and break into harder-to-get outlets (e.g. TV & radio)

Sample Middle Ring Test – contact 5 relevant local reporters (via Twitter or events they’re covering) about your company and try get them to write about you

Chapter 8 – Unconventional PR

Unconventional publicity stunts or customer appreciation/acts of goodwill

  • Unconventional PR doesn’t suffer from saturation since few companies focus on it
  • There are two types of unconventional PR:
    • Publicity stunts – actions designed to get press coverage (e.g. BlendTec creating a “Will It Blend?” video series to blend random items)
    • Customer appreciation – being awesome to your customers not necessarily for press coverage, but to build goodwill & happy customers (e.g. gifts, contests, sending handwritten notes to customers)
      • Good customer service is so rare that simply making your customers happy makes them more likely to spread the news of your product
      • Customer service is not an expense – it’s a marketing channel (word-of-mouth)
  • Do something big, cheap, fun, creative and original – publicity stunts are hard to do consistently well but one done right can move the needle
  • Note – success in UPR is unpredictable – understand that not every idea will work

Sample Middle Ring Test – host a contest around your product (e.g. a cash giveaway or game) or create an infographic/video you think could go viral in your audience

Chapter 9 – Search Engine Marketing (SEM)

Buying & placing ads on search engines for particular keyword searches (not to be confused with search engine optimization)

  • Example – shoe company places ads on searches for “leather shoes” next to organic results
  • SEM is also called pay-per-click because companies only pay when a user clicks on their ad
  • Strategy (focused on Google Adwords since it’s the largest)
    1. Keyword research – use Google Keyword Planner to find keywords target customers use to find products like yours
      • Target few top keywords or many “long tail keywords” that are less competitive, cheaper with lower search volumes (e.g. “census data” vs “1990 Philadelphia census data”)
    2. Run experiment campaigns – create different ad groups (e.g. for each product type), select keywords to appear for (e.g. “Nike sneakers”) and create your first ad
      • At the start, try 4 ads and aim to run a breakeven campaign after a short period of time
      • Create unique URLs to your landing pages to track which ads are converting
    3. Discard under-performing campaigns and optimize performing ones – keep testing everything (e.g. keywords, copy, demographics, landing pages etc)
  • Tactics (premature if you’re not scaling or focusing on this channel)
    • Focus on Google’s search network – don’t use Google content network until you have existing profitable search campaigns
    • Use retargeting – whoever visits your site sees your ads in places over the Internet (converts 3-10x higher)
    • Use Google’s Conversion Optimizer to auto-adjust your ads to perform better
    • Use negative keywords to prevent your ads showing for certain keywords (e.g. you don’t want eyeglass ads appearing for searches for “wine glasses”)
    • Use programming scripts to auto manage your ads (setting up new ads for certain keywords, changing existing ads)
  • Notes
    • Even before building a product, use search engine ads to see what people want (based on searches) and test product positioning & messaging (via landing pages)
    • Don’t expect early SEM ad tests to be profitable – breaking even is a great signal
    • Measure & test variables (like ad copy, keywords, demographics etc) so you can test whether SEM is profitable (find out how much it costs to acquire one customer)

Sample Middle Ring Test – try 4 ads in Bing Ads (cheaper than Google Ads) on keywords you’re very confident will convert into long-term customers

Chapter 10 – Social and Display Ads

Buying ads on websites (like blogs) or social sites (like Facebook, Twitter etc)

  • Display Ads
    • Display ads are often used for branding and awareness but can also be direct response
    • They’re content-based so you can reach a broader audience than SEM ads – relevant ads are placed depending on the content people are reading
    • There’s three approaches you can take:
      • Best – Go directly to site owners and ask to place an ad on their site for a price (cheap if they don’t already run ads)
      • Good – Buy on niche ad networks focusing on smaller sites fitting your demographics (e.g. dog lovers)
      • Worst – Buy on large ad networks (like Google) to get more data
    • To get started, understand the types of ads that work in your industry by finding ads your competitors run and who visits sites that feature them (use tools for both of these)
  • Social Ads
    • Social ads are about indirect response – you build an audience first, create an environment that inspires loyalty & engagement around your product then convert later
    • Social media allows starting conversations about your product with your target audience – people visit social media sites for interaction/entertainment, not to see ads
    • Create compelling content that gets people to engage and care about your message – your word-of-mouth will go through the roof
      • Also create engaging social experiences – e.g. encourage people to share your product on social media in some way
    • Your main goal with paid social ads – give your content a little “push” so it gets organically shared among your audience
    • Example sites to advertise on – LinkedIn demographic targeted ads, Twitter sponsored tweets, Reddit sponsored links and sidebar ads, YouTube ads
  • Both social and display ads follow similar principles – understand your audience, test your message, reach people in a memorable way
    • They can be used at any phase of your growth since large and small ads can be bought

Sample Middle Ring Test – try a Facebook or Twitter ad campaign to target two niche audiences that would potentially convert well (be very specific)

Chapter 11 – Offline Ads

Buying and placing ads offline (e.g. on TV, radio, trade shows, magazines, newspapers, billboards, direct mail)

  • To find the best offline places to advertise, ask your target customers – find out what magazines, radio stations etc they view
  • Every medium has a different demographic (e.g. newspaper classifieds appeal to older people)
  • Strategy
    • The cost of an offline ad depends on its reach – try spending a little bit on a variety of different places to test performance and understand demographics BEFORE scaling
    • To get really cheap offline ads, look for currently unused ad space (remnant)
    • Track offline ads with unique web addresses, codes and a “How did you hear about us” section in your signup page
    • Print Advertising (e.g. magazines, newspapers, directories, yellow pages, fliers, direct mail)
      • Magazines have three general categories for different demographics) – consumer (larger population), trade (particular industry/business), local
        • Design is critical to get a good response – an attention-grabbing header, eye-catching graphic, a clear description and a strong CTA/offer
      • Newspapers are published on local, national or international scales & typically appeal to the over-30 demographic
        • Great for time-sensitive offers (e.g. events/sales), announcements, or awareness
      • Local print ads like local fliers, directories, bulletins are a great, low-cost way to test print ads (e.g. InstaCab hired cyclists to hand out cards to people trying to hail taxis)
    • Outdoor Advertising (e.g. billboards)
      • Billboards are great for building awareness in driving audiences and even direct-response on buses/trains since the audience is captive
      • Every billboard has an advertising score (& cost) based on its size, location, type and the number of impressions it can provide
      • Downside – it’s hard for drivers to take immediate action on what they see
      • Advantage – they’re replaced only when there are new ads to go up
    • Radio & TV Advertising – often used for branding (e.g. famous Apple, Nike commercials)
      • Quality is critical – must factor in the immense costs of production and airtime costs
      • Infomercials are great – long-form demos sell better than 15-second ads
  • Run cheap, local tests firstevery offline ad medium can be tested locally and then scaled up regionally or nationally

Sample Middle Ring Test – advertise on a niche, reasonably priced podcast or run a few ads in local papers

Chapter 12 – Search Engine Optimization

The process of improving your ranking on search engines to get more people to visit your site

  • People on the Internet turn to search engines for answers – ranking high can be a significant driver of traffic that scales well for low-cost
  • Strategy
    • You need to rank high or SEO will not be effective at all – the first few results on page 1 of Google get nearly all of the traffic
    • There are two high-level strategies:
      • Fat head – one or two-word searches (e.g. “dishwashers”, “braces”) – bring in the most traffic but are very competitive and hard to rank for
        • Good if target keywords bring in so much traffic that capturing even 10% will be meaningful
        • Bad if your niche is so new that noone’s really searching for it
        • First, find keywordslook at competitors’ home pages/titles, describe your products
        • Then, determine difficulty of ranking high for each keyword – find how many links the sites that rank highly have
        • Then, narrow your list to a few keywords and work on them – orient your site around these terms, get other sites to link to your sites or even test with SEM ads
      • Long tail – lengthier searches that are more specific (e.g. “gluten free for arthritis”) – bring in less traffic but are less competitive and account for 70% of all searches
        • Good if a bunch of long-tail keywords in your industry add up to meaningful amounts of traffic (check yours/your competitors’ long-tail traffic to see)
        • Success depends on your ability to produce significant amounts of quality content – hire freelancers, build tons of sub-pages to target long-tail keywords
        • Consider using content that naturally flows from your business – use data that you collect or generate to create useful content (like Yelp, TripAdvisor, Wikipedia etc)
  • Tactics
    • SEO comes down to two things – how aligned your content is with target keywords and how many links you have from credible + varying sources
    • Focus on building links – it’s more challenging than content – you can build links by being featured on a publication, creating pages naturally using your product, creating shareable, high-quality content, creating widgets that site owners can add to their site, creating infographics/slideshows/images people naturally would share
    • Never buy links! You’ll get heavily penalized in rankings for trying to “trick” search engines

Sample Middle Ring Test – test a long-tail strategy by making content from data from your product (either from making/researching it or from the product itself)

Chapter 13 – Content Marketing

Creating a company blog and creating content (like articles) to drive traffic to your website

  • Content marketing is great because:
    • It positions you as a leader in your space – leading to speaking opportunities, influence in the industry
    • It leads to comarketing opportunities – other companies as well as customers
    • A strong blog can positively impact other traction channels – e.g. SEO, publicity, email marketing, targeting blogs, community building, offline events, existing platforms & business development
  • Blogs drive search & word of mouth – they’re the top of the funnel
    • People find the blog and it’s attached to our website that people then check out
    • Some companies (like Unbounce) start blogging even before having a product
  • Tactics
    • Dedicate atleast 6 months to a blog – they take a lot of time to start taking off
    • Do things that don’t scale early on – reach out to individuals to share posts, contact influential industry leaders, do guest posts, write about recent news, create infographics
    • Produce in-depth posts you can’t find anywhere else – create quality content, write about problems your target customers have, use data from your company for interesting conclusions
    • Infographics are shared about 20x more often than typical blog posts + are much more likely to get picked up by online publications
    • Quantity is no substitute for quality – if you don’t create useful content, it won’t spread no matter how hard you try
    • Monitor social mentions + use analytics to find types of posts which get attention & which don’t

Sample Middle Ring Test – start a company blog and write 1 blog post a week for a month – promote posts on Twitter/link-sharing sites, turn on comments and try to write controversial/surprising posts (using data you’ve researched/from your product)

Chapter 14 – Email Marketing

Sending emails to potential customers to sell your product, build familiarity, acquire customers or retain them

  • Your inbox is personal so email marketing works best when personalized for every prospect
  • Email marketing can be used for multiple purposes/all stages of customer life cycle:
    • Finding customers – build an email list of prospects through other marketing efforts
      • e.g. require an email address to access premium content, create a free course in exchange for subscribing, put a subscribe CTA at the bottom of blog posts/landing pages
    • Engaging customers – turn idle users into customers that actively use your product
      • e.g. create an email sequence to expose new customers to key features, remind idle users to use the product, have an onboarding checklist with targeted emails at every step
    • Retaining customers – bring customers back to your product and prevent churn
      • e.g. emails to customers who haven’t signed in for a week, weekly summary emails to keep your product on top of mind, showcase customers’ previous engagement with your product
    • For revenue – use email to sell your product – for some companies, email results in a 70x higher conversion rate
      • e.g. email course to upsell your product at the end, explain a premium feature customer is missing, target customers based on events with special offers, convince subscribers to pay annually vs monthly at end of subscription
    • For referrals – get people to email their friends in exchange for a deal themselves – since email is so personal, it’s great for referrals
  • Tactics
    • Use email providers like Mailchimp to help ensure your emails don’t hit the spam folder
    • Split test every aspect of your emails (e.g. subjects, formats, images, timing etc)
    • Don’t send from noreply email addresses – use personal addresses so you have the opportunity to start conversations/get feedback from people
    • Email copy and timing are critical – write well and send at the right time
    • Setup automated email sequences that adapt to how people interact with your product

Sample Middle Ring Test – develop a 7-email mini course teaching something relevant to your product and upsell your product at the end

Chapter 15 – Viral Marketing

Getting your existing customers to refer others to your product. “Going viral” means every user you acquire brings in atleast one other user (and so on)

  • Strategy
    • Viral marketing is about viral loopscustomers are exposed to your product -> they tell a set of potential customers about it -> a portion of them become customers -> loop repeats
    • Types of viral loops: (more powerful when combined)
      • Pure word of mouth – product is so great that people naturally tell others about it
      • Inherent virality – people get value from a product only by inviting others (e.g. Snapchat, Whatsapp)the value of product increases with the number of people on it
      • Collaboration – product valuable on its own but more valuable as you invite others (e.g. Google Docs)
      • Viral product communicationse.g. adding “Sent from my iPhone” on every email sent to spread the word about iPhones
      • Incentivizing customers to tell others about the product – e.g. Dropbox gives you more space if you get friends to signup
      • Embedded buttons and widgetse.g. YouTube provides code to embed videos on any website
    • The two key factors that drive viral growth are:
      • Viral coefficient – how many more customers you get for each customer you bring in = number of invites sent per user x conversion %
        • To increase your viral coefficient – send more invites per user (include features that encourage sharing) + make signing up frictionless/much easier
      • Viral cycle time – how long it takes a user to go through your viral loop – the shorter, the better (since more loops can occur in the same time)
        • To decrease your viral cycle timecreate urgent/incentivize customers to move through you viral loops + simplify every step in your funnel
  • Tactics
    • Measure and work to increase viral coefficient and decrease viral cycle time
    • Run as many split tests as you can – focus for weeks on one area at a time
    • Map out every aspect of your viral loopcut unnecessary steps + increase areas where customers can send out invites
    • Understand why people click/sign up – helps you think of ways to improve your viral loop
    • Focus on subgroups of customers growing more rapidly than others (“viral pockets”)
    • Use channels like SEO and online ads for cheap ways to “seed” customers into your loops
    • Early on, copy those who have done it before until yours starts to work in a similar way
    • Even if you can’t go fully viral, you can use viral marketing to rapidly bring in more customers using the ones you’re already bringing in with other channels
  • Common mistakesadding viral features to an inherently non-viral product, having a bad product, not split testing enough, using generic strategies vs understanding your customers

Sample Middle Ring Test – build a viral loop into your product & run 5 tests to improve the weakest step – if your viral coefficient gets near 0.5, it’s promising

Chapter 16 – Engineering as Marketing

Building tools and resources to reach more people, generate leads and expand your customer base

  • Engineering as marketing is effective because it’s harder to build a popular app vs other channels – leads to less saturation
  • Tools and resources are marketing assets with ongoing returns rather than ads with a one-time boost – you can build/write once and get value forever
  • Example – WPEngine’s free tool to check how fast your WordPress site loads – enter your URL and email and get back a detailed report + an email sequence about boosting site speed (with an upsell at the end)
  • Strategy
    • Provide something of value for free (no strings attached) or for contact info (leads)
    • Make that offer extremely relevant to your core business
    • Demonstrate that value as quickly and easily as possible for the customer
  • Tactics
    • Take advantage of cyclical behaviour to boost your efforts – e.g. make holiday-themed microsites or send emails every week (e.g. with lessons)
    • Look internally for site and tool ideas – have you made something for yourself to make life easier or is a blog post especially popular?
    • Make them simple – single purpose tools that solve obvious pain points are best
    • Put tools/microsites on their own websites to make them easy to discover via search engines

Sample Middle Ring Test – make a simple, free tool tangentially relevant to your company on its own domain – collect contact info for using the tool & email users about your product

Chapter 17 – Business Development

Partnering with other businesses to reach customers in a way that benefits both parties

  • Strategy
    • Types of business development partnerships:
      • Standard partnerships – two companies partner to make their products better by leveraging the unique capabilities of the other – e.g. Apple & Nike (Nike+)
      • Joint ventures – two companies partner to create an entirely new product – e.g. Starbucks & Pepsi (bottled Starbucks Frappucino)
      • Licensing – company with a strong brand partners with another with a great product/service – e.g. Starbucks + ice cream manufacturers (Starbucks icecream)
      • Distribution deals – company provides a product or service to another in return for access to potential customers – e.g. Groupon and regular stores
      • Supply partnerships – companies secure key inputs from each other – e.g. Hulu partners with channels, Walmart partners with suppliers
    • Think strategically – clearly understand your company objectives/target metrics and how partnerships can help get you there (and help your partner achieve theirs)
      • Only take deals that align with your traction goals & are mutually beneficial – avoid rest
    • Not every deal will close – build a pipeline of deals + maintain large list of potential partners
      • Make an exhaustive spreadsheet – Company, Partner Type (Publisher, Carrier, Reseller etc), Contact Person/Email, Size, Relevance, Ease of Use, Priority Score (subecjtive)
      • Choose 10-20 to focus your efforts on -> contact investors/friends for warm intros
  • Tactics
    • To approach deals with larger companies – think of what you have that they need (e.g. focus, content/tech), get a warm intro to a metric gatekeeper at the target co and be quick/follow up to stay top of mind
    • After proposing a deal, make negotiating and the term sheet as simple as possible (e.g. one page with no-few lawyers needed)
      • Key terms – deal lifetime, exclusivity, how payments work, level of commitment, deal guarantees and revenue sharing agreements
    • Understand what made the deal happen and how it happened – document the whole process so you can improve it in future
    • Land a few personal deals first (to prove your value) then transition to impersonal partnerships (using tools like APIs, feeds, crawlers, embed codes)

Sample Middle Ring Test – list 3 potential partner companies (e.g. ones with complementary products) and try to strike atleast 1 deal

Chapter 18 – Sales

Generating leads, qualifying them and converting them into paying customers

  • Strategy
    • Unlike B2C, B2B products often require personal connections, “lunch pitches” etc to get their first customers
    • Talk to prospects about their problems – offer free value in exchange for their feedback
    • Pick up the phone – set daily/weekly number targets and call people with the authority to make change – call friends, connections or cold call
    • Use the SPIN Selling framework to structure your initial sales conversations:
      • Situation questions – learn about a prospect’s buying situation to determine if they’re a likely sale prospect – e.g. “how many employees do you have?”
      • Problem questions – clarify the buyer’s pain points to define the problem – e.g. “what problems do you face with your current solution?”
      • Implication questions – make a prospect aware of the implications of their problem – e.g. “how many people does this issue impact?”
      • Need-payoff questions – focus on how your solution benefits the prospect – e.g. “how would this solution help you?”
    • To close customers that passed SPIN, get answers for five specific areas – how the company buys existing solutions, how badly they need them, who has the authority to make the purchase happen, whether they have the funds to buy and timelines for purchase
    • Your first customers should be progressive and willing to work closely
      • Avoid wasting time and resources on prospects with no authority or interest in buying
  • Tactics
    • Sales is a funnel – find many leads -> qualify prospects -> sell to %
      • First goal – drive leads to the top of the funnel – use other channels to make people aware of your product – use sales to close leads not get them
      • Second goal – qualify the lead – split leads into 3 categories (likely to close in 3mo, 3-12mo, unlikely to close in 12mo) – spend 75% of time on first & no time on last (get marketing to focus on those)
      • Final goal – close prospects – outline exactly what you’re going to do for the customer with clear timelines to get them to say yes/no – create a sales cycle to address all the buyer’s questions and handle objections
    • Track where prospects drop out of your funnel (usually due to making purchasing complex/difficult) – address these problems *(e.g. offer free trials, use testimonials etc)

Sample Middle Ring Test – reach out via cold email to 100 prospective customers with a high likelihood of converting to real customers

Chapter 19 – Affiliate Programs

Paying people/companies for doing things that benefit your business (like making a sale/getting a lead)

  • Affiliate programs can work in different ways:
    • Coupon/deal sites – offer discounts to visitors & take a cut of any sale that occurs
    • Loyalty programs – offer cashback on purchases made through partner networks in exchange for a cut of each sale
    • Aggregators – add info like ratings/price comparisons to others’ products
    • Email lists – recommend products on email lists in exchange for a cut of the sale
    • Vertical sites – niche sites that link to niche products (e.g. parenting blogs)
  • For startups with little money, affiliate programs are great as there’s less risk than Ads/PPC
  • Tactics
    • Success depends on how much you’re willing to pay to acquire a customer
    • First, test using an existing affiliate network targeted at your type of product – you don’t need to waste time on recruiting affiliates
    • Otherwise, build your own affiliate program by recruiting from your customer base/people with access to your target customers (like bloggers, influencers, email list curators etc)
      • Benefit – pay affiliates with product features instead of cash (e.g. Dropbox’s referral program gives people free storage space)
      • It’s easier to recruit from your customer base as they’re already familiar with your brand
    • Build relationships with content creators – help them however you can, give free access to your product and they’ll be happy to promote you if you have a great product
    • Keep payouts simple – know how much you can spend to acquire a customer and keep it below that

Sample Middle Ring Test – recruit 20 affiliates from a major affiliate network or strike affiliate deals with existing customers

Chapter 20 – Existing Platforms

Leveraging existing websites, apps or networks (like Apple/Android app stores or Facebook/Twitter) with large numbers of users to get traction

  • Strategy
    • App Stores
      • The best way for an app to be discovered is to get enough attention to show up in top ranked & featured listings sectionsi.e. for a category, country, editor’s choice
      • The priority is to first get your app into the charts – use other channels (or buy ads) to get it onto the charts and then let the increased visibility lead to a traction loop
      • For top rankings to be sustainable – build a compelling app with high ratings – ask people to rate your app right after they get value AND make your base experience excellent
    • Browser extensions/add-ons – apply the same principles as app stores to these
    • Social Sitesnote these are constantly changing
      • Focus on platforms that are just taking off – they’re less saturated and you can create products to fill needs users have that platforms aren’t providing
        • E.g. YouTube provided user-friendly video sharing for MySpace early on, Bitly provided short links for Twitter, Imgur provided image-sharing on Reddit
    • Basic strategy – find where potential customers hang out online and create a strategy to target them on these platforms
      • E.g. Paypal targeted eBay users as first customers – they purchased goods from eBay users and required the sellers to accept payment through PayPal
  • Tactics
    • Take advantage of existing platforms that are just taking off before they get crowded so you can benefit from early promotion from the platform
      • Think about what products the platform’s editors are looking to feature
      • Make tons of small bets on emerging platforms

Sample Middle Ring Test – promote your product on a relevant niche platform your audience hangs out in or make a simple browser extension and try to get featured

Chapter 21 – Trade Shows

Using trade shows to showcase your products in person and build relationships with vendors and customers (to sell big clients, seal partnerships etc)

  • Strategy
    • To decide which trade shows to attend/invest in, visit as a guest to get a feel for the event or get opinions of people who’ve exhibited at previous shows
    • Set goals and budgets around trade shows and pick events that allow you to best achieve your goals with your given budget (think in terms of types of interactions you want)
      • E.g. use trade shows early to showcase a prototype & learn what customers want and later, increase presence and expenses when you have a product
  • Tactics
    • Be preparedvery rarely is everyone in the industry in the same place in the year
    • To prepare – proactively schedule meetings with key attendees you want to meet before the event (e.g. editors, bloggers, potential partners)
      • Host dinners/parties to strengthen relationships and get to know people intimately
    • If publicity is your goal, reach out to media and give them something to write about
    • Success is building relationships and making a good impression on journalists, prospective customers and partners
    • Make your booth impressive and located correctly depending on goals
      • For high traffic – get a booth in a high-traffic, visible location with a plan to get attention
      • For a few high value prospects – choose a particular place (e.g. next to specific co)
    • To attract people to your booth – get creative, give away stuff and start conversations by walking up to people
    • To get people to stay and engage – be creative & compelling + have strong CTAs on your giveaway materials (like a great offer on a business card)

Sample Middle Ring Test – list all the obvious, relevant events over the next year and exhibit at the one that seems most promising

Chapter 22 – Offline Events

Sponsoring or running offline events (like meetups, hackathons or conferences) to engage directly with customers and get traction

  • Strategy
    • Offline events are great for startups with long sales cycles (to build relationships) and those with customers with shared interests (easier to get people together to hang out)
    • You can start your own meetup, join existing ones or sponsor ones using Meetup sites
    • Test this channel with meetups/smaller events in phase I to get early traction and larger conferences in phase II to build on it
      • Smaller meetups in the early stages create lasting community connections
      • Launching at a conference is effective – there’s heaps of relevant people there
    • Try organizing your own meetups/conferences (if you feel existing ones aren’t right for you)
      • Ask your target audience if they’d be interested and sell tickets through your site/blog
      • Keep the event simple – few speakers, one key focus/topic, one day (possibly even online)
    • Throwing parties is very effective – everyone loves parties and free food, merch etc
  • Tactics
    • One day mini-conferences are easy, cheap and effective ways for smaller startups to get traction and test interest for a larger event
      • Select a topic relevant to your product -> invite 3 local company founders to give short talks on the topic -> choose a venue (e.g. university hall)
    • Keep attendee quality high so attendees learn from both speakers and audience members – to do this, make ticket prices high
    • Structure your events carefully – keeping things small is more intimate while larger events allow for more reach/credibility
    • Offline events are effective because few startups do them – keep trying new things, fail fast and see what sticks

Sample Middle Ring Test – put together a one-day mini-conference – invite a few regional speakers to speak during the day and host it at a university

Chapter 23 – Speaking Engagements

Speaking at trade shows/offline events to spread your message, bring you personal growth and sell your product

  • The right talk at the right time to the right people can make you an industry leader overnight
  • Strategy
    • To land engagements, pitch event organizers with good ideas for a talk or ask them about topics they want covered – you’re doing them a favour by filling time at their events
    • Submit proposals far in advance and establish yourself as an expert on the topic to speak about to “earn the right” to be on stage
    • Build speaking skills/reputation and refine your talks by speaking (for free) at smaller conferences/events
    • If your first engagement was good, you’ll naturally get invited to more or can leverage it to talk at larger ones as social proof
  • Tactics
    • When starting a talk, address the audience’s two burning questions immediatelywhy are you important enough to give a talk and what value can you offer me?
      • E.g. highlight your achievements, do an intro of yourself
    • After capturing the audience’s attention, keep it with a gripping storywhat your startup is doing, why you’re doing it, how you got to where you are or where things are going
      • Note – it’s fine to give the same one-two stories in all your talks – you can’t have unlimited stories
    • Record your engagements and post clips online to reach more people
    • Use social media to reach people outside the conference – tweet your slides beforehand to generate hype, get audience to share as you present (via CTAs in your presentation) and give your audience a CTA at the end (e.g. check out this link
    • Every slide in your presentation should be engaging
    • Build relationships as a speaker – organize “speaker’s dinners” if there isn’t one already

Sample Middle Ring Test – contact 3 local meetup organizers relevant to your product and ask to speak at an upcoming event

Chapter 24 – Community Building

Investing in relationships between your customers to help them spread the word and bring others into your startup’s circle

  • Strategy
    • Optional – use existing audiences to jump-start community-building efforts – e.g. Wikipedia started with a small group of users from Nupedia (an earlier online encyclopedia project)
    • A community needs a powerful mission to give its members purpose & motivation to contribute – a vision of what you want to accomplish that helps everyone
    • Be open with your community – get regular feedback and build community the way the community wants
    • Important – foster connections among your community via metas (i.e. via forums, events) – these are places people discuss maintaining and governing the community itself
    • Engage with your community yourself – let people know you value them by building relationships, sending merch, gifts, coordinating events, thanking them
    • Keep quality high as you scale by setting strict guidelines so users can police on their own (e.g. quality of Yelp reviews, usefulness of Wikipedia articles)
    • Use community to hire great people and ask customers for help building your product – they’re the people that are invested in your mission
    • Community building works well for companies that connect people together but not for advertising/retargeting based companies

Sample Middle Ring Test – join 3 online forums where your customers hang out – engage on atleast 20 threads on each one OR build your own community using an online forum tool

If you found this summary useful and want to give back in some way, consider buying me a book (or coffee/beer) or buying the actual book via the affiliate links at the top – appreciate any support 🤝