Traction: How Any Startup Can Achieve Explosive Customer Growth [Book Summary]

  • Find and use offline ads and other channels your competitors probably aren’t using
  • Get targeted media coverage that will help you reach more customers
  • Boost the effectiveness of your email marketing campaigns by automating staggered sets of prompts and updates
  • Improve your search engine rankings and advertising through online tools and research

Chapter 1: Traction Channels

What is traction?

  1. Targeting niche blogs
  2. Media mentions
  3. Unconventional PR
  4. Paid search
  5. Social and display ads
  6. Offline advertisement
  7. SEO
  8. Content marketing
  9. Email marketing
  10. Widgets, microsites and free tools
  11. Customer referrals
  12. Strategic partnerships
  13. Sales
  14. Affiliate programs
  15. Existing platforms
  16. Trade shows
  17. Offline events
  18. Speaking engagements
  19. Community building

Chapter 2: Traction Thinking

  • You will get a large amount of feedback that will help you further refine your product so that it fully meets customers’ needs.
  • You can test different channels and learn what works and what doesn’t. This way, when launch time comes, you can move full speed ahead.
  • Phase 1: Developing a product that has customer demand
  • Phase 2: Marketing a product that people want
  • Phase 3: Scaling your startup
  • In the first phase, you refine your product until you achieve product-market fit, evidenced by a high retention rate.
  • In the second phase, now that you have a product that actually satisfies customers’ needs in a way that no other alternative does, you can ramp up your traction efforts and adjust your marketing messages based on what you observed in the first phase.
  • In the third phase, once you’ve established a viable business model and attained a significant position in the market, you can focus on scaling your business to increase profits and market share.

How Much Traction Are Investors Looking For?

When Is It Time to Pivot?

Chapter 3: Bullseye

Zeroing in on the Target

  • What is the cost of customer acquisition for this channel?
  • How many potential customers can you reach through this channel?
  • Are these the kind of customers you want to target in this phase of your startup development?

Chapter 4: Traction Testing

Chapter 5: Critical Path

Root Out Channel Bias

Chapter 6: Targeting Blogs

Basic Strategy & Special Tips

  • Identify relevant blogs using a variety of tools, including Twitter, Google search, StumpleUpon, Delicious, Social Mention, YouTube and Google Alerts.
  • Sponsor small, niche blogs by offering money in exchange for displaying a small advertisement on their sites. Or get influential bloggers on board by offering VIP access in exchange for getting the word out.
  • Offer something of unique value to top blogs, such as a special offer, bundles or freebies.

Memorable Quote

Chapter 7: Publicity

Basic Strategy

  • Start by targeting smaller sites and blogs and then work your way up to the major media sites.
  • Since these sites usually look to smaller blogs to find story ideas, it is a good idea to first get featured on these to increase the chances of getting picked up by sites like TechCrunch and Huffington Post.

Special Tips

  • Play the long game by cultivating relationships with reporters who cover your market. Follow them on Twitter, regularly read and comment on their work, and offer to provide some expert advice to use in their articles.
  • Tap into emotions that will make readers want to share your story with others. Package your startup’s milestones into a newsworthy, emotional narrative that will make your story more compelling.
  • Journalists receive hundreds of pitches a day, so make yours clear and concise. Make the value of your proposition easy to understand at a glance, relieving the journalist of as much work as possible as they read and decide whether your story is newsworthy or not.

Memorable Quote

Chapter 8: Unconventional PR

Basic Strategy & Special Tips

  • If you are ready to experiment until you find a stunt that sticks, you should do something ostentatious and creative yet inexpensive. Successful startups have tried everything from viral videos and billboards to competitive stunts.
  • Treat your customers exceptionally well, e.g. startups like Zappos and Hipmunk are well-known for going above and beyond the call of duty to serve their customers by sending gifts and handwritten notes to them and running creative contests.
  • Find a brainstorming and selection process that allows you to select the most promising ideas, but be aware that not every idea will be a success.

Memorable Quote

Chapter 9: Search Engine Marketing (SEM)


  • CTR — Click-Through Rate is the percentage of ad appearances translating to clicks.
  • CPC — Cost per Click is the amount paid for each click on the advertisement.
  • CPA — Cost per Acquisition is the price of acquiring a customer after a click. This is a measure of actual purchase.
  • CPA = CPC/conversion percentage

Basic Strategy

  • The first step is to identify the keywords that can be most effective in attracting customers using tools like Google Keyword Planner.
  • This is followed by testing these keywords on a platform like Google AdWords.
  • Then create eye-catching ads, which also include a call to action.
  • Different keywords have different rates, and an analytics tool can be used if the cost and conversion rates are in sync.
  • A small-scale test at the beginning can let you know if SEM is the right channel for you.
  • The channel can be further optimized on different metrics to improve the ad quality scores.

Special Tips

  • After establishing a profitable campaign, consider expanding to the Google content network
  • Use advanced tools like retargeting, conversion optimization, negative keywords and programming scripts
  • Aggregate long-tail keywords, which are cheaper as they have low search volumes

Case Study (Inflection)

Memorable Quote

Chapter 10: Social and Display Ads

Display ads

  • These ads can be bought through large general networks like Google and, through niche networks that target specific audience categories or directly from publishers of sites and blogs.
  • It is important that the location of advertising matches the requirements of your product.

Social ads

  • This method requires well-designed ads to generate customer awareness and interest, rather than an immediate conversion.
  • Depending on intended audience one or more social networking sites can be used, or you can partner with networks that promote content on popular media sites.

Memorable Quote

Chapter 11: Offline Ads

Basic Strategy

  • Run a cheap test ad for a small market and then scale up according to budget and product phase if it works.
  • Long contracts and buying remnant ad inventory are two ways to save money.
  • Offline ads are difficult to track, and require innovative means like specific call to action or unique discount codes.

Print Advertising

  • For magazines, depending on the target demographic, choose one of the three types: (i) consumer, for large population; (ii) trade, covering a particular industry; and (iii) local, targeting a small market.
  • Newspapers can be local or national too, but generally serve the 30-plus age group.
  • Direct mail campaigns can be strengthened using smart tactics like handwritten cards and envelopes, inclusion of self-addressed envelopes for better response, and bulk email option for reduced pricing from the postal service.
  • Local print ads, calendars, yellow pages, etc. are inexpensive ways to test print advertising.
  • Unorthodox strategies like hanging flyers where potential customers get together can also be used effectively.

Outdoor Advertising

  • The cost of billboards depends upon GRP score (Gross Ratings Points), decided by factors like ad size, type, location and number of impressions.
  • Advantages include chance of the ad staying up for a long time and captive audience provided by effectively placed transit ads.
  • Downside is that immediate action is not possible with many billboards as people are likely to encounter them while on the road.

Radio & TV Advertising

  • Radio ads are priced on cost-per-point, each point equaling the cost to reach 1% of listeners.
  • TV ads provide powerful branding, but can be expensive to buy and to create.
  • Same for infomercials, which generally work for a select category of products.

Memorable Quote

Chapter 12: Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

Basic Strategy

  • Basics include having a large number of high-quality links to your site and using the right keywords in page titles and headings.
  • A ‘fat head strategy’ involves trying to rank for broad search terms that have high search volumes, while a ‘long-tail strategy’ involves ranking for more specific terms that have lower search volumes.
  • The key to choosing a strategy is the ability to rank high on the first page in the search results.
  • Targeted articles with useful content are useful in case of the long tail strategy.

Special Tips

  • High quality content aligned with the targeted keywords and high quality links to your site are the two most important factors for successful SEO.
  • Publicity through popular websites, content marketing and widgets with backlinks are some ways to build links.
  • Avoid ‘black-hat tactics’ that can earn links in the short term, but can be penalized later.

Memorable Quote

Chapters 13 to 24



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Payman Taei

Payman Taei

I’m helping the world communicate Visually. #VisualContent Master, Designer, #Entrepreneur, #startups. Founder: Visme & HindSite Interactive