Traction for early stage startups

Experienced founders will tell you that it is important to invest time in not only building a product but also planning out which channels will drive traffic best. As I build a new business, I’m spending equal time on product and traction. Several key product choices are driven by my anticipated choice of traffic channels. Getting early traction for a new business is often a very different exercise to scaling a more mature business. Thankfully, there are excellent resources on the web which are sometimes hard to find. Let me summarise some of the best ones.

Here’s what the founder of had to say: “Content marketing is the easiest, most necessary and often most attainable and feasible to all startups. It is usually free, and can result in rewards long into the future. Paid traction is the second topic. That means advertising, for instance, and the reason that is only slightly less feasible in some cases is because it costs money, which is something we all may not always have. At least as much as we’d like. The third is targeting a platform which helps you spread your product. It may not be applicable to all products, but if you are only starting out and have the luxury of making decisions on your direction, this is a good thing to keep in your toolbox. The top of the pyramid and the fourth topic is organic traction and viral marketing. This is what we most commonly think of when we speak of growth hacking, which is what brings us here.” More here.

“For mobile apps, the App Store is still the centre of app discovery and unless you’re in the top 25 of a given ranking, it’s hard to get noticed. We asked our users who discovered us by searching on the App Store, what keywords they searched for specifically. It allowed us to fine-tune our app store description. For our website where we have a more professional online survey tool, SEO wasn’t easy at the beginning. What helped over time was to get featured on websites with good domain authority (a news site or popular forum) thus getting a nice SEO boost.” More here.

“Publish insanely great content that’s highly relevant to your core audience. Email marketing will continue to reign supreme as a traction channel. Foster communities one person at a time. Pick high-growth segments to target and develop short product viral loops.” More here.

“The obvious free channels viral/referral, SEO, and blogging/bloggers all take considerable time to build and can actually slow down the speed of iterating through Customer Validation. When they do kick-in, the payoff is well worth the effort but I’ve found it better to invest in a few small-buy paid channels for early traffic while building the free channels in parallel.” More here.

“To gain some initial traction with our online presence we went to forums and posted answers to questions while using the opportunity to get our web address out there. We currently sell on our main ecommerce site, Amazon, and eBay. In addition, we are active on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. While we have yet to run a PPC campaign, this is planned for the near future.” More here.

“Although Google paid ads keyword competition may be fierce and unsuitable for early stage startups, it may still be the quickest and fastest way to get early customer feedback.” More here.

“Look for any additional marketing channel that will guarantee at least some stability in downloads; Facebook helped us to gather followers pretty fast until the majority of friends have become our users, so there is no hope that followers and likes will grow progressively (hint: you can put money to FB, or create really viral content – it will work); Contests attract a very “specific” audience, “professional players” – likes grow, but sales and downloads- NO; Organic downloads from Google and AppStore are working well.” More here.

“If you’ve conducted customer interviews, you should try and convert those leads into sales opportunities. Post highly targeted ads on niche blogs. Find channel partners with a shared audience.” More here.

“Reward social media engagement. One of the most loved features of the Birchbox experience is the generous rewards scheme that is offered loyal customers. Shoppers gain points from referring friends, and personal referrals are one of the most effective ways of generating new customers in both online and offline retail. In addition, they reward customers that use social media to share their Birchbox subscription purchases.” More here.

A broad summary of ecommerce marketing practices. Probably relevant to other business models. More here.

Finally, here’s a great book on product viral loops worth reading.

If you know of other good resources on traction techniques, please share them in the comments below.

Mobile learning is addictive and zzish!

I’ve been working with the Zzish team who are going through Techstars in London. Techstars is a highly regarded accelerator programme that’s created many successful technology businesses. I’m finding that being part of Techstars is a really valuable learning experience. I’m surrounded by energetic entrepreneurial teams who have come from all over the  world.

Through my work with Zzish, I’m also learning a lot about the mobile education space. I don’t think mobile education gets the same coverage in the tech press like other areas in mobile such as payments, commerce and navigation. So I’m pleasantly surprised with what I’m discovering.

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For a start, the mobile education industry is expected to undergo a lot of growth globally. Not only in the US and Europe but also in Asia, Latin America and Africa.  Much of this growth will be driven by both the increasing use of smartphones and tablets and parents desires to find more effective ways to improve learning for their kids.

Image Based on current predictions, the biggest change we’ll experience will be the growth in e-books and e-courses. I love reading paper-based books. However, it seems that the next generation of school kids and university students won’t be turning as many paper pages. Increasingly publishers will digitise more education content and adapt it so it can be read on mobile devices.

The other big change that we’ll see especially in North America and Europe will be the use of game and simulation tools in education. Educational content will be mixed with concepts such as augmented and virtual realities to create engaging, competitive and social environments where learning something new becomes fun, interactive and accessible from anywhere.

If learning becomes stimulating and even addictive, I wonder what implications this has for the world we’ll be living in in 2020.

I hope to write more on mobile education and what Zzish is doing in another blog post. It’s great working with Charles, Samir, Ed, Buket and others at Warner Yard.

By the way, Zzish are looking for a web developer. Email Ed if you know someone who’s interested.