In this guest blog post, Shawn Parrotte, Marketing Manager at Designli and friend of the Founder Institute, explains the difference between traction and growth, as well as how founders can turn their company into a viable business.
Start-ups are unique because of their ability to scale exceptionally fast. Think about this: of those companies that make up the unicorn club - with a $1B+ valuation - it took them on average only six years to get there! By leveraging technology and honing in on the drivers of their success, these organizations were able to fundamentally change entire industries.
Now, whether or not you have dreams of building a billion dollar company, transforming your startup from just an idea into a successful business means that your company will typically go through three stages – traction, transition, and growth.
Each of these stages requires different priorities that are reflected in different company goals, metrics, channels, teams, and so on.
In the early stages of your startup, you’ll have to manage so many tasks that you’ll often be overwhelmed with what needs to get done. But instead of being paralyzed by what appears like an endless amount of work, know that you really only have one goal: traction.
Before traction, everything else is secondary. Only once you have significant traction should you move your organization to the next stage, transition, towards your final destination: growth.
Understanding how these two terms, traction and growth, are related to each other, as well as the key differences between them, is essential for building a successful long term business.
What Is Traction?
Simply put, traction refers to the initial progress of a startup and the momentum it builds as it grows. When you have “traction”, you have a clear indicator that your product or service is viable, that you’ve found some level of product/market fit, you’re getting attention from your target audience, and you’re growing your brand.
There are many ways of measuring traction. Depending on what kind of startup you have and which industry you’re in, you don’t necessarily need to be profitable to show signs of traction. Just look at Twitter, it’s a 10 years old company that has a massive user base, and its still experimenting with how transform into a profitable company.
If you’re a Saas, or social media driven startup, maintaining consistent growth in other metrics besides profit such as daily active users, monthly active users, monthly signups, or a decrease in churn rate are all indicators that your startup is gaining traction.
And just as traction is important to you, it is important to potential investors as well. Needless to say, your startup will attract more investors if it has greater evidence of traction. With more investors, your company will get more funds and a bigger network, both of which will help your startup grow.
One of the first steps in generating traction is finding what the real drivers of your business growth are - which may take some time to discover - and developing processes to maximize each driver. For instance, NerdWallet found that SEO was their go to driver of business growth. Once they realized this was the most effective strategy, the team launched an initiative to write 500 posts per month and now they consistently rank on the first page of Google for pretty much anything and everything related to personal finance.
When you have clearly defined processes and goals, potential investors will also have a better picture of how your startup will progress in relation to your competition (if you have any) as well as the general landscape of the marketplace.
What is Growth?
Now let’s talk about growth.
If you did everything right in the traction stage, you’ll have significant upward movement in the important metrics that drive your business. Here, you should start seeing signs that your business has gained market share in your industry and mindshare from your target audience. If you haven’t yet, keep focusing on gaining traction before trying to scale your efforts.
While being nimble allowed you to experiment during the early days of your startup - finding what moves the needle of your initial growth, testing different offerings, and nailing down your product/market fit - when you’re growing, your mission is to maximize what makes you unique and what makes you valuable.
When you know what’s working in your business, you can now hire experts to do it better and more efficiently for you. Or, if you neglected your product in favor of generating traffic, you can now circle back to craft a better product or a better user/customer experience.
Essentially, at the growth stage, you’ll be able to work more on your business than in your business. Your team will start to take over most of the responsibilities which makes it easier for you to come into your role as leader in your company. Of course, you will still be much involved in everything, but you’ll have a bit more room for crafting strategic vision, standardize processes, and efficiently utilizing your team member’s strengths according to your goals and company objectives.
How to go from Traction to Growth
The statistics for startup success are cruel. As many studies report, 9 out of 10 startups fail. There could be many reasons for the failure, however, the main one is simply not having enough customers. In his book, Traction, Gabriel Weinberg hit the nail on the head by saying: “Almost every failed startup has a product. What failed startups don’t have are enough customers.”
To successfully get traction for your startup, there needs to be proper planning in place to grow over time. In this section, we will discuss few of the techniques that 10% of the startups (the successful ones) are using.
Networking is an effective activity for driving engagement at the beginning of your start-up’s journey. Use your personal connections to spread the word about what your company is up to. You’ll then be able to meet potential customers or clients to gather more information about how your startup can add value to their lives. You can also look for people willing to mentor you that may be able to help you with any business questions or connect you to other important people. You can also go to conferences to speak or to see what your competition is up to. Get out there and be the voice of your company!
Create relevant, high value content aimed at what people are searching for in your niche. Spend the time crafting content that’s optimized for search so Google’s algorithm knows how to serve it to people looking for what you offer. Always focus on content that audience finds useful, it’s a proven way to get people share your content, visit and link back to your website.
Besides having a great content, here are some more tips that will surely make you more attractive to Google:
Your design is user-friendly and works on mobile devices
Your website is fast-loading
Your domain is getting backlinks from a variety of high authority sources
Email will always be around, so it’s an integral part of generating traction. Social media platforms may come and go, however, email has still remained constant throughout, and according to many business managers, it’s more effective when it comes to generating traffic.
Cultivate an email list so you can communicate directly with your customers. You’ll be able to keep them in the know about what your startup is doing and ask them directly about what you can do to better to serve them.
Social media marketing is another great way to generate traction for your startup. While it may be tempting, because it’s so easy, to jump on every platform you can, it may not be the most effective. Before signing up for any of them, even mainstays such as Facebook and LinkedIn, create a strategy for how you will use each platform and connect with your target audience.
You may want to opt for Medium and Quora over Twitter and YouTube, because your potential customers might frequent those places and not really ever make their way to the others.
Feel free to explore though, because you never know if there may be a hidden pocket of people that would love to connect with your startup. Facebook groups and Linkedin groups, and are great examples, as are lesser known social media sites like ello.co and musical.ly.
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The bottom line is that generating traction is a challenging stage in any startup’s life. It eventually turns into growth of your business, which in turn is a great indicator of the value your company. You can achieve traction through various means by developing dedicated strategies like, email marketing, social media marketing, and telling people about your startup in person. Needless to say, you do need a solid product that people genuinely want to use. If you’ve got that, you need to get out there and make some moves so you can graduate from a startup to a successful business.