Traction by Gabriel Weinberg [Book Summary & PDF]

Founders and employees fail to spend time thinking about traction in the same way they work on building a product. This book & summary provides them with the framework successful companies have used to get traction.





Who is this book for?

Founders and employees fail to spend time thinking about traction in the same way they work on building a product. This book & summary provides them with the framework successful companies have used to get traction.

About the author

Gabriel Weinberg is the CEO & Founder of DuckDuckGo, the Internet privacy company that empowers users to seamlessly take control of their personal information online. He co-authored Super Thinking: The Big Book of Mental Models. Before DuckDuckGo, he founded other Internet-related companies.

In this summary

Traction details 19 tractions channels, with actionable tactics to make each one work for your startup. However, once you’ve devoured this summary, I’d definitely recommend you to buy & read the full book, since it’s packed with tons of strategies for you to implement. Let’s dive into Traction!


Traction is quantitative evidence of customer/user demand.

It is the best way to improve your chances of startup success. Fundraising, hiring, press, partnerships and acquisitions are all easier with traction. Bullseye is a five-step framework to help you find the channel that will get you traction.

Step 1: Brainstorm

Organise your ideas with a spreadsheet. Each column will contain an idea of how you could use a particular channel. (You can have many ideas per channel.) Other suggested columns (make educated guesses):

How probable does it seem that this idea could work (1–5)?

What is the expected cost to acquire a customer through this idea?

How many customers can you expect to acquire at that cost (before saturation)?

What is the timeframe needed to run tests?

Step 2: Rank

Place each of the traction channels into one of three columns, with each column representing a concentric circle in the Bullseye:

  1. Column A (Inner Circle): Which traction channels seem most promising right now?
  2. Column B (Potential): Which traction channels seem like they could possibly work?
  3. Column C (Long-shot): Which traction channels seem like long-shots?

Step 3: Prioritise

Now identify your inner circle: the three traction channels that seem most promising.

Step 4: Test

Put your ideas into the real world to find out which of the traction channels in your inner circle is worth focusing on.

Run cheap tests designed to answer the following questions and replace your educated guesses with real answers:

  • Roughly how much will it cost to acquire customers through this channel?
  • How many customers do you think are available through this channel?
  • Are the customers that you are getting through this channel the ones that you want right now?

You should be able to get a rough idea of a channel’s effectiveness with just a few hundred dollars.

Step 5: Focus

Continually experiment to find out exactly how to optimise growth in your chosen channel.

Repeating the Process

If, unfortunately, no channel seems promising after testing, the whole process should be repeated.

Research how past and present companies in your space and adjacent spaces succeeded or failed at getting traction. The easiest way to do this is to go talk to startup founders who previously failed at what you’re trying to do.


“Almost every failed startup has a product. What failed startups don’t have are enough customers.”

Don’t fall into The Product Trap. Instead, follow the ‘50% Rule’: spend 50% of your time on product and 50% on traction.

Focus on strategies and tactics that can plausibly ‘move the needle’ for your company (ie. that result in a measurable, significant impact). As your startup sees more traction, things that worked early on may not scale well (or be worth scaling) later.

Traction Testing

Over time, all marketing channels become saturated. To combat this reality, you should consistently conduct small experiments to answer questions like:

  • How much does it cost to acquire customers through this channel strategy?
  • How many customers are available through this channel strategy?
  • How well do these customers convert?
  • How long does it take to acquire a customer?

These first tests should be very cheap (a few hundred dollars). The faster you run high quality experiments, the faster you’ll find scalable, effective growth channels.


Once you’ve found a traction channel that is working, optimise your use of that channel through A/B testing. Then, quantify your results in a spreadsheet to rank and prioritise your traction channels.

include columns such as ‘cost to acquire a customer’ and ‘lifetime value of a customer’ for each traction channel. These metrics are universal and you can use them to easily make comparisons across channels.

Critical Path

You should always have a traction goal you’re working towards. 1,000 paying customers? 100 new daily users? 10% of your market? It is highly dependent on your business.

The path to reaching your traction goal with the fewest number of steps is your Critical Path.

Then, enumerate the intermediate steps (milestones) and order them. Put them on a calendar and/or in a spreadsheet, so you can properly monitor your progress.

However, your original plan will often be wrong: after the first steps are complete, reassess your Critical Path using the market knowledge you just learned.

Every activity is either on the path or not. If it is not on the path, don’t do it! Good mentors help you stay on your Critical Path.


It is hard to predict exactly which traction channel will be best for your company at a particular time. Until you start running tests, try your best not to dismiss them as irrelevant for your company.

There are 19 traction channels. Get one channel working that your competitors dismiss, and you’ll be ahead of the game.

1. Viral Marketing

Viral marketing consists of growing your userbase by encouraging your users to refer other users. There are several types of viral loops:

  • Word of mouth
  • Inherent (you can only get value from a product by inviting other users, e.g. Skype)
  • Collaborative (product becomes more valuable as you invite others, e.g. Google Docs)
  • Communicative (company’s branding on free customers, removed for paying users, e.g. Mailchimp)
  • Incentives (when you’re referring the product to friends, e.g. Dropbox & AirBnB)
  • Embedded (code snippet to embed the product on any website, e.g. YouTube)
  • Social (message easy to broadcast to social connections, e.g. Zynga)

A successful viral strategy involves constant testing, measurement, and trying new things.

2. Public Relations (PR)

Public relations (PR) is the art of getting your name out there via traditional media outlets like newspapers, magazines and TV. Major news outlets are often looking to major blogs for story ideas, which are looking at smaller blogs and forums. Target the right smaller sites and generate buzz on them to increase your chances of climbing up the buzz ladder.

Build real relationships with the reporters covering your startup’s market and reach out only when you have newsworthy milestones to share, packaged in a compelling emotional story.

3. Unconventional PR

Unconventional PR involves doing something exceptional (like publicity stunts and customer appreciation) to draw media attention. Publicity stunts need to be creative and extraordinary to succeed. Competitive stunts and viral videos have been successful repeatedly.

Customer appreciation is simply a way of delighting your customers in unexpected ways, such as gifts, contests, and customer support. Excelling in this area is more sustainable than publicity stunts over the long-term.

4. Search Engine Marketing (SEM)

Search Engine Marketing (SEM) allows companies to advertise to consumers searching on Google and other search engines. Use search engine ads to test product positioning and messaging, even before fully building it. Test your keywords, ad copy, demographic targeting, landing pages, and CPC bids.

Longer keywords (aka long-tail) are often less competitive, because they have lower search volumes, and cheaper.

5. Social & Display Ads

Ads on popular sites like reddit, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and hundreds of other niche sites can be a powerful and scalable way to reach new customers.

The goal here should be to build an audience, engage with them over time, and eventually convert them to customers. This indirect response strategy usually leads to better conversions than an immediate, direct response one.

Compelling content that people want to share is the best way to engage your audience on social. Study your competitors to get good ideas for A/B tests.

6. Offline Ads

Offline ads include TV spots, radio commercials, billboards, infomercials, newspaper and magazine ads, as well as flyers and other local advertisements.

These ads reach demographics that are harder to target online, like seniors, less tech-savvy consumers and commuters.

Seek out remnant (i.e. left-over) ad inventory for the highest discounts.

Run cheap tests by first targeting local markets, and then scale up to regional or national. Use unique codes or web addresses to track the effectiveness of your offline ads.

7. Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the process of making sure your website shows up for key search results.

Two high-level strategies to approach SEO are to focus on the fat-head (short search terms) or the long-tail (longer search terms). Either way, SEO comes down to two things: content and links. Link building is often the more challenging of the two. One way to get quality links is to produce amazing content.

8. Content Marketing

Many startups write posts that receive hundreds of comments, lead to major PR, result in thousands of shares and, ultimately, lead to new customers. You need to create quality content to succeed here. Write about problems your target customers have, and run experiments or use data from your company to produce in-depth posts you can’t find anywhere else.

Reach out to influential industry leaders, do guest posts, write about recent news events, and create shareable infographics to increase the rate of growth of your audience.

9. Email Marketing

Email marketing is one of the best ways to convert prospects while retaining and monetising existing ones. Utilise email marketing at any step of your relationship with a customer: customer acquisition, activation, retention, and revenue generation.

Set up a series of automated emails that adapts to how people have interacted with your product and asks them to take specific actions. The more personalised your email marketing messages, the better they perform.

10. Engineering as Marketing

Using engineering resources to acquire customers (micro-sites, developed widgets, and free tools) is an underutilised way to get traction.

Single-purpose tools that solve obvious pain points are best. Put them on their own website and make them easy to find, particularly through search engines. Think about these tools as long-term assets that will bring in new leads indefinitely with only a small amount of upfront investment.

11. Targeting Blogs

Targeting blogs your customers read is one of the most effective ways to get your first wave of customers. To uncover relevant blogs use YouTube, Delicious, StumbleUpon, Twitter, search engines, Google Alerts and Social Mention.

Small blog sponsorships can be an effective tactic, as well as offering influential bloggers early access in exchange for spreading the word. Link-sharing communities can also be an effective tool to generate traffic, feedback, and buzz.

12. Business Development

Business development (BD) is the process of creating strategic relationships that benefit both your startup and your partner.

In a standard partnership, two companies work together to make one or both of their products better by leveraging the unique capabilities of the other. Other types include joint ventures, licensing, distribution, and inventory.

Understand why a potential partner might want to work with you. What are their incentives? Most deals fail, which is why it is critical to create a constant pipeline of deals.

13. Sales

Sales is primarily focused on creating processes to directly exchange product for dollars. This channel works best for high-priced products that require some customer hand-holding.

The goal of sales is building a repeatable sales model. An effective sales funnel has prospects enter at the top, qualifies these leads, and closes them effectively, reducing the complexity of the buying process.

14. Affiliate Programs

An affiliate program is an arrangement where you pay people or companies for performing certain actions (like making a sale or getting a qualified lead).

They work well in retail, information products, and lead generation. Common affiliate types in retail are coupon sites, loyalty programs, aggregators, email lists, and niche sites.

Use an existing affiliate network to recruit affiliates immediately, or recruit affiliates on your own (mainly from your current list of users).

15. Existing Platforms

Focusing your growth efforts on a mega-platform like Facebook, Twitter, or an App Store and getting some of their hundreds of millions of users to use your product.

Large companies have been built on the back of each major social platform by filling gaps with features that the platform was not providing itself (AirBnB, PayPal, etc.).

A successful tactic is to focus on new and untapped platforms, or new aspects of major platforms, because there is less competition there.

16. Trade Shows

Trade shows are a chance for companies in specific industries to show off their latest products and connect with the industry.

First visit as a guest and do a walkthrough the year before, or get the opinions of people who have attended the event in previous years.

Schedule meetings with people you want to meet at trade shows (e.g. potential customers, partners, press) before you attend the event. Dinners are a great way to combine meetings. Include a strong call to action on every item (e.g. business card) you give out.

17. Offline Events

Sponsoring or running offline events – from small meetups to large conferences – can be a primary way you get traction.

If there isn’t a conference that directly brings together your target customers, consider starting your own. Test this channel by attending a couple conferences or hosting a few smaller meetups or a one-day mini-conference.

18. Speaking Engagements

This channel works well wherever there are a group of people in a room that – if you pitched them right – would move the needle for your business.

Remember that event organisers need to fill time at their events. If you are a fit for their event, then you are doing them a favour by presenting.

By establishing yourself as an expert on the right topic and submitting proposals far in advance, you maximise your chances of securing one of the best speaking engagements at the target show.

19. Community Building

Community building involves investing in the connections among your users, fostering those relationships and helping them bring more people into your startup’s circle.

Key to a strong community is cultivating and empowering evangelists. You also want to foster cross-connection among evangelists and community members in general (through forums, events, etc.).

Focus on community quality early on and set standards that can be maintained as the community grows. Build tools and processes into your community (e.g. karma systems, rules) to help your community police itself.


Key Takeaways

  • Traction is quantitative evidence of customer/user demand.
  • Bullseye is a five-step framework to help you find the channel that will get you traction: brainstorm, rank, prioritise, test, focus
  • Over time, all marketing channels become saturated. To combat this reality, consistently conduct small experiments.
  • Your first tests should be very cheap and fast.
  • Until you start running tests, try your best not to dismiss them as irrelevant for your company.
  • There are 19 traction channels to explore.

Further reading

The $100 Startup by Chris Guillebeau has two key themes: freedom and value. Freedom is what we're all looking for, and value is the way to achieve it. The concept of having your own startup is the ultimate form of freedom according to Chris Guillebeau. He discusses different lessons on the road to beginning your own startup. With a focus on small ‘micro businesses,' this book has plenty of tips and advice for every step of the journey.

Building a Storybrand by Donald Miller. This book aims to teach people how to sell their product or service. Even better, it shows how people can change the lives of their customers for the better. Most customers want this and the book will greatly assist you in performing this service. If you have some other endeavor, such as making a team or winning someone else's heart then there may be words of wisdom for you as well.

Hooked by Nir Eyal. Why do some products capture widespread attention while others flop? What makes us engage with certain products out of sheer habit? Is there a pattern underlying how technologies hook us? Hooked breaks down the 4-step Hook Model, discusses the morality of manipulation and uncovers opportunities for innovation.

Guidelines is my eBook that summarises the main lessons from 33 of the best-selling self-help books in one place. It is the ultimate book summary; Available as a 80-page ebook and 115-minute audio book. Guidelines lists 31 rules (or guidelines) that you should follow to improve your productivity, become a better leader, do better in business, improve your health, succeed in life and become a happier person.

Action steps

  1. Identify your own traction channels through the Bullseye Framework
  2. Focus on three major traction channels to start growing your startup.
  3. Read the full book for more case studies and tactics.
  4. Download the complete book on Amazon.

This summary is not intended as a replacement for the original book and all quotes are credited to the above mentioned author and publisher.