Getting traction for Traction book: 12,328 copies by the numbers


Traction -- a book that Justin and I self-published -- launched on Aug 26, 2014. In relatively short order we met our initial goal of 10,000 copies sold (12,328 so far). This post has all the details about how we met that goal and our thoughts of where to take the book from here.

Getting Traction for Traction

We used our own Bullseye framework and other traction strategies detailed in our book to get traction for Traction. We first established our initial traction goal of selling 10,000 copies, which was chosen because it would achieve meaningful distribution of our ideas in the tech startup community and be about break-even for the project.  Next we decided that we were going to initially target tech startup founders and marketers as opposed to the wider entrepreneurial or small business audiences. 

We chose this niche because we thought we could reach our initial traction goal by doing so and our personal connections and brands are strongest within it. Once chosen, we systematically compiled all the places (online and offline) where these people (ourselves included!) hang out. Then we brainstormed every traction channel and chose three to test as part of our inner circle based on the strength of our testing ideas: email marketing, targeting blogs (and podcasts) and existing platforms (e.g. Amazon).

What I use instead of Google services


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Like most people, I don't like to be tracked more than I need to be. I believe in privacy policies that do the minimum collection needed as opposed to the maximum collection possible. I am also the founder of the search engine that doesn't track you, DuckDuckGo. For these reasons, I personally don't use Google services where I don't absolutely have to, and honestly it's not very hard to do because there are good alternatives. I get asked a lot what I use instead of Google services, and this post answers that question.

Practically, switching away from as many Google services as possible will help alleviate the most obvious issue of the bulk of your personal data being in the hands of one company since Google already passively collects click/browsing history through Google Analytics and their ad networks embedded across the Internet. It will also alleviate some non-obvious issues like ads following you around the Internet and getting trapped in your personal filter bubble.

Get Traction Today


I'm glad this is my 300th post because it is about another milestone: the release of Traction. I've been working on this book for the past five years on this blog. Early on I did a series of interviews exploring the subject here and on Hacker News. These resulted in a few early theses. Then I partnered with Justin Mares to more rigorously research, interview and expand this early work into a book.

Six weeks ago we announced we were taking pre-orders. Now I'm proud to say our book is available for purchase in print, Kindle and audio! The first few chapters are available for free by signing up for our list at

We really appreciate your help over the years providing feedback on our traction tactics and strategies. It has made Traction a much better book. We promise it will make you think differently about getting traction.

Traction tip: watch your logs in real time


I was recently in a traction discussion with Loveseat and Iqram (co-founder of Venmo) gave this awesome traction tip:

TRACTION TIP: have a monitor dedicated to your server logs. Mount it on your a wall, and have it on AT ALL TIMES. I used to stare at the Venmo logs for the first 2yrs of operations. This gave me valuable insight into every single move a user was making. I would channel that insight into product iterations, sometimes in real time.

In the age of analytics tools, staring at your server logs somehow seems anachronistic. However, I've had the same experience many times, especially early in the life of projects. It kind of puts you in a trance and ideas and things to investigate just start flowing. At least for me and Iqram.

Differentiating away from the arms race


If you are in a successful market, then you face or will face competition. If you face competition, then you must differentiate or suffer the fate of a price (margin) war.

There are several standard ways to differentiate including on features, distribution, design and values. Another way to cut up differentiation, however, is if you're differentiating on things your competition can copy easily, or not.

If you differentiate in ways your competition can copy easily, then you're in the arms race. If you're in the arms race, then you're in war time. If you're not in the arms race, then you're in peace time, which affords you the opportunity to walk your own path.

Upside-down Decision Making Framework


My default framework for decision making is what I call upside-down because it focuses on upside and downside risk. It involves answering the following questions and has served me well across a variety of situations, including day to day in startups, investing and in my personal life.

@yegg Meeting Primer


Richard Stallman has a famously awesome rider he gives out to hosts when he travels to speak. He also has a much smaller personal FAQ for public consumption. These documents increase the probability that meeting with RMS will be a success.

I think this concept has wider applicability. When you meet someone for the first time, it would help to know a few things about their preferred meeting parameters. A meeting primer, if you will. To that end, below is a basic @yegg meeting primer (for myself).

An earlier budget mistake that will ruin your company


Ben Horowitz put out an informative post entitled How to Ruin Your Company with One Bad Process. It explains how a naive budgeting process--one where you empower department heads to propose their own budgets without global constraints--will create perverse incentives and result in sub-optimal outcomes. At the earliest stages, startups don't have this problem yet because they simply don't have the money and headcount to even encounter it.

For seed-stage startups, there is another similarly perilous budgeting mistake that unfortunately happens all the time. It's not budgeting enough for getting traction. This is the number one traction mistake.

Pre-order Traction Book

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I'm happy to announce that you can now pre-order Traction Book on Amazon! My blog has been silent this year because I've been using all that time to finally get this book out the door.

Learn to think big

I often get asked to give advice to people starting on the startup career path. I didn't have an obvious starting point until now.

You should learn to think big. It's the precursor to choosing an ambitious startup idea, which I also strongly recommend.

Are you questioning your operating assumptions enough?


I have a hunch that one the key ways to maximize the probability of startup success is periodic and consistent questioning of operating assumptions.[1] For example:
  • What are the premises that underlie your vision/mission/strategy/etc.?
  • Are these premises still valid?
  • How valid are they?
  • How will you further validate them?
  • Are all underling assumptions fully enumerated?
  • Is current thinking on these assumptions in-line with your current vision/strategy/tactics/etc.?
Of the many wannabee and first-timer entrepreneur symptoms, a lot of them can be cured by periodically and consistently answering these hard questions.[2] It helps you steer your heat seeking missile towards success.

Ambitious but not aggressively competitive

I'm ambitious, but not aggressively competitive. A lot of entrepreneurs I know self-identify with both traits. I have no problem with that whatsoever; it's just not me.

Finding open space

In soccer there is a concept of finding open space. If you have the ball there is usually some way you could move from where you are into open space such that no one will challenge you head on[1]. You're much less likely to lose the ball if you are never challenged head on, which is of course why you pass or find open space in the first place.

Current market potential experiments

Suppose you're making a mass market product and overnight everyone in the world knew about you and heard your best product pitch. Maybe it came to them in a vivid dream. Maybe the instant they woke up it all flashed before their eyes in some sort of marketing osmosis. It is a thought experiment so take your pick.

The way business is done

Over the years society at large has gradually become more tolerant of differing lifestyles, e.g. in the last fifty years (at least in the US) we've seen desegregation, increased women's rights, etc. People ask all the time what are the intolerant things going on today that will fade away decades from now. Gay marriage is an obvious candidate.

Attracted to hard problems

As an ambitious person, I am naturally attracted to hard problems. I've had to train myself to ignore their allure so I can focus on the hard problem at hand. Incidentally, I think that is another reason rapid prototyping works for me as a burnout antidote.

There are a lot of hard problems out there. You can steer yourself in the direction of hard problems that also line up with your desired career path.

On the cusp of something big

Startups are a long-term game. My best advice is to treat entrepreneurship as a career path, but it is easier said than done absent some amount of success. For me, I had a taste of it three years in and some real success six years in. Then I started all over chasing at windmills and it was another four years before DuckDuckGo looked like it was turning into a real business. Now I'm entering year fourteen.

I get asked a lot what keeps me motivated, especially from the perspective of a solo founder. I never really had a good answer until now.

Dealing with a real life externality

I live about a half mile away from a nice volunteer fire department. They're great except for the fact that they blast a siren whenever there is an emergency reported. That's OK during the day, but they also do it in the middle of the night and it always wakes me up.

This is not a fire engine siren, but just a general notification siren. It is very loud. It goes on for a long time and wakes me up sufficiently that I have trouble falling back to sleep.

This situation is a negative externality -- a situation where someone is negatively affected by something they aren't involved in. The canonical example is air pollution from manufacturing. The pollution causes health effects to people in surrounding areas who probably aren't involved in buying or selling the manufactured goods.


I really needed some levity this morning, so we (at DuckDuckGo) matched some tech companies to memes.



Constructing a better startup pitch



When I'm thinking about investing in a startup, I first tell my wife about it and give her my version of their pitch. If we do invest, I often find myself doing the same type of pitch to other angel investors.

My pitch often feels very different than the company's pitch. In a previous post I encouraged people to distill their pitch down to a compelling story and get rid of everything else. That's what I do.

After another year and half of angel investing, I have a bit more clarity on how I think you should structure your story. You want to address the following questions in this order.