Moving the needle


When you're just starting out, a lot of things can move the needle. That's why I think the right approach to getting initial traction is to intelligently try a bunch of traction verticals, see what looks promising, and focus there. When I first launched DuckDuckGo, I showed up at a local Philly startup event and pitched it. There were perhaps a hundred people there, but it was enough to move the needle for me at the time.
Soon after though, it wasn't. As you get bigger, what moves the needle changes dramatically. At the other extreme, take the big tech giants like Google, Microsoft and Apple. To them, if it is not an x $billion opportunity, it isn't worth expending resources on it. That's why you even see shut-downs of products with significant traction.

Startups with traction often go through growth spurts. These are usually associated with step function growth in user bases, i.e. occur very rapidly. When coming out the other end of one of these steps, what moved the needle before may not move the needle going forward.

When you start getting into bigger numbers, you often have to reach a lot more potential customers to achieve similar levels of growth. Good conversions range from 1-2% and very unusually reach up to 5-10%. If you want to add 100K users to a consumer product, that means you're looking at reaching 5-10M people, or in best case 1-2M.

That's a lot of people and is why early traction verticals like blog posts and non-mainstream press won't get you there. However, you have other options and usually more resources now that you're bigger. This reality is also why viral growth is so powerful: growth % is built in and works somewhat regardless of user base size.

The trick is always reorienting your current thinking to your current situation. It helps (me at least) to put some numbers to it. Noah Kagan calls this Quant Based Marketing.


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I'm the Founder & CEO of DuckDuckGo, the search engine that doesn't track you. I'm also the co-author of Traction, the book that helps you get customer growth. More about me.