On November 13, 2014, Startup Grind Ottawa had the pleasure of hosting Justin Mares, the co-author of Traction: A Startup's Guide To Getting Customers.
Justin studied finance at the University of Pittsburg and started his first startup, RoommateFit, while he was there, getting accepted into a local accelerator called AlphaLab.
Failing to be able to build a product for the idea, Justin then co-founded CloudFab, am online platform for creating 3D printed products. It was acquired in 2012.
Following this acquisition, Justin joined the team at Exceptional Software as the Director of Growth & Revenue. He was responsible for building out the marketing team in Las Vegas and making sure the product was growing and generating revenue. It was acquired in 2014 by Rackspace.
Justin has been working along side Gabriel Weinberg, the CEO of DuckDuckGo for over two years part-time on Traction. The book is self-published and within two months of launching it, they've sold more than 12,000 copies worldwide.
Some of the most important points Justin shared with us about publishing, startups, and acquiring customers include:
- I've made tons of mistakes. We raised $30,000 through AlphaLab, but then we hired an outsourcing shop for $15,000 and never saw the money or anything.
- Knowing your space and doing the right partnerships and negotiations can ultimately help you grow and get to acquisitions.
- I pitched Gabriel on letting me work with him on Traction. During the process of working on RoommateFit, CloudFab, and Exceptional I saw that the hard part was getting customers - not building the product. There's was nothing like the Lean Startup out there for actually getting customers.
- It took us roughly two years to write the book. Most of this is because we were both busy, we'd never written a book before, and I wasn't a great writer. The first draft was 380 pages.
- Gabriel and I are not experts in every channel. And so we did interviews and learned from experts. This lead to two hacks: 1) we learned a bunch; 2) we built a network of experts who became invested in the book.
- The Bullseye Framework enables you to brainstorm and rank potential growth channels, then you can double down on 2-3 channels.
- If you ask product managers what's on their product roadmap for the next year, they have an instant answer. If you ask a marketer how they're going to go from 10,000 users to 100,000, most of the time you get an answer like 'we'll do some blogging, buy some AdWords, and hire a growth hacker'"
- The Lean Startup doesn't tell you how to grow from where you are now and that's where we wanted to fit in.
- The 50% Rule: startups should spend half their time on product and half their time on marketing and getting customers. Where you see most startups failing today is all in the traction areas. However, they're all spending their time on building the product.
- I've seen paid acquisition/retargeting, semantic SEO, and sales. People - especially startups - are so adverse to picking up the phone and calling customers.
- For certain businesses there are some you shouldn't do. For example if you're Snapchat, doing sales doesn't make any sense. If you're building something for enterprise, virality won't work within this small market.
- The most common mistake is that startups don't spend enough time on traction.
- The second this is focusing on the wrong things that won't "move the needle". For example, throwing meet-ups to acquire new customers can work when you have less than 1,000 customers. If you have 100,000 customers, meet-ups won't make an impact.
- For Traction, we looked at how successful self-publishers launched their books and we tried small tests. We released a trailer - didn't work. We did podcasts and email and those worked.
- Gabriel shares a great blog post about getting traction for Traction here.
My sincerest thanks to Stephen Daze, EIR at University of Ottawa for their help and support. Thanks to Invest Ottawa, Jon Milne and Jason Connell for their help and support. Thank you to as well to Smart & Biggar, Canada's intellectual property and technology firm.
Thanks to Robert Decher for video production and thanks to Lindsay McPhee for helping out with social and more.