A couple of years ago, I was working with a startup looking for media and blog coverage after launching a new online service.
It hired a U.S. PR agency that promised the stars and the moon, and then the startup waited for its time in the spotlight…and waited and waited.
The startup soon realized that although its service was interesting, there were hundreds of other startups battling for attention. Without something unique, the startup was just adding to an already noisy landscape.
So the startup went back to work and continued to work on its product, marketing, sales and customer service. One day, something magical happened when its service hit the Chrome store the same day as Angry Birds.
The next thing you knew, the startup began to attract lots of users, achieving this wonderful thing called “traction”. Before you knew it, reporters and bloggers were looking for interviews, and the VCs were banging on the door.
The valuable lesson learned by this startup is that traction matters. While a few startups such as Dollar Shave Club hit the jackpot from the get-go, most startups are lucky to attract media and blog coverage. Unless a startup has something that makes it stand out from the crowd, its product is, at best, interesting or, at worst, meh.
This means most startups should stop worrying about media and blog coverage because it really doesn’t matter. What matters is traction, which means more users, customers, revenue, brand awareness and competitive momentum.
So, how do you get traction? Here’s a “traction bullseye” to get going:
1. It starts with the product, which has to fill a need, solve a problem, etc. In other words, it needs to offer some kind of value. You can do all kinds of snazzy marketing but if a product is a dog, sooner or later, it’ll bark.
2. Some startups never buy into it, but marketing matters. It’s difficult to get anyone’s attention (customers, partners, investors, media, etc.) without telling good stories. You need to give people reasons to pay attention to you as opposed to all the other startups.
3. Sales matter too, whether people to pay for it or they use a free service that is ad-supported. The more users, the better the business or business prospects. Sure, it’s Business 101 but as Ben Yoskovitz wrote recently, startups need to be selling all the time.
4. Customer service plays a key role to keep existing customers happy, encourage them to spread the word and create a vibrant user community, and attract new customers.
It goes without saying that traction can be difficult to achieve but startups that do get it not only have a booming business but usually have no problem getting as much media and blog coverage as they want. The ironic part is the coverage happens when they don’t need it as much!
My advice to any startup about media and blog coverage is to consider it the cherry on the sundae as opposed to a major milestone. Sure, the glory is gratifying, it’ll make your parents proud, and maybe it will attract some new customers, but it doesn’t fundamentally drive your business.
In other words, it’s a nice to have, not a must-have.
More: For more thoughts about traction, here’s a talk by 500 Startups’ Paul Singh that includes some thoughts on how traction is a great way to attract venture capital.