Traction Strategy and building Distribution first Businesses

Unacademy had a unique start. We as founders were content creators on various platforms like Quora, YouTube etc and also came from Product background. So it was a unique combination of Content and Product. And for the first 3-4 years we had almost negligible Marketing Spends because we relied on Content as a Traction Channel for Growth.

Somewhere during 2017 - Bhavin recommended me to read Traction. That was the first time I started thinking about Traction more scientifically. Until then the way to grow users in our head was by creating content on other platforms which is something we had experience in and which to date is in my belief one of the best traction channels out there.

But over the years we have developed a framework of sorts. Like all frameworks this one too is ever evolving though it’s also at a stage where we believe a lot of other founders can benefit from this.

Traction Strategy for distribution first Businesses involves the following:

  • Traction Product

  • Traction Channel

  • Conversion Journey and NPS of your Paid Product

Traction Product

If you would have asked me to write on this topic even six months ago I would have started with Traction Channel but over the years we have learnt is that a Traction Product is something that must be cracked first before focusing on Traction Channels. A Traction Product is a Product which will have the highest conversion from the Traction Channel when pitched. 

In most cases this is a Free Product but that’s not necessarily true. It can be Trial of your Paid Product like how Netflix does it. Or it can be a Zoom Call just like how SuperHuman does it. Apple’s Traction Product is their Event. All of their Traction Channels talk about their Event just before the Event. And they have done a great job in building this into a solid Traction Product over the years. Flipkart and Teachable also do their own form of Events. Big Billion Day on Flipkart is a Traction Product. When BBD is pitched on Marketing Channels it gets a solid conversion (because of the discounting and the branding). Same goes for the Events that Teachable has been running for years. 

It needs to be something that users will get excited to use and should have enough value add for which users will have a high intent and will make the effort to download the App and try out the Traction Product when it is pitched via the Traction Channels.

Choosing the right Traction Product can significantly change the Growth game. And the ROI on your marketing spends just becomes awesome.

Traction Channel

Once you have figured out the right Traction Product then you need to figure out the right Traction Channels that will pitch the Traction Product. You can go for paid channels like performance marketing and influencer marketing to directly promote your Traction Product and because you have chosen the right Traction Product the ROI you’ll get on your spends will be awesome. Or you can even go for Traction via Content Creation.

Traction comes from Distribution first Platforms where your users are. It can be a street with a lot of footfall where you’ll open your store or it can be YouTube where your potential users are searching for videos. Now there are two ways to get users from these platforms. Either you can spend money to acquire users from the platform where the platform will show ads to relevant users or you can create great content on the platform for relevant users which is so good that the platform will make sure that your content is discovered and the content contains branded integration of your Traction Product.

In the long run creating content has a much higher ROI and it also becomes a solid moat for your business. But it takes time, patience, consistency and creativity to crack it. Multiple experiments are needed to get this right. It’s time taking but it compounds. Because people keep discovering your content even years after you have created it (remember the Iconic video of Dollar Shave Club?) unlike an Ad which stops as soon as you stop paying.

Finding the right Traction Channel also involves multiple experiments and a Bull’s Eye Approach. Recommend you to read the book Traction. It will change the way you look at Traction Channels and remove your biases.

Cracking the right Traction Product and the right Traction Channel means that you have solved one of the most important problems of building a business. A sustainable way to acquire users. In other words: Marketing :)

Of course know that over the course of building your business you will find that your Traction Products and Traction Channels reach a saturation point and that you’ll need to follow the above process multiple times. 

Conversion Journey and NPS of your Paid Product

You have users. And you have a Paid Product. Now you need to convert your users from free to paid.

This step is fairly easy if your Traction Product is a Sales pitch or a Trial like Netflix or Apple. Otherwise you can try multiple approaches for conversion:

  • Emails and Notifications

  • Inside Sales Call or Counselling Session (if it’s a high AOV Product)

  • Special Prices for a particular time

Also conversions becomes better as the NPS of your Product increases. For example I am assuming that Trial to Paid Subscription in India for Netflix would have become better when it launched shows like Sacred Games. Every time you launch a new feature or make your existing features better - make sure you push that messaging out to your Traction Product users. The best way to convert is to make a Great Product. And to communicate about the greatness of the Product. Higher NPS also ensures that retention is high and people know through word of mouth that the Product is of extremely high quality.

Product Market Fit - Part One

PMF is not your growth that you get through Cashback or Aggressive Sales (that’s a Traction Strategy). Growing itself doesn’t mean that you have PMF, we know of many companies that have Growth but no PMF. Excessive Capital can lead to growth without PMF.

So what truly is PMF:

Imagine a city where 100% of your TG lives. And you open a store in the city which gives out your Product for free for two hours on a set date and time. You make this announcement through a channel that reaches 100% of your customers.

What % of people living in the city (your TG) will come to the store so that they can get your Product for free?

This is your PMF.

If your Product is given out for free, will people actually stand in the line or change their calendar to get it.

Most products can only be sold (and people wouldn’t use them if they were given out for free), they cannot be bought.

Build a Product that people want to buy and would be really happy if it’s available for free.

And if you have to break this down into a process, ask your users this question:

If we were to do a free sale in a store in your city (limited hours and limited product availability, will you come to get our Product?

A: Yes, I will come two hours before the sale and stand in the line

B: I will change my schedule but I will try to be at the Store in those two hours

C: I will try, if I am free then I will come

D: No I will not come

Creator Monetisation needs a paradigm shift

So far Creators are limited to following ways of monetisation:

  • Subscription from Top Fans

  • Sponsored Posts and Videos (Branded Integrations)

  • Affiliate Links (Amazon, Flipkart etc)

  • Cohort Based Courses / Recorded Courses

Powerful ways in which Creators should monetise

  • Acting as Talent Scouts for Companies / one of the biggest issues for all companies today is hiring and we have already started seeing most CEOs give free stuff in exchange of getting connected to more people or in exchange of closing the position on their social media / this should go one step ahead where Companies will Partner with Creators to use their influence and distribution to hire folks / in exchange Creators get a great Referral Amount / 10% of the CTC / something on those likes / which until now was reserved for Talent Agencies

  • Creators should become Deal Scouts for Venture Funds (and get a Carry) or Creators should become Angel Investors themselves / much higher returns and wealth creation opportunities than compared to the current options available to Creators

Creators must use their status and influence to play the wealth game.

Good at growth but no products

We are essentially becoming good at growth but really bad at innovating or building new products which are either zero to one or fundamentally better than the alternatives that exist.

Most of the companies, even the ones that are raising a lot of capital are the ones good at Growth but not so good at building something.

The usual mode of operation is to take a basic product to Bharat (and figure out growth there). The product is usually very basic (and a simpler alternate of what we have been using for years in some form or the other) but it’s still good enough for the demographic that will use this product for the first time.

But then the entire innovation is in getting growth or reaching a demographic that does not have access to that product yet - the innovation is not happening in building something new.

It’s not a bad thing but if we want to truly become a place where technology disruption happens then we need a lot of focus on behaviour changing products that will push us into the future apart from just getting the existing products into new demographics.

Being the first matters in Traction too

When we think about being the first product for a particular need or niche - it’s always about the Product. But something that all of us must remember is that if you find a unique Traction Channel and you’re the first one to do that - the result is mind blowing. The best companies invent their Traction Channels and continuously focus on finding new ways to acquire users. Either it’s a completely new Traction Channel or it’s an existing Traction Channel but executed 10x better with innovation and invention.

Examples:

  • Netflix (when it was a DVD rental company) gave one month free subscription with every DVD Player sold

  • PayPal executed referrals like no one else, it paid of extremely well

  • Nike’s Ads and Nike’s association with the best athletes. Extremely amazing execution in both with immense level of innovation

  • Apple Events and Apple Stores. I have mentioned this example many times before. Events and Stores existed before but the way Apple executed - that’s pure zero to one. Doing things 10x better than they were done before

  • Even though the Product eventually failed - but Hike Messenger in India in its very early days allowed people to send free SMS through their App (this is a time when SMS is extremely popular) - this helped them get a lot of Traction. Others tried to copy it, but it just wasn’t the same

  • Netflix continuously experiments new Traction Channels even today. Recently in India they launched a campaign as a part of which anyone could binge watch Netflix for free over the weekend

  • Zomato in India cracked Social Media (specially Twitter) like no one had ever done before. And it became a household Brand

Whenever you think about a Traction Channel - think about the company that was the first to completely dominate the same. What did they do differently? And then ask yourself what can you do differently that eventually becomes a Traction Moat?

Either crack a completely new Traction Channel or think about being the best in the world for an existing Traction Channel by 10x better execution and innovation.

Best companies don’t just build the best Products but also the best Traction Channels.

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