Traction Conference Roundup: Wisdom from the Tech Set (Part 1)

Traction conference

How do you get traction for your tech company? Whether we’re talking customer, revenue, funding, branding or a half-dozen other metrics, that’s the multi-million dollar question explored at the Traction Conference held in Vancouver this week, that featured some of the biggest names in tech from coast to coast.

We listened in and also got some amazing one-on-one perspectives from those who have seen what it takes – which we’ll be happy to share over the next little bit. First off, Hootsuite CEO Ryan Holmes’ keynote fireside chat with Bloomberg’s Gerrit De Vynck is available courtesy of CanTech Letter. One great highlight (though it’s well worth listening to the whole interview, in full):

unnamedTalking about the early days of Hootsuite, Holmes notes “We put it out at first internally as a tool… Our goal was to build 37 Signals or Basecamp for social media. We put the product out to the community and saw really quickly a nice organic adoption of the virality of the product. I talk to a lot of entrepreneurs who say they’re building a product and they say they want to know how to do Adwords to advertise it. I think that’s the wrong way to do it.

 “Build a great product, start small, iterate. Our first version, if I look back, it’s probably embarrassing if I look at it today. It was a simple page, a submit button, maybe some team workflow. Get a product out there and see how it gets adopted naturally. We had 10 users, then 20, 30, 100, 200, 300… There was a nice organic adoption to it. If you use Adwords right away, you’re putting an artificial crutch under it. The second you pull away the ads, if the product tanks, you have a real problem. You’re masking the artificial adoption of your product — and trying that too soon can really detrimental.”

Traction introduced each speaker at the conference with what they considered to be their key message, many of which got tweeted ferociously throughout the day: some are immediately practical, others a bit enigmatic and many are absolutely evergreen for the would-be tech giants of tomorrow.

Here’s a roundup. Enjoy:

Alen Lau, CEO, Wattpad

“It’s your job as a startup entrepreneur to pour fuel on the fire. Leverage the collective intelligence of your users and pay close attention to emergent behaviours. Spot the trends and then amplify them.”

Aliisa Hodges, Growth Manager, Mixpanel

“Focus on user quality over user quantity. It’s not just about MAU’s. It’s about engagement.”

Brian Balfour, Head of Growth, Hubspot

“The most powerful question in growth is ‘why?’ Why did that work? Why did that fail? Why did that number change this week? The answers to ‘why’ will lead you to growth.”

Casey Winters, PM of Growth, Pinterest

“Experimenting without a strategy is like walking around in a dark room, feeling for the door. Understanding motivations and building a strategy around it helps turn the lights on so you know exactly where to go to grow.”

Michael Litt, CEO, Vidyard

“There is no magic bullet. The only secret to growth and tract is volume and iteration.”

Nate Moch, VP of Growth, Zillow

“Growth is everyone’s responsibility. To create long term, sustainable growth, you need a culture of growth across your company.”

Nick Mehta, CEO, Gainsight

“The most important variable in your growth strategy is understanding whether you are creating demand or harvesting it.”

Patrick Llewellyn, CEO, 99designs

“Great design leads to a great brand, which is the backbone of great marketing.”


Phil Fernandez, CEO, Marketo

“Make sure your product passes three critical tests. It should be valuable for the customer, it has to be well defined and it has to be different than the competition.”

Rajen Reparell, Advisor, Groupon

“Even rocket ships have destinations. The ones that succeed are the ones that stay laser-focused on their mission and target. Rocket ships are awesome. Exploding ones are not.”

Robert Cezar Matei, Head of Growth, Quora

“A great product whose core usage creates an organic growth loop is the only way to get huge.”

Selina Tobaccowala, CTO, SurveyMonkey

“Don’t focus on funding. Focus on building a great product that people want to use. The money will come.”

Ryan Holmes, CEO, Hootsuite

“Nothing is owed. Keep motivated and hustle. When anyone asks me what my big entrepreneurial wisdom is, it’s to get out there and work and work and work.”

Viraj Mody, Growth Engineer, Dropbox

“A cross-functional growth organization that includes product, marketing, engineering and user insights can unlock previously unknown opportunities.”

Neil Patel, Co-Founder, KISSMetrics

“My favourite tactic is to offer eBooks in exchange for an email address. After someone opts in, you can then show another screen that gives them an option to start a free trial with just a few more clicks.”

Lynda Weinmann, Co-Founder,

“If you don’t make a change and take a risk, you are going to ensure that you stay stuck.”

Alex Mehr, Co-Founder, Zoosk

“The best time to think about getting traction is before building the product.”

Aaron Ginn, Growth Product Manager, Everlane

“Growth is marketing objectives with product tactics.”

Dinkar Jain, Sr. Product Manager, Twitter

“Sometimes growth feels like a more important objective than value creation. Don’t fall for that. That kind of growth either won’t come or won’t last.”

Ivan irigin, CEO, YesGraph

“Run rapid experiments on product levers that affect your core goals.”

Justin Mares, Co-Author, Traction Book

“Most companies don’t fail to build a product. They fail to get customers. It’s worth spending 50% of your time figuring out how to acquire customers, which are the lifeblood of your business.”


Jonathon Narvey

Jonathon Narvey is a content marketing strategist and BetaKit Senior Editor. Living and working in the heart of downtown Vancouver, he's watched this city's tech hub grow and start to compete on a world-class level. He has learned most of what he knows about tech startups and entrepreneurial spirit by interviewing some of the most innovative thought leaders here and abroad. He's always up for learning something new about the startups, leaders and technologies that are changing our world.

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