With so many channels to consider, figuring out which one to focus on is tough. That’s why we’ve created a simple framework called Bullseye that will help you find the channel that will get you traction. As billionaire PayPal founder and early Facebook investor Peter Thiel put it:
“[You] probably won’t have a bunch of equally good distribution strategies. Engineers frequently fall victim to this because they do not understand distribution. Since they don’t know what works, and haven’t thought about it, they try some sales, BD, advertising, and viral marketing—everything but the kitchen sink.
That is a really bad idea. It is very likely that one channel is optimal. Most businesses actually get zero distribution channels to work. Poor distribution—not product—is the number one cause of failure. If you can get even a single distribution channel to work, you have great business. If you try for several but don’t nail one, you’re finished. So it’s worth thinking really hard about finding the single best distribution channel.”
We use a Bullseye metaphor in our framework because you’re aiming for the Bullseye—the one traction channel that will unlock your next growth stage. Using Bullseye to find your channel is a five-step process: brainstorm, rank, prioritize, test, and focus on what works.
Step 1: Brainstorm
The goal in brainstorming is to come up with reasonable ways you might use each traction channel. If you were to advertise offline, where would be the best place to do it? If you were to give a speech, who would be the ideal audience?
As mentioned in chapter 1, everyone approaches traction channels with biases. This first step is meant to help you systematically counteract your channel biases. That is, it is important that you not dismiss any traction channel in this step. You should be able to think of at least one idea for every channel – that’s brainstorming!
In terms of research to feed your brainstorm, this book is a good start, but you should get much more specific to your company. You should know what marketing strategies have worked in your industry, as well as the history of companies in your space. It’s especially important to understand how similar companies acquired customers over time, and how unsuccessful companies wasted their marketing dollars.
An easy way to organize your brainstorm is with a spreadsheet. We have an example spreadsheet in the resources you can use as a starting point. Each column contains an idea of how you might use a particular channel. You can have many ideas per channel.
Some other suggested columns to help round out your thinking:
Of course you won’t know the right answers to all these questions, but you can make educated guesses.
Step 2: Rank
The ranking step helps you organize your brainstorming efforts. It also helps you start to think a bit more critically about the traction channels in aggregate.
Place each of the traction channels into one of three columns, with each column representing a concentric circle in the Bullseye:
See the resources for a downloadable copy. Here’s one example:
The research you did and ideas you came up with in the brainstorm step should guide your rankings. Usually, a few ideas you thought of will seem particularly compelling – these traction channels belong in column A. Channels with ideas that seem like they could plausibly work go in column B. Channels with only ideas that seem like more of a stretch would belong in column C.
Step 3: Prioritize
Now identify your inner circle: the three traction channels that seem most promising. If you already have three channels in Column A, you’re done! If you have more than three, then you need to get rid of some and vice-versa.
It is often the case that there are a few truly exciting and promising channels that emerge from ranking, but not a lot. Draw the line where there is an obvious drop-off in excitement. That drop-off often occurs around the third channel.
We want you to have more than one channel in your inner circle because we don’t want you to waste valuable time finding your successful traction channel by testing channels sequentially when you can do so equally well in parallel.
You can run multiple experiments at the same time since tests take some time to run after they’ve been set up. Yet doing too many things in parallel leads to errors from lack of focus, which means the number needs to be somewhat low.
Step 4: Test
The testing step is where you put your ideas into the real world. The goal of this step is to find out which of the traction channels in your inner circle is worth focusing on.
You will make that decision based on results from a series of relatively cheap tests. These tests should be designed to answer the following questions.
These questions are very similar to the columns we suggested making in the brainstorm step. When testing, you are replacing your educated guesses with real answers.
There isn’t a single method for testing each traction channel because every business is different. We will cover tactics for organizing and thinking about these tests in chapter 4. You should also get specific ideas for each traction channel throughout the rest of the book.
Keep in mind that, when testing, you are not trying to get a lot of traction with a channel just yet. Instead, you are simply trying to determine if it’s a channel that could work for your startup. Your main consideration at this point is speed to get data and prove out your assumptions.
You want to design smaller scale tests that don’t require much upfront cost or effort. For example, run four Facebook ads vs. forty. You should be able to get a rough idea of a channel’s effectiveness with just a few hundred dollars.
Step 5: Focusing
If all goes well, one of the traction channels you tested in your inner circle produced promising results. In that case, you should start directing your traction efforts and resources towards that most promising channel.
At any stage in a startup’s lifecycle, one traction channel dominates in terms of customer acquisition. That is why we suggest focusing on one at a time, and only after you’ve identified a channel that seems like it could actually work.
The goal of this focusing step is quite simple: to wring every bit of traction out of the traction channel. To do so, you will be continually experimenting to find out exactly how to optimize growth in your chosen channel. As you dive deeper into it, you will uncover effective tactics and do everything you can to scale them until they are no longer effective due to saturation or rising costs.
Repeating the Process
If, unfortunately, no channel seems promising after testing, the whole process should be repeated. The good news is you now have data from all the tests you just did, which will inform you as to what types of
things are, and are not, resonating with customers. Look at the messaging you’ve been using, or dig deeper to see at what point each channel failed to deliver customers.
Why Use the Bullseye Framework?
Bullseye is designed to be a straightforward way to direct your traction focus and maximize your results. First and foremost, it forces you to take all the traction channels more seriously than you would otherwise. This is accomplished via the brainstorm step and then again by forcing you to think about all of the channels through the rank and prioritize steps. These steps systematically uncover strategies for getting traction that you wouldn’t have found using other approaches.
The framework is also meant to help you zoom in on the best ideas as quickly and cheaply as possible, while still casting a wide net: hence the Bullseye metaphor.
Third, we emphasize doing tests in parallel since the traction channel that will ultimately succeed is unpredictable, and time is of the essence.
Bullseye in the Wild
Noah Kagan talked to us about how he used a version of Bullseye at Mint, a site that helps you track your finances and was acquired by Intuit for $170 million. Their initial traction goal was 100,000 users in the first six months after launch.
In steps 1–3, Noah and his team brainstormed and picked several traction channels that seemed promising (targeting blogs, pr, search engine marketing) – their inner circle.
In step 4, they then ran a series of cheap tests in each (sponsored a small newsletter, reached out to financial celebrities like Suze Orman, placed some Google ads) to see what worked and what didn’t. Noah kept track of the test results in this spreadsheet:
Step 5: after running these experiments, Mint focused on the traction channel that seemed most promising and that could reach their goal. In this case, that meant targeting blogs. In the early days, the tactics of sponsoring mid-level bloggers in the financial niche and guest posting allowed them to acquire their first 40,000 customers.
When this channel maxed out, they repeated the Bullseye process, and found a new traction channel to focus on: public relations. Within 6 months of launching, they had 1 million users. We cover specific strategies for both these traction channels in later chapters.
We heard stories like this over and over again when talking to successful startup founders. They would research many channels, try a few, and focus on the most promising until it stopped working. Bullseye is designed to systemize this successful process. Use it!
• The Bullseye Framework is a five-step repeatable process to maximize your chances of getting traction: brainstorm, rank, prioritize, test, and focus.
• Focusing on a traction channel means becoming an expert on it by continually testing new tactics to get the most traction possible.
• Research how past and present companies in your space and adjacent spaces succeeded or failed at getting traction. The easiest way to do this is to go talk to startup founders who previously failed at what you’re trying to do.
• Compile your brainstorming ideas for each traction channel in a spreadsheet with educated guesses that you can confirm through testing.