9 Questions to Get Early Traction for Your Startup

Every entrepreneur and startup founder raises the same question in the beginning: “How can I get traction?” The feeling of experiencing traction in the early phase of a startup can arise from many things: it may be numbers that express your rapid growth, customers who give you great feedback, accomplishing a first round of pre-seed financing, or making a big deal with your most important vendor. Traction can have many faces but in the end, it means the market starts to adopt your product or service. Through this adoption, your idea turns into an innovation.

So how can you generate this traction for a startup in the early days? What can you do to bring your solution into the market? How can you boost adoption and turn on the growth engine? Raise these 9 questions to generate early traction for your startup.

#1 How can I change lives?

The first thing you want to feel certain of is your startup’s vision. What is it that gets you out of bed every morning? Which problem are you addressing? How will you change the future of people? Talk with as many people as possible about your vision and refine it until you can convince people within 30 seconds. If you cannot explain your vision in a short soundbite, then you have to spend more time getting to understand it. Break it down, keep it simple, and make sure it is understandable.

#2 Whom will I help?

Knowing your target market is essential for generating traction. As a startup, you will initially target a small niche. Try not to only define your target market as a group of people, outlined by demographics. Imagine how your product or service is going to be utilized out there. In which moments does this happen? What is your target customer experiencing? Why is there a need for your solution? What attributes outline this moment when somebody checks in and needs your help? (Who? When? Why?)

#3 What makes me unique?

Your clear USP (unique selling proposition) helps you to stand out in the market. What is it that makes you different from the other solutions your target market currently utilizes? Do you have some exclusive new features on board? Do you save the customer time or money? Focus on creating unique awesomeness: build a really great product that incorporates at least one thing that nobody else provides.

[Tweet ““As a startup, you have to create unique awesomeness with your product.””]

#4 Who can help me to build my solution?

A typical behavior of us entrepreneurs is to try to do too many things by ourselves. We want to do it better and therefore we want to have our hands on it. That might not always be the best solution. Try to find partners and vendors for your product development. Aggregate the services of others, connect them in a unique way, and build something totally new out of this collaboration. This will help you to run on a healthy budget.

#5 Who can help me to spread the word?

Nowadays we can simply create a new product, build a small website, send out a few posts on Facebook and our sales will happen automatically. Right? No. Do not underestimate the effort it takes to make sure your target market really adopts what you have to offer. Partners and influencers can help a lot as they spread your message in a trustworthy way. A good network of partners will provide valuable support by leveraging your marketing efforts.

#6 Why should anybody trust me?

When people make a buy decision, trust plays an important role. Why should anybody trust your solution or you as the provider? Influencers, referrals, testimonials do a great job in building trust. What can you do beyond this to demonstrate that you are trustworthy? In a B2C setting, you may ask: Am I responding fast enough in customer service? In a B2B environment, you may ask a different question: Am I reliable in my business relations?

#7 How can I have more conversations?

In the early days of each startup, interaction is really what brings you up to the next level. Do not stay in your garage to tinker on your product for ages. Go out and talk to people! Actionable advice: create a simple landing page, mockup your solution, ask them to join an early access email list, and spread the word. Build your list of early adopters to connect and engage with. These contacts will help you in product development and marketing.

#8 Am I doing the right thing?

The further the progress in your path of launching a successful startup, the more decisions you will have to take. How shall you ensure that your decisions are the right ones? Also, you will often face times where you question if you are doing the right thing. Notably, the road to success is a turbulent one. Leverage your list of contacts to have as many conversations as possible. Ask for feedback and let them help you to make better decisions!

#9 How can I measure traction?

There is no success if you do not measure what you do. Define your relevant KPIs and have an understanding of what numbers mean ‘traction’ to your startup. Which are the key things to focus on and to measure your success? Set yourself goals and measure everything. The more numbers you collect, the better they can support your decision making in the long term.

7 Questions to Shape an Effective Innovation Team

When managing any innovation project, organizing your team is one of the most important challenges you will face. No matter if you found a startup or drive innovation in an enterprise environment, it is always about orchestrating the talent of your team members in order to generate growth. The perfect organization of any innovation team is lean and simple. It does not block progress but unleashes productivity. Innovation never loves being constrained by too many rules. There are so many ways to organize your team, from controlling to participating, from autocracy to anarchy, from hierarchy to holacracy. This article aims to provide you with some key questions to raise in the process of developing your ideal form of organization. Answer the following 7 questions to shape an effective innovation team.

What is our ‘why’ and what is our ‘how’?

For an innovation team it is essential to share a vision. Without this common idea of a better future, there is a lack of orientation. In innovation we have to run many tests, we experiment with our ideas, and we pivot regularly. Oftentimes we spend days or weeks in creating something only to trash it in the end. This can be very discouraging if you do not know why you are doing what you do.

Based on the foundation of a shared vision, core values that are openly discussed will boost the productivity of every team. Just imagine a situation where you share a coworking space with a potential competitor. Imagine your teams sit together every day, share lunch from time to time, and of course, you are also exchanging information about your businesses. How do you act in terms of transparency in this situation? Does your team share knowledge or do you hide? Do you proactively help your competitor or do you only try to grab the best of their ideas? In this case, having defined a team value (e.g., ‘transparency and borderless collaboration’) will help your team to have a common understanding of how to act in complex situations.

Who owns the decision-making process?

Unclear decision-making processes are frustrating. You have an idea and it gets lost as nobody decides to realize it. You give your best for a whole day and in the evening, your team lead trashes all of your work. You are running a small innovation project and suddenly it turns out that you missed an opportunity to ask for feedback from some core decision-makers.

[Tweet “In an innovation team, it is important to have clear decision-rules that run fast.”]

In an innovation team, it is important to have clear decision-rules that run fast. You want to decide within minutes, not in days. Speed in execution is essential for innovation. The team wants to know who to ask for what. Decisions have to be consistent. Ultimately, your team wants to be involved and take some ownership of the decisions. Nobody likes to be bossed, especially the ones with an entrepreneurial spirit. If you want to run a truly effective innovation team, a transparent and participative decision-making process is inevitable.

What are the domains each team member owns?

Have you ever worked in a team where the manager decided on every single detail of your work? You had to get approval for irrelevant things and were not able to decide on your own? If yes, you will know that this kills your motivation and your productivity. On the other hand, a team where nobody is ‘the boss’ soon gets out of control. Things are done duplicate, you decide again and again on the same things, and in times of failure nobody feels responsible.

Giving people ownership of their domains will change everything. Let them decide and suddenly they are involved. This will not only help to raise motivation but also to speed up decisions. At the same time, somebody is finally responsible. You can set goals, clear expectations, and you know who to talk to, if things go wrong.

How do we structure our meetings?

Who does not know these regular boring get-togethers where you achieve almost nothing. What a waste of time! We tend to set up too many meetings that are too long and involve too many people. In the end, most of the time is wasted in discussions that are not related to  the original purpose of this meeting.

There are simple rules that will help to boost your meeting productivity. Keep meetings small, set a clear structure that focuses on decision-making, and have a facilitator who restrains irrelevant speeches. Try to always leave a meeting with a clear outcome, e.g., an action plan or a decision protocol.

How to give feedback?

Everybody loves to work in a harmonious team but at some point, differing viewpoints will arise. Oftentimes teams neglect to utilize the power of dissonance. In discussions and feedback situations, we focus on the good things and avoid speaking out on the bad ones. Over time, this will intoxicate our team. There will be a growing number of things that are left under the table. Furthermore, situations of conflict hold a massive power for innovation. If we always agree, we will never invite something new. Only in disagreement and developing tradeoffs will we find new solutions. A formalized feedback process can prove a great asset to your team. Give feedback and ask for it. Encourage people to give negative feedback in a setting where they can feel safe.

What boosts our motivation?

Being motivated as a team is not only a question of bringing the right people together, not only of talent or skills. It is also a question of how we organize our work. Much too often we formulize vague projects with unspecified tasks. Procrastination evolves, projects seem to get stuck, and in the end we are demotivated. With some simple mechanisms, we can create motivation boosters: break down projects into actionable tasks and somehow visualize progress (e.g., with Kanban). If we constantly see progress, every small task that is executed transforms into a small win.

Also, the atmosphere in which we work will transform. We feel that we are achieving something. This creates the breeding ground for a motivating environment that fosters innovation.

[Tweet “Organizing for many small wins will create a motivating environment that fosters innovation.”]

How do we manage ideas?

If you set the right atmosphere and encourage people to express their ideas, you also have to ensure that these ideas are valued. Too often we conduct brainstorming meetings and create a bunch of great ideas, just to see them fade away, written down on some piece of paper that is lost in your drawer. Idea management includes not only the idea generation process but also the mechanisms to evaluate, test, and realize those sparks of innovation. Tools like a Post-it wall or a Trello board can do magic.

What questions do you ask to bring your team to the next level?

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How to drive change through your existing hierarchy: Innovation is not only about generating creative ideas. It is not only about brainstorming workshops, learning about Design Thinking, and setting up an idea-management process. Innovation is also about packaging your idea into a great product. It is about UX design, product architecture, and business modeling. Ultimately, innovation is about marketing, generating momentum, and convincing the market to adopt your product.

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For many companies, there is often a huge difference between what’s in their business plans and the market’s expectations for growth. This growth gap comes from the fact that companies are still pouring money into what made their success in the past, namely developing technology breakthrough in their R&D labs, instead of working […]

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