The second major thing I've learned from interviewing people on getting traction is that initial traction can happen in a lot of different ways, often unpredictably. (The first thing was that entrepreneurs usually have movement ideas even though they often think they have powder keg or empire ideas.)
Given that the first inflection point is unpredictable, it makes sense to consider all traction "verticals" in the pursuit of product/market fit. Here's a list I hope to make exhaustive over time (by updating this post).
Note: this list is no particular order.
- Traditional PR. Justin.tv gained an early loyal following from getting written up in national newspapers. Justin Kan tells the story in my interview with him.
- Non-traditional PR, e.g. Publicity Stunts. Josh Kopelman had a town renamed half.com, which got him on a lot of national TV shows. He tells the story here.
- Search Engine Marketing (SEM). At NextTag, Mark Cramer bought mortgage ads off of Google and found a way to monetize them (for more than he paid). He explains the tactic in my second interview with him.
- Non-SEM Online Ads. DuckDuckGo has gotten some success out of reddit ads. There's also lots of other platforms, e.g. Facebook, StumbleUpon, MySpace. Then there are thousands of smaller sites that will take your ads directly.
- Search Engine Optimization (SEO). At Bingo Card Creator, Patrick McKenzie operates a collection of sites that get hundreds of thousands of people each year interested in his offerings coming in for free from organic search (mainly through Google). He walks through in detail how it all works in my interview with him.
- Business Development (BizDev). Kayak secured an early partnership deal with AOL. Paul English tells the story in my interview with him.
- Target Market Blogs. Reddit gained early users after Paul Graham mentioned them in one of his essays. Alexis Ohanian talks about it my interview with him.
- Your Blog. SEOMoz eventually took off after years of tireless blogging. Rand Fishkin tells us about it in my interview with him.
- Community Building. At Wikipedia, Jimmy Wales spent a lot of initial effort courting early editors and building a community around them. He recalls the history in my interview with him.
- Viral. Posterous took off through posting and sharing. Garry Tan recounts the series of events in my interview with him.
- Trade Shows. Steve Welch gained momentum for Mitos through innovative marketing at industry conferences. He tells us how it happened in my interview with him.
- Speaking Engagements, e.g. Conferences. Eric Ries told me (after our interview) that his blog really got traction after he started doing speaking engagements.
- Open Source. Zimbra took hold by making their product open source. Statish Dharmaraj opines on the strategy in my interview with him. You could consider this a special case of the next vertical.
- Existing Platforms. SurfCanyon has gotten 1.5M downloads of their Firefox add-on. Mark Cramer explains how in my interview with him. And of course don't forget iPhone/iPad, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Ning, etc.
- Sales. Steve Barsh kick-started his company through endless cold-calling and networking, which he talks about in my interview with him. In my interview with Todd Vollmer, Todd lays out a pretty comprehensive approach to startup selling.
- Creating a Popular Event. I think the recent Startup Lessons Learned conference by Eric Ries and Charles Hudson is a good example of this strategy.
Here are other verticals I know about though don't have great examples for yet:
- Off-line Ads. I've heard infomercials can work wonders for the right products. And of course there is TV, radio, billboards, magazines, newspapers, etc.
- Buying Smaller Sites. I've heard axod bought a site to jump-start Mibbit. Can I interview you about it?
I'm sure there are more, and I'd appreciate you sharing your examples and stories. I hope to do at least one interview on each vertical for the book I'm doing on getting traction.
As you can see from the above, basically everyone I've interviewed has gotten traction from a different vertical. Yes, partially that was by my design (in the picking of interviewees). However, it is clear that usually they didn't start out thinking they would get traction from that particular vertical. So I think it makes sense to systematically examine each of them and brainstorm how they might work for your startup.