You're on the startup grind, pitching your heart out to investors. Suddenly, they hit you with the dreaded question: "What's your traction?" It's like being asked to explain the meaning of life in a single breath. But fear not, dear entrepreneur, for I'm here to demystify the enigma of traction.

Traction isn't just about flashy numbers or grandiose promises. It's about proving that your idea has legs, that it's not just a figment of your imagination fueled by caffeine and late-night coding sessions. So, what exactly does traction mean in practice?

First off, let's talk about user engagement. Investors want to see real people using your product, not just your friends and family. Show them that your product solves a real problem and that users are flocking to it like moths to a flame.

Next up, revenue streams. Yes, money does make the world go around, even in the startup universe. Investors want to see that your startup isn't just a money pit but a potential cash cow waiting to be milked. Even if it's just a trickle at this stage, any sign of revenue is a green light in their eyes.

And let's not forget about the growth trajectory. Your startup is like a rocket ship blasting off into the stratosphere. Investors want to see that you're not just sitting on the launchpad twiddling your thumbs but that you're actually soaring to new heights with each passing day.

Okay, good stuff, but what it really means!?

Early-stage examples of building momentum

Here's some real-world examples of early-stage traction across user engagement, revenue streams, and growth trajectory.

User engagement

  1. Social networking for niche communities: A platform catering to specific interests, with 500 active users who spend an average of 30 minutes daily engaged in discussions and content tailored to their passions. This active engagement signals a sense of community and value.
  2. Productivity app empowerment: A productivity app designed to streamline workflows. With 200 daily active users, recent enhancements have sparked a remarkable 50% surge in engagement. This increase indicates active adoption and reliance on the app's functionality to enhance productivity.
  3. Language-learning website: A language-learning website attracting 1,000 registered users keen on expanding their linguistic horizons. These users, averaging 10 lessons per week, illustrate a commitment to self-improvement and resonate strongly with the platform's teaching methods.

Revenue streams

  1. Early-stage software startup: An early-stage software startup making waves with $5,000 in monthly recurring revenue, derived from its first 10 paying customers. This revenue stream validates the product-market fit and lays the groundwork for growth.
  2. Local food delivery service: A fledgling food delivery service has quickly carved out a niche, generating $3,000 in weekly sales within its inaugural month. This rapid uptake underscores the strong demand for convenient dining solutions within the community.
  3. Handmade crafts marketplace: A virtual marketplace celebrating creativity and craftsmanship, where a debut online pop-up event yields $2,000 in sales. This initial success fuels the passions of artisans and signifies consumer appreciation for unique offerings.

Growth trajectory

  1. Mobile gaming app ascendancy: A mobile gaming app witnessing a 20% month-over-month surge in downloads coupled with a notable 15% increase in in-app purchases. This growth trajectory signals popularity and lays the groundwork for sustained success.
  2. Subscription-based fitness platofrm: A fitness platform achieving a remarkable 50% expansion in its user base post-launch, thanks to strategic referral programs. This accelerated growth amplifies the platform's reach and fosters community among its members.
  3. Boutique fashion brand's social surge: A fashion brand doubling its Instagram followers within three months. This surge in engagement correlates with a tangible 30% uptick in website traffic, indicating growing consumer interest.

After these examples, it's crucial to emphasize that at the early stage, the numbers don't have to be massive. Instead, founders need to focus on understanding where their users are coming from, who they are, and what they find valuable by using the service or product. This deep understanding lays the foundation for sustainable growth and scalability as the startup matures.

Y Combinator echoes this sentiment, suggesting that founders should prioritize non-scalable actions at the early stage. These actions may include direct interaction with users, gathering feedback, and refining the product-market fit based on real-world insights. While scalability is essential, understanding and catering to the needs of early adopters is paramount for long-term success.

What investors really mean by "traction"

It's like being asked to explain the meaning of life in a single breath.