traction
trakSH()n/

the extent to which a product, idea, etc., gains popularity or acceptance.

"analysts predicted that the technology would rapidly gain traction in the corporate market"

Traction. Yet another one of those buzz words bantered about in the startup community. Startups (and their founders) are fixated on traction--as they should be. Traction determines the product roadmap (stay the course or pivot) as well as the timing for a potential fundraise. Traction means product adoption and hopefully a revenue stream (in more overused vernacular, traction means a company is growing quickly, could actually make money and quite possibly could be a company with a future beyond merely starting-up). It's appropriate then that a conference focused on traction has rapidly gained popularity in the crowded startup conference market space. Traction Conf was founded in 2015 by Vancouver-based serial entrepreneur, Ray Walia (Ray is also the co-founder and Managing Partner of the venture capital firm Victory Square Ventures and entrepreneurial facility, Launch Academy) together with co-founder, Lloyed Lobo (Lloyed runs growth at Speakeasy.co and is also Partner at Boast Capital). That two entrepreneurs / investors would launch yet another project says as much about the giving-back philosophy of the startup community as it does about an identified market need. Big ideas are great, but what's needed now to scale startup communities is generosity with actionable and timely how-to's.

I talked with Ray about why Traction Conf and what this particular event tells us about the needs of startups right now.

When did Traction Conf launch?

The first Traction Conference was in June of 2015. We started our outreach for speakers at the end of Jan/early Feb and then 5 months later had a conference with over 600 attendees that was sold out a month in advance.

As an entrepreneur, you obviously saw a need for Traction Conf as why else would you wade into the conference space. What's the vision of Traction Conf?

There were two main drivers behind the vision for Traction Conf:

There is a distinct culture of growth hacking and customer acquisition that exists in SF and the Valley. We wanted to bring this culture to other emerging tech centers and help expedite the growth of this culture among tech entrepreneurs around the world beginning with Vancouver.

Having attended numerous conferences ourselves over the years, we wanted to deliver an experience where the content on stage was more valuable than the networking in the halls and most importantly actionable so that people in the audience could take what they learned at the conference and begin to implement it at their own companies the very next day.

With the buzz of entrepreneurship and ease of launching an internet company, startup community calendars are exhaustingly overloaded with events and meet-ups. What was your "aha" moment that there was an opportunity for yet another startup focused conference?

The "aha" moment wasn't really an "aha" but a desire to see a conference that addresses the issues and challenges around scaling and growing their business we see our members, portfolio companies and clients faced with respectively at Launch Academy, Victory Square Ventures and Boast Capital. The knowledge and experiences we see being shared at Traction are the very same elements we want to see instilled and adopted into our own companies.

Success in one market doesn't necessarily translate into success in another (larger) market. Why did you decide to expand to San Francisco next?

Actually, we didn't set out to expand to SF rather we had significant demand to bring what we pulled together in Vancouver to SF and Silicon Valley. The CEO of AppDirect, Daniel Saks was a speaker at Traction Vancouver, reached out to gauge our interest in expanding. The main difference between the two conferences being that for an earlier stage startup ecosystem like Vancouver the focus was around acquiring customers and scaling into new markets. In SF the ecosystem is mature and thus the focus is more around retaining customers, converting them and monetizing (quickly).

What's the lesson for other entrepreneurs from your success in launching two sold-out conferences in a year?

Understand your market and execute quickly. We think the demand is an indication around the timeliness of the subject matter and the desire to focus more on customers and revenues as opposed to raising venture. The tech industry as a whole is maturing and companies are quickly realizing that in order to be sustainable businesses in the long-term, they need a healthy customer base and traction. We always say that the best investor into any business is a paying customer and Traction Conf helps companies understand how their peers have attracted, retained and monetized their customer bases.

What are the top takeaways from the speakers at the first Traction Conf?

I never took no for an answer. When there were things we wanted to do, we just figured out a way around the no.--Lynda Weinman, Co-Founder, Lynda.com.

The people who build the product should be intrinsically linked to the product.--Julia Hartz, Co-Founder and President, Eventbrite.

Hyper-growth companies don't grow because of a set of features or an aggressive revenue target. They grow because they are part of a larger mission that is transforming the world for the better.--Bill Macaitis, CMO, Slack Technologies, Inc.

Growth is a process, not a destination--the key is to test.--Markus Fried, CEO, PlentyOfFish.

The only thing worse than growing quickly is not growing quickly.--Parker Conrad, CEO, Zenefits.

Most companies don't fail to build a product, they fail to get customers.--Justin Mares, Author of Traction.

There is no magic bullet, the only secret to growth and traction is volume and iteration.--Michael Litt, CEO, Vidyard.

If you don't make a change and take risk, you are going to ensure that you stay stuck.--Lynda Weinman, Co-Founder, Lynda.com.

Published on: Oct 4, 2015