15 Early Traction Growth Hacking Strategies For Startups

Once you launch, getting that early traction is crucial. Here's 15 tips that worked for us.

So you’ve launched your product and now it’s time to start getting customers. Hopefully by this point you already have some, from the awesome prelaunch strategy you executed.

Speaking from experience, this particular phase is often the hardest in the life of a startup. You need to move from that launch phase to building something that has a strong market demand (or product market fit).

Getting traction is easy for some, but hard for most. Getting early adopters, customers and feedback is crucial to the ongoing development of your product.

Below is an example of what’s called the Hype Cycle, a methodology created by Gartner which provides a graphical representation of the adoption of modern technologies and web applications. What this research shows is that it actually takes a really long time to build a viable and sustainable product.

Startup Hype Cycle

So don’t think for a second that you need to get everything right now, you simply need to start adding the various building blocks that help you achieve that end goal (more on that in a second).

In this second post of our growth hacks series we’re going to look at what you need to do to start driving early traction for your business. How can you get to a sustainable point as fast as possible?

I’ve talked about this particular topic in previous posts. Last year we only had one single goal that we wanted to achieve – make enough revenue to support two of us full time.

Having a clear unique goal then allowed us to break things down into small achievable micro goals like:

  • How many customers per week do we need?
  • How many emails do we need to send?
  • How many meetings do we need to have?
  • If we add x feature how many more customers could we generate?
  • How many people could we get exposure to if we partner with x?
  • If we integrate with x provider how does that open up the market to us?
  • If I spend x time on a piece of content how will that pay off in the long run?
  • How do we get more users to pay yearly?

The first thing you need to kickstart your momentum is leverage the list you built in the months before launch (the so-called pre-launch phase).

There’s a number of great things you can do with a list of people who are already interested in your product or service.

Apple Watch 2

You should already have an idea of what you want to do here, it might be a simple announcement email with a call to action (like Apple above).

But, you can do so much more stuff that’s impactful and effective. Remember, most of us aren’t Apple so we often need more incentive for people to notice us than a pretty image and a buy now button.

  • Give your pre-launch users a special offer they can’t refuse
  • Or give them the same deal but extra features or limits (for being awesome), this way you drive more recurring revenue upfront
  • Build a campaign to get these users to refer friends
  • Send swag to users if they mention you on their blogs or social media
  • Build a huge launch competition to win some of your products (and drive that initial virality)
  • Create a Facebook custom audience of the list, then target lookalikes with ads
  • Send actionable emails to your list that shows them how to use your product
Do Things That Don’t Scale

In the early days you should be laser focused on getting those first people using your product, or those first customers paying you money. Things usually don’t take off by themselves. You, the founder needs to do things that don’t scale to give your product the best chance of a long and fruitful life.

At this point you should also consider if you are chasing the dream of becoming a unicorn or a forever company.

This is extremely hard work when you have no presence. If you’ve put a lot of effort into your pre-launch then this first step should be easier, but if you haven’t then you will need to literally do things that don’t scale.

Gleam Beta Invite Email

What are things that don’t scale? Typically it’s things that founders will need to do again and again that can’t be automated.

A fantastic example of this is when Tinder were first trying to get people to use their app. They held exclusive parties at colleges in the USA, with one condition – you must have downloaded the Tinder app.

This idea thinks outside the normal realms of user acquisition, but it’s not something that’s scalable. It requires hard work, planning and good execution.

There are only two types of people truly crucial in any company. Someone who makes something and someone who sells it

  Tweet This
  • Start cold emailing or calling potential customers (I set myself a target of 10 every day)
  • Reach out to the press
  • Give people free access to your product in exchange for promotion to their list
  • Have as many meetings as you can
  • Meet investors or potential partners
  • Hire the best possible team
  • Organise launch or milestone parties
  • Do user testing with real people
  • Giveaway stickers and swag to your customers, get them talking about you
  • Provide outrageously awesome support (people talk)
  • Find people talking or using competing products and chat to them
  • Obsess over the details that sets your product apart from the market
  • Listen to all these people and use the learnings to improve your product
Reach Out to Influencers

When we launched Gleam we reached out to some key influencers that we’d seen using other social media platforms.

Influencer Email Reachout

The key here is to make it relevant and useful for them. You need to provide value.

Influencers get lots of emails every day from people trying to use their reach to help themselves, so just be wary of that when you email them 🙂

In the post below you can find out all of the non-scalable things we did to get our first 100 customers.

Lessons Learned Growing to Over 100 Customers

Learn how we grew from 0 to 100 customers in 5 months. If we can do it, so can you!

Having a great product, or thinking about how you present that product to the world can have a huge impact on your growth.

Half the marketing battle is the product - @SeanEllis

  Tweet This

Take something simple like this redesign of the outdated home thermostat by Nest. They turned a huge industry on its head by making something that was once boring into something beautiful and desirable. Apple do the same thing, even at times when their hardware is worse than competitors.


Or the product video for the Coin card, which generated over 5,000 pre-orders in less than 24 hours.

The reality is that the better your product is, the more you will be able to align all of your business functions to drive towards growth. Sales, marketing, product design and long term vision.

If your product is in the not-so-good category then you end up overplaying marketing to make up for the fact your product ain’t so good – which can be done, it’s just a lot harder.

Another fantastic example of this is Tesla. Their cars are insanely better in almost every way than anything else on the market, to the point where the product sells itself by being so desirable.


Not only that, but they also have a secondary market that’s even bigger than cars. Batteries. This technology has the ability to change how we all consume (and store) energy in our households.

We may not all have the ability to change the world as much as someone like Elon Musk. But we can strive to make our own products the best in the market so it fuels our growth efforts.

Tesla Powerwall
Driving Growth With Beautiful Products

Explore ways that businesses build unique product experiences to drive growth & sales.

Find Good Partners

Forging good partnerships has been an instrumental part of growth for us at Gleam. Typically it’s broken down into a few separate areas.

Gleam Email Integrations

Building integrations between your product and others in the market is a fantastic way to provide additional utility to your customers.

For example, by integrating with Mailchimp in the early days we were able to do a few things.

In more recent months we have just released an integration with Eventbrite. This particular integration is slightly different (and more strategic).

  • Eventbrite opens up a completely adjacent new market for us – helping promoters promote events
  • We’re the first to market amongst our competitors with this particular integration
  • It helps reward loyalty for people who’ve been to past events
  • It can be used at events to give out rewards for attendees

You can test out this integration below:


You may also consider the reverse if you’ve built your own API, in which you encourage other partners to build and extend your own platform.

Above is probably one of my favourite examples, it’s a site called Dotabuff that aggregates stats from the popular game Dota2 (here’s mine. The site is amazing at helping you analyze how well you play with certain heroes, what your weaknesses are and what your strengths are.

Syndication Partners

There are also partners that can complement each other by combining their products together, or exposing their product to the combined audience. For example we did this last month with our Foundr article.

Take Need For Seat as an example, they make gaming chairs. They partnered with gaming organisations to provide seats for their players and in turn allowed these organisations to sell branded seats to their fans.

StackCommerce Deals

Another great example is StackCommerce. They allow publishers to add-on a branded store to their site which helps generate revenue. It’s a win-win partnership for both parties, more exposure for StackCommerce and more revenue for the publisher.

Drip Gleam Integration Page

As you grow you’ll find many different potential sources of referrals. This might include resellers, affiliates or even agencies that use your product for their clients.

On the flip side you, it may make sense to find good partners that know how to use your product. As an example, we get a lot of users that want to use Gleam but don’t have the time or the skills to implement it themselves.

You’ll want to understand various data-points about your business inside Analytics to facilitate growth and understand the effectiveness of campaigns.

Setup Google Analytics For Growth

Ask yourself questions like:

  • If a user reads content on our blog, then signs up how do I ensure the sale is attributed to that content?
  • Which paid traffic sources are most efficient from an ROI perspective?
  • Which landing pages are converting the best for us?
  • Do mobile users convert?
  • At what point in the on-boarding process do users achieve the a-ha moment?
  • Is there a particular subset of users that convert high? How do we identify that so we can find more of them?
  • How can I use Analytics to track errors?
  • Are there any conversion issues with specific browsers?

All of these questions can determine how you think about growth. Some of the data you pinpoint will already be negatively impacting your growth right now, so when you actually fix it – you’ll see some positive movement. Then you can dig into the unknown areas and start testing hypotheses to find incremental growth across different channels.

Setting Up Google Analytics For Startups

Learn how to setup Google Analytics to get the data you need to make growth-based decisions for your startup.

How to Build an Email List

You only really realise the power of a good email list when you have one at your disposal. Consider a medium that goes straight to someone’s inbox with the message you want, in exactly the format that you want it.

Email is still probably the best one to one communication a business can use. It can be used to:

  • Communicate with your customers personally
  • Allow your customers to opt-in to various notifications about your product
  • Launch your business from beta to an active signup list
  • Send out reminders or regular product updates
  • Send special offers to your subscribers
  • Let customers know about events
  • Highlight product launches
  • Keep customers engaged with courses or other useful content
  • Drive sales from smart product positioning
  • Reach your large audience very quickly, thus increasing the virility of a launch
Increase Your Opt-in Rate by 300%

Find out what makes exit intent popups so awesome and how you can set up your own in minutes.

Case Studies

I can’t stress enough how valuable case studies are to the growth of your business. Our case studies alone drive 4000+ visits a month to our marketing site.

I can’t help but feel that many case studies end up being too linear and full of marketing fluff. Instead we’ve seen success with making them fun to read with actionable insights.

  • Case studies (or success stories) give you credibility in the marketplace
  • They show potential customers how others are using your product successfully
  • They can help you sell certain features of your product that you want to draw attention to
  • They are great material for sales reps that can show tangible results
  • They can help you enter new markets much easier by opening up sales opportunities
  • They can act as tutorials to help existing customers get more from your product
  View Our Case Studies
Streaming Industry

Sometimes the best way to grow your product is to focus your attention on smaller (and more attainable) adjacent markets.

We already talked earlier in the article about how Tinder managed to do this by holding frat parties with their app. Facebook also used this strategy by focusing on colleges only at launch.

This is a technique that we have used here at Gleam. We go after specific markets that all use giveaways in different ways.

  • We started targeting Bloggers only
  • Then we moved onto E-Commerce sites
  • Then we released our Twitch.tv integration and started targeting Streamers
  • A side effect of the above was then attracting gaming brands and companies
  • We then started targeting the growth hacking market
  • We’ve recently started targeting event organisers with our Eventbrite integration

The fantastic thing about each adjacent market is that you can tackle them completely independently.

  • You can create content targeting those customer segments
  • You can build market specific case studies
  • You can target ads towards specific markets
  • You can segment your customers into their main market
  • You can align the prices of your plans to appeal to each market
  • You can build new plans to attract customers in those markets
  • You can work with partners to promote your product to users in those markets

If your target market has a lot of encumbent players then you may need to consider introducing a freemium plan to gain traction. This lowers the barrier to entry for adoption.

  • You can acquire more users faster
  • More users gives your product more leverage to grow
  • It helps you bring on beta users faster (since they don’t have to pay)

Freemium is also a model that many venture backed companies roll with (since they have the luxury of figuring out their revenue model later). It does have factors that need to be considered, like making sure you actually make money before your bank balance runs out. This is why some argue that free plans don’t work.

  • It potentially lowers the overall value of your paid product
  • You will need bandwidth to support a higher volume of free users
  • You are more open to abuse and may need to dedicate resource to that
  • You will need to carefully consider how you introduce paid features
  • You will need to find the right balance between free and paid features
Out of Lokes on Tinder

This is something that Tinder has struggled with after their most recent update which limits the number of swipes you get on their free plan. They have essentially introduced pain into their app, which now requires payment to remove.

If you’re going to consider making such a big change you may need to grandfather existing users (so you don’t lose them).

Dropbox Referrals

Going freemium is a strategy that clearly worked well for storage giant Dropbox. But the reason that it was so successful for them wasn’t just because users were getting storage for free.

Dropbox allows you to refer friends with a unique sharing link. The link credits extra storage to your account when the user successfully signs up.

The beauty of this approach is that Dropbox identified the one metric that was important to their users, and allowed them to be in control of increasing it (for free).

HubSpot Website Grader Tool

It’s also very smart to build free tools that help you generate leads. The key is to make the tool valuable.

You can also align the output of free tools to vanity. For example if you have a company that runs Google Ads campaigns, you might build something that shows users how badly their campaigns are currently performing.

Or likewise if you have a CRM system you might analyse the overall marketing strategy of a website and show how it can be improved (just like the Hubspot Website Grader tool).

Branding is another aspect that can be leveraged for growth. If you have a widget or embeddable product then you can co-brand it (and charge the users a premium to remove it).

Powered by Gleam

This is something that we do with our product and it drives over 30% of our signups. Essentially completely free marketing.

Check out our experiment below on how we tested the traditional “Powered by” phrase to see how it performs compared to others. The results will surprise you!

Split Testing Increased Our Signups By 484%

One simple phrase "Powered by" is used by startups everywhere. Can it be improved?

Here are a few bonus growth hacks that you can implement in just a few minutes to kickstart your traction.

Disqus Blog Comments

If you post in communities or leave comments in blogs then you should always try to include your company name as part of your real name.

This means that every time you post, people will associate your name with your company. For example, whenever I post I always make my name Stuart @ Gleam.io.

Foundr's Instagram Profile

Your startup will have a presence across many social networks and communities. This presents a unique opportunity to drive additional sales or conversion by being smart about you how link back to yourself.

This hack is quite complex, but runs on auto-pilot when setup:

  • Build an awesome guide that shows people different ways to use your product
  • Add some Google Analytics tracking to the guide.


  • Shorten the URL with your preferred URL shortener


  • Add this link and call to action to every single social profile
Gleam Capture
  • Go a step further and setup a Gleam Capture rule to popup an opt-in form based on the utm_source

Now you can enjoy a stream of users interested in your product actually finding some actionable content (and also potentially opting into your mailing list).

LinkedIn Profile Header
Email Signature Hack

Learn how you can leverage your email signature to drive growth every time you send an email. This is a special bonus for subscribers of our growth email list.

  Check Out This Guide

Stuart McKeown

Stuart McKeown is one of the Co-founders at Gleam. Aside from writing and helping businesses grow, he also enjoys sound design and drinking tea ☕️