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Traction mistakes (gabrielweinberg.com)
182 points by dwynings on July 14, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 39 comments



"Most startups don't fail at building a product. They fail at acquiring customers ". I disagree, at least when it comes to me and duckduckgo (which Gabriel founded). Here's why:

Three months ago, I started using ddg instead of Google. I'm quite disappointed:

- search speed is slow. Instead of <1s, it's often more like 2-3 seconds.

- search quality is adequate to quite bad. Example: "amazing spiderman rotten" (I was looking for the rotten tomatoes page for that movie that just came out, entered a typo) gave the right page for google, while the right page is not amongst the 20 top results in ddg.

- while ddg says that they don't track me, the still insist in not using direct links in their search results, but indirect results (via duckduckgo.com/l/u?=...). Not only is this insincere, it also messes up my browser history: when I visit a page through ddg, Safari lists that strange ddg url in the browser history instead of the target page.

Now, Gabriel was succesful at "aquiring" me. I tried it out. For a long time. And I'm on the verge of leaving. Why? because he failed at building a good product.

But maybe that is exactly why he is failing. He is focusing very much on these other "most likely cases of failing", while ignoring the very reason he is failing in this instance.

--edit: examples, conclusion.


We did not really acquire you (at least not yet). Traction is about acquiring real customers (who stick), and if you tried it and left or are thinking of leaving then you are not a real customer yet. I would love to keep you, however!

I'm sorry to hear about your disappointment, but all those things are things we're of course actively working on. If you want to email me at yegg@duckduckgo.com I'd love to get to the bottom of them.

--Speed has improved a lot in the past three months. Where are you located? I'd love to trace this down. 2-3sec is way outside the norm and our internal metrics show much, much lower.

--Same with search quality. We'd love specific examples if you remember any: https://duckduckgo.com/feedback.html -- that's the best way we improve. Are you using a region setting?

--We do not use indirect results by default on our main site. Check out our privacy policy, specifically the section on search leakage: https://duckduckgo.com/privacy.html. On HTML5 browsers we can do an internal postMessage to strip the referrer header in-line. However, if you open in a new tab/window, we cannot do that. Nevertheless, you can turn this behavior off on the main site in the settings (under privacy): https://duckduckgo.com/settings.html. If you're using a modern Safari though, this shouldn't happen. Again, would love to figure this out.


My experience with the search quality are quite similar. While I like the idea and personally would even accept some 5 sec+ delays if the results were at least equal to Google, they are not. Even for relatively simple queries: For example if I search Journal of Brand Management the right url is not even on the whole first page, while at Google it is exactly the first result ( www.palgrave-journals.com/bm ).

Maybe you could add some special "dissatisfying results" button or something like that where we just can enter the keyphrase and a short line what Google did better. Or I wouldn't even mind activating some track-me option occasionally if it would help you guys improve your results. Just let us know how we can help making DDG better.


While I like the idea and personally would even accept some 5 sec+ delays if the results were at least equal to Google, they are not. .. Or I wouldn't even mind activating some track-me option occasionally if it would help you guys improve your results.

So why, exactly, don't you like Google?


Not everyone has to use DDG because they're worried about privacy. It offers features that Google doesn't have (like that box at the top (though Google has recently added something similar) and suggested additional terms on the side) and there are political/non-product reasons to support a competing search company (Google is practically a monopoly). I guess on rare occasions, the search results may be better, too.


Mainly because of Google's forced integration approach. Google is forcing me to use the same identity on different sites/functions (e.g. Gmail, Seach, YouTube) and I don't like to have my Google Search habits connected to my email profile and so on. If I am offered an easy way to jump out of this loop and get an least somewhat adequate service I am happy to pack my bags.


Yes, make me have to spend as little effort as possible to tell you that the DDG results are worse than goog. It happens about daily, and I just don't have the time to find the feedback form every time.


Understood -- however, if it is easy now that we've communicated -- to just keep a notepad going and then send over a big list, we'd really appreciate it.


Hi stfu, are you using a region setting? I see the journal as the first link at https://duckduckgo.com/?q=Journal%20of%20Brand%20Management

We are planning on making that interface better, but if you or anyone else would like to help out before (it really really helps) we'd appreciate compiling a list over a week or so and then sending it in.


Try it without the capitalization. By using just small caps I get totally different results.


Nice to hear you answer, thanks!

- I'm located in Switzerland.

- Search example that failed are numerous, I added one to my original post.

- while that setting did indeed do the trick, I contest your default setting. I delete my cookies quite frequently, which will kill those settings. I see that you're trying something good with that feature (preserve my query string from reaching the target site). In this case, your implementation is just not good enough. You should not mess up my browser history in any case. Can't you do this differently?


If you don't mind, I'd love to correspond a bit more over email. I still have lots of questions and something is off with regards to this setting, speed, etc.

For the record, perhaps you got the wrong idea from the post (looking at your new conclusion). At DuckDuckGo, I've tried to avoid these mistakes as best I can.


I'm not trying to make you look bad, I'm just reporting my opinion. It's great that you're answering, already a big plus in my book. Private email sent.


This doesn't have much to do with his point. He makes no claim that DDG is a flawless product. And even the most flawless product on the planet tends to have (in the grand scheme of things) low conversion rates of the people they are able to bring in.

From the growth graphs that Gabriel has posted, he clearly NOT failed at building a good product. Could it be better? Absolutely.


> search quality is adequate to quite bad. Example: "amazing spiderman rotten" (I was looking for the rotten tomatoes page for that movie that just came out, entered a typo) gave the right page for google, while the right page is not amongst the 20 top results in ddg.

I tried this in DDG. The Amazing Spider-Man (2012) for Rotten Tomatoes appears in the zero-click info box. I wonder if that was done in response to your comment, or if it's been like that all along. From using Google, it took me a long time to get used to the info box, as I'd somehow mentally ignore it even though it was always starting me right in the face.


It was triggering if you did movie or rotten tomatoes or a host of other things, but not rotten :). After emailing with him I changed that trigger.


That's fantastic! One of the reasons I keep coming back to DDG is that you guys are so responsive to users' needs. That's what made me a loyal DDG user in the first place.


Actually I think the info in the article is on the mark. The most important aspect is a systematic approach to obtaining customers.

The real tricky part though is figuring out how to use each traction approach (the article calls them verticals) properly. For example, in my first three years of business, I learned a bunch of hard lessons here. These include:

1) Most advertising doesn't work unless people already know of you. Push your advertising later. Advertising that does work at that stage is that which has a personal feel to it (like infomercials).

2) PR is golden. Go for it at every opportunity.

3) Your biggest friend is your competition. If you can reach out and build good relationships with folks who are already in the field, that is support that can't be underrated. I thought at first that this was specific to smaller businesses but it turns out that the more I look into it, the more many successful businesses of all size do it, and do well because of it.

4) Public service announcements are very good as well. If you are just doing tech support, and the local radio station has an open hour or so, call up every time there is a major virus outbreak and let folks know. Or buy advertisement space in these cases, or the like.


>Your biggest friend is your competition.

I dont get this. For example how can Google gain anything by maintaining a really good relationship with Bing.(which in fact they dont!)

Conversely,it seems like you can build traction by picking fights with your competition.Ex Tesla vs Edison, Google vs Bing, Apple vs Microsoft.


Bing is a new-comer. But I bet when Google started up, they would have gained a lot by having good relationships with Yahoo and Lycos. Moreover, I would be surprised if Google is not pursuing a good relationship overall with Microsoft even if it tense and filled with lawsuits around the edges.


Google did have a deal with Yahoo! early on and it was absolutely crucial because they got Google's branded search box on the Yahoo site


I knew before I opened the thread there would be a bunch of detractors. Not sure why Gabriel seems to attract the naysayers on here?

To me this and the traction verticals stuff on this blog are absolute gold.

I don't think I would be far off the mark if I suggested that 90% of the people on HN would be capable of building a product, but 90% would also fail to get something off the ground in terms of users. (Partly through lack of skills, partly just because it's a hard problem in a competitive world.) It's only where the skills intersect that they're even in the game.

Anything that breaks 'getting traction' down into an analytical approach is great, and much more actionable than most of the fluff that passes through here. Fantastic article.


I would love to see a framework developed - like Lean/Agile Startups - that specifically deal with a scientific process for startups across all/most verticals.

Just like I can use the principles of Agile Software Development to build my product, I would love something similar for marketing.

I know there are many theories - AARRR from Dave McClure is one that jumps to mind, along with the long-tail of SEO landing pages like BCC & Patio11....but there isn't a coherent, or rather I don't know of one, framework that pulls it altogether.

Anyone care to take a stab at this?

I am sure many founders would find this immensely useful.


We're working on something like that with Traction Book - http://tractionbook.com/. Would love your feedback!


That looks good Justin...but it looks more like a book of 'case studies'...rather than an analytical take on the subject matter.

Not that I am saying your approach is not good, it sure is. It adds to the body of knowledge on how people get traction.

But just like how someone sat down and came up with best practices like Test Driven Development and the Agile Manifesto and Customer Development and Building a Lean Startup.

I would like something similar for customer acquisition and growth hacking.


It's a combination of both, but definitely more strategy and framework-centric than case studies. We're still working on figuring out the positioning for it.

Thanks for the feedback!


I thought this post was great, and I cringe when I read the comments in this thread that are so negative about the product. Kudos to GW for tackling a massive, difficult problem in the most competitive space in software. Obviously there's still work to be done, but DDG has invested, what, 5 orders of magnitude less into search than Google? This is about as hard as it gets in startup land.

I imagine there's a GW post yet to be written [1] on the related point that some problems are harder than others (e.g., search >>> picture-sharing-app), and the complete lack of correlation between effort and value (DDG <<< Instagram, at least so far) [2].

But line that I didn't fully understand was:

I believe distribution is equally important as product. That means quite literally you should be spending 50% of your time on it. For tech people, you should probably bias it to 75% so you end up getting to equal in the end.

What exactly does "distribution" mean in this context?

[1] or maybe there already is such a post.. [2] yes, I know there are many reasons for this, search is valuable, etc.


> "I believe distribution is equally important as product. That means quite literally you should be spending 50% of your time on it. For tech people, you should probably bias it to 75% so you end up getting to equal in the end." What exactly does "distribution" mean in this context?

Distribution means a method for getting your product to the customers who need it.

Imagine slaving away for years, building the perfect solution to the biggest problem, only to never have anyone discover it because you never put any effort in figuring out how to reach your customers.

A distribution channel can be anything from the AppStore/Steam, to advertising, to door-to-door sales, to engaging users in a niche news forum, to referral/affiliate schemes, and so forth. Ideally, it's something that closely and effectively targets your ideal customer with the exact problem you're solving.


The parent post is a perfect example: An informative comment that nearly no one will read because I posted it too late to catch the organic influx of readers, and I didn't invest in other means of distributing it to an audience.


I commented on your blog but I thought I'd repeat it here to get more answers :)

How do you determine if your product is something people don't really want? I'm looking for my hypothetical early adopters(new and young restaurant owners) and a lot of the older restaurant owners don't care too much about the product. How do you determine whether your product is not ready for the mainstream or whether people just don't care about the problem and/or solution?


"... How do you determine whether your product is not ready for the mainstream or whether people just don't care about the problem and/or solution? ..."

Ask for payment. This will quickly sort out if a product solves a problem that people care about.


One thing I will always remember from my college economics class was the professor saying, on day one, that that's how you measure what people want.

"You want a lot of things. You want an A in this class. You want a trip to Hawaii. You want a tasty lunch. And you want all of those things ... 'a lot.' Well, I'm economist, I'm trying to be a scientist. I can't measure 'a lot.' What I can measure is - what are you willing to give up in order to get the things you want?"


"... One thing I will always remember from my college economics class was the professor saying, on day one, that that's how you measure what people want. ..."

I didn't take economics at Uni, but I certainly noticed a corollary of 'desire' for object and payment as a kid. The lack of money required you work out some scheme to make money to buy or your hack your own.


We are right now doing all these mistakes.

Currently, we have the problem that somehow majority of people signing up to our service are not at all potential customers.

The main problem for us that majority of blogs and advices we got are actually about how to acquire customers in consumer segment.

There is very little blogs on how to acquire customers which are small businesses via internet.


Most startups don't fail at building a product. They fail at acquiring customers.

Citation needed.


This is clearly his opinion, based on experience. There isn't really any good way to collect data on why a company fails. So basically by definition, it is impossible to do an analysis that would provide you with a citation.


... is it? I figure this is one of those things that you can either take at face value -- or not.

The real question is did you find the rest of his information useless, if you did, then does it matter if he has an actual statistic here? If you didn't find it useful, would the citation make a difference at all?

I'm just saying it seems like a weird thing to focus on in the scope of this entire article. It probably wouldn't destroy the entire reading experience if you just mentally said "He probably meant 'Many'..." and kept reading to see what was important in the article.


I'd assume this is correct. Given that most startups end up launching with something, wouldn't it make sense that those that fail do so for reasons outside of their ability to build a product?


[dead]


He's talking about the promotions aspect of marketing (getting the word out) and sales.




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