This is a guest post by Oguz Serdar. Oguz is the co-founder and CEO of Limk, a technology startup that provides smarter content recommendations for web publishers. This post originally appeared on 500 Startups Blog. You can follow him @oguzserdar on Twitter.

You build a good quality, attractive, and functional product. You’re proud of it. You tell yourself that your growth curve should always need to be a hockey stick—up and to the right.

You assume the motto “If you build it, they will come” will work in any case. That might have worked for Kevin Costner’s character in Field of Dreams, but in the real world, that kind of thinking can cause terrible results for your startup. In a world where most startups die because they do not get enough traction to survive, the importance of sustainable growth should be embraced even more firmly.

In May 2013, I gave a presentation in Amsterdam on this same subject, and that presentation was later picked by the Hackernews community, featured by Slideshare, and got nearly 10,000 views. Until last week, I had about 40 people ask me to put down in writing the context of this presentation because the slide-deck itself just hit the highlights as I spoke. So, I’ve decided to write this post, and we will be talking through how to get massive traction and usage for your product.

Either Be Really Awesome, Or Be Trustworthy

No matter what their underlying stories, some products are just awesome enough to attract 25,000 users in their first day (Instagram) or have 50 million users (Waze) over time because of their unique value propositions in the market. This is a subject for an entire post, but let’s focus on the methods applicable to any case, instead of focusing on rare success stories.

When you’re still getting the right product/market fit,  it’s time to invest effort in creating trustworthiness around your brand by doing any of the following:

Aggressive and Continuous SEO

If you check the analytics of your website often, I assume you’ve already noticed that visitors coming from search engines are likely to stay longer compared to any other source of traffic. This is mostly because people put trust in Google and other search engines they use daily. Use this to your advantage! Be aggressive when applying any of the following SEO techniques to your website:

Create a Social Media Fan Base and Be Aggressive

Don’t underestimate the amount of traffic you can drive from all available social media channels. It’s not just about how many followers you have in your official accounts: Think like Fight Club. Like the Fight Club rules, here are your four rules for the Social Media game:

1st rule: Social media is not about YOU.

2nd rule: Social media IS NOT about YOU.

3rd rule: It’s about THEM.

4th rule: You have to keep them in loop by giving INTERESTING CONTENT.

Always keep those four rules in mind when planning your social media game plan thoroughly. Each social media platform has its share of different characteristics, so the best thing you can do is to have different game plans for different social media platforms.

Let’s take a closer look at them:

Syndicate Your Content

In a perfect world, you’d get big publishers such as Gawker and LifeHacker to syndicate every piece of content you add to your company blog. It might seem really hard to get there when you’re the new kid in town, but you must start somewhere. The techniques below are often used by the successful examples that are already enjoying visibility from premium syndications with big publishers:

It’s not something you can achieve overnight, but it will get better as you keep doing this. As you get better, you can start asking around to get your content syndicated with the big publishers in your market.

Programmable Lifecycle Emails

The more you gain user traction for your product, the more you will feel the need to have a process to keep all those users on your product. In the old days, you’d need a dedicated team to write different scenarios and hard-code those scenarios for your needs. Nowadays, there are a couple great services where you can define your required triggers and set an indefinite emailing process to ensure that you’re doing your best to keep up with your users. Here are some tips to consider when planning these emails:

Copy 99% of the time, Come Up With Your Innovation 1% of the time — Rinse and Repeat

The last piece of advice comes from Sith Lord Dave McClure. Call them “growth hacking” or something else, these techniques—or relatively similar ones—have been around for years. They are not rocket science. Do not try to reinvent the wheel when it comes to planning your sustainable growth. Use what fits your product from these techniques and then use 1% of your time to create your own innovation on these techniques. Keep doing this by improving your innovation 1% every month. You’ll be amazed by the results!


According to Paul Singh from & 500 Startups, in this decade—at least for Internet startups—traction is the only thing that’s defensible anymore. According to Ash Fontana from AngelList,  traction trumps even team and vision when going for The Million Dollar Round.

Be a lean startup, but don’t use it as an excuse to not take sales and marketing seriously. It’s not a surprise that VCs would love to fuel your growth, so focus on traction as early as possible, and spend dedicated time on applying different techniques. Good luck!

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