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Decoding VC Jargon: What Does “Traction” Really Mean?

Maggie Bolt
Sep 18, 2023
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min read

In the bustling world of startups, "traction" is more than just a buzzword—it's often the lifeblood of early-stage founders and the guiding star for investors. Especially in market downturns, when financial belts tighten and uncertainty looms, VCs become more discerning, often unwilling to gamble on ventures without demonstrable traction. It’s a tough market and showing clear traction to potential investors will likely be essential to make you stand out and raise capital successfully.

Business traction is a measure of a tech startup's performance, particularly in its early stages before experiencing growth. It demonstrates the startup's ability to attract and retain customers, generate revenue, and achieve product-market fit. While it may seem like a complex idea, traction or startup momentum is a crucial factor that investors, partners, and customers take into account when assessing a startup's future value and potential.

It's important for startup founders -- especially in the early stages -- to be open to investor feedback and understand that an idea might not be venture-scalable, or might need to pivot in order to raise capital successfully. Founders need to take the initiative to have constructive conversations with investors to learn how to improve their business.

Yet, for something so important, "traction" remains ambiguous for many startup founders. Traction, simplistically, is just evidence that your business is likely to be successful. While it symbolizes progress, momentum, and validation, this can mean different things to different industries, and investors at various stages. So, let's decode this term and explore why it's so integral, and sometimes, oh-so-confounding.

Show the big numbers

VCs aren't just after vanity metrics. Metrics like Monthly Recurring Revenue (MRR), customer acquisition, and churn rates do matter. They provide a snapshot of the health and potential of your business. Additionally, VC isn't a business for humility. We are seeking ambitious metrics and founders who are solving big problems in big markets. When we say you need more traction, it might mean your figures haven't reached that exciting "this is going somewhere" point yet.

High growth potential

In the startup universe, growth is king. It's not just about where you are now, but how rapidly you are growing, selling, and improving. If you have 100 customers today and 110 next month, that’s steady. But if you're scaling from 100 to 1,000? That’s the kind of traction that gets us excited!

A Sticky Customer base

Especially for B2B SaaS, customer retention is key. We don't want to see users signing up for a free trial, using it for a week, and then ghosting. We want to see them sticking around, becoming evangelists, and shouting your product's name from digital rooftops!

Clear product-market fit

Translation? The market's response to your product isn't loud enough. When there's a genuine product-market fit, customers will knock on your door because what you offer scratches their itch just right. If we say you need more traction, we might be hinting at this mismatch.

Strong sales and marketing strategy

Sometimes, it's not the product but how it's presented. Perhaps your marketing targets the wrong audience, or your sales pitch doesn't resonate. Remember, traction is as much about gaining momentum in the market as it is about having a killer product.

How you handle the market rollercoaster

VCs are savvy creatures. We know that early traction can sometimes be a honeymoon phase. We might want to see how you handle a slower month, a technical challenge, or even a global pandemic (hopefully not another one of those, though). It’s the resilience and adaptability through tough times that can be more telling than initial success.

Market Timing

You might have a fantastic solution, but if the market isn't ready or is overly saturated, gaining traction can be a Herculean task. Patience might be your best ally here.

Don't be disheartened if a potential investor asks for more traction proof points. It’s not a rejection, but rather a subtle nudge. It’s our way of saying, “You’ve got potential. Now show us how far you can really go!”

Take it as a challenge. Dive deep, understand what might be missing, and go full throttle. We'll be here, cheering you on, and who knows? Maybe next time, that checkbook will come out. Keep innovating, and remember, every giant leap starts with one small step of traction!

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