DuckDuckGo Founder’s Sage Advice for Startups

Gabriel Weinberg's lessons for developing users from scratch.

DuckDuckGo Founder and CEO Gabriel Weinberg.

DuckDuckGo Founder and CEO Gabriel Weinberg.

This is the third in a series of blog posts about the Philly Startup Leaders Bootcamp.

In the fourth week of PSLU’s bootcamp, Gabriel Weinberg, co-founder and CEO of DuckDuckGo discusses finding your traction “bullseye.” Where and how you find that elusive traction will define exactly the type of business and product that you build. Overwhelmed? Weinberg discussed the iterative strategy he used to build DuckDuckGo’s user base from the ground up. Entrepreneurs, take note.

Step 0: Choose a hard numbers goal that outlines “how much” and “what type” of traction you need.

Trying to raise money from investors? Need your business profitable? Want validation for yourself before you dive in? Define a goal for yourself. How many users do you need or how much revenue is necessary to meet these goals? Use estimates of your costs or gather data on companies in complementary industries to help define your goals in real numbers.

Step 1: Using these 19 marketing channels, brainstorm one viable strategy for every channel that could work for your business.

For every channel, write a small but specific strategy that your business could use to employ it.

Weinberg reminds founders to consider all channels before making a decision. Having past success with one channel doesnt mean it will work again for your next product. In fact, most successful startups are able to leverage an underutilized channel in a unique way, which enables them to cut through the noise of competitors.

The takeaway, brainstorm ruthlessly.

Step 2: Run your tests simultaneously.

By now, you probably have a good idea which of your brainstorm ideas gets you excited. Choose three, and run a quick and dirty version of your strategy. Weinberg recommends tests that last less than a month and cost under $1,000. Run them all at once to save time. As you run your tests, you can start to answer three key questions:

  1. What would your customer acquisition costs look like using this strategy?
  2. How many customers are available in this strategy?
  3. How much is each going to be worth?

The bottom line, gather data cheaply and quickly — and don’t be afraid to get creative with your testing.

Step 3: Focus on the ideas that matter.

By now, one of about three outcomes could have occurred.

The first result — and as Weinberg constantly reminds the audience, the most common — is total failure. Perhaps none of your tests got any real traction. In this case, don’t fear. Try going back to step one, and adjusting your messaging across tests to give it another shot.

The second, and probably the most confusing, is a series of “eh” results that won’t quite meet your goals but are more than “nothing.” Weinberg suggests searching for “bright spots,” telling founders to try and figure out what made those few customers happy and replicate that “common denominator” in future tests for more data.

The third, and most exciting, is evidence of a clear winner. When one of your strategies is clearly paying off, Weinberg says it’s now time to clear out the excess noise. Even if other channels were somewhat successful, he suggests focusing exclusively on your strongest-performing strategy. That way, you can refine it and make it even more effective as time goes on.

Once you reach your Step 0 goal, get ready to wash, rinse and repeat. Weinberg is working on Duck Duck Go’s sixth effective strategy and plans to continue to find many more.

For more details on Weinberg’s strategies, check out the new version of his book Traction: How Any Startup Can Achieve Explosive Customer Growth. Click here for more info.

This piece was written by Shoshanna Israel and Helen Kushnir, members of the PSLU Team.