Traction Conference brings world-class wisdom on startup growth to Vancouver

Think of traction as validation and momentum combined: blood in the water for the sharks of venture capitalism.

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The steep road uphill

Johanie Marcoux, Marketing Director for PressReader, attended Traction while on her maternity leave, introducing her infant daughter to startup culture. She said, “Growth means increased client base, increased retention, increased user engagement and increased revenue. Growth is being able to innovate while creating a product that users want and use.”

Johanie Marcoux and daughter get a breath of fresh air

Marcoux said that attracting both readers and content creators would be key to PressReader's success. Meanwhile, her daughter’s first words will likely either be “freemium conversion” or “minimum viable product”.

Jamie Reid, Communications Director for Robots & Pencils, was in town from Calgary to demonstrate Pencilcase, a tool for creating apps without writing code. She said, "Really, for us, since we only launched ten weeks ago, we wanted to showcase Pencilcase and show off what's possible.”

Jamie Reid, Robots & Pencils

As for measuring traction, Reid said, "We'll go back and see the number of contacts we made," as well as gauging the reactions from Pencilcase's onstage demo later in the evening.

Mark Fromson, founder of Vancouver-based freelancer marketplace LocalSolo, said, “If we could get some of those real tips and tricks that we could immediately action to cause an immediate growth in our user base, that would be excellent.”

Mark Fromson, LocalSolo

Fromson had his own definition of traction: "Our top metric right now is users. We're pre-revenue, so we're just on boarding users like mad!"

Jane Chung, CEO and co-founder of Perked!, said, “We're in the mental-health space: our product is... think of it as Siri for mental fitness. We're at that stage where we have a product and we want to grow our user base. It's all about what growth is like for different types of companies, and learning from the experience is like for  CEOs and co-founders who have done it before" .

Jane Chung, Perked!

As for traction, Chung said, "Of course, there's the hard number: how many users engage with you over a period of time, but it's also important to measure the quality of the users' interaction with us."

Make it rain

We have the brainpower and the work ethic, but venture capital is a fundamental aspect to a healthy start up environment. How, then, to get our less-experienced VCs to get in the game?

Walia echoed his previous statements from last year’s Board of Change panel on this very topic: it’s not just a matter of money, but smart money: “Actively investing more in local start ups––financially as well as by opening your rolodexes and your wealth of knowledge––will go a long way in build the next generation of unicorns locally. At the end of the day you’ll never know if the person you sit beside is hammering out the city’s next billion-dollar business like Slack or Hootsuite.”

It’s like what Malcolm Gladwell said about hockey: if you make the top team in your neighbourhood (Silicon Valley), you get the best coaching, the best equipment, the most ice time. It therefore becomes easier for you to make the NHL. If all you have is the frozen pond behind your house, you’re gonna have a tougher time.


Taking a quick break from the all-day presentation marathon, a tired but chipper Walia said that a conference like Traction can give young companies new ideas to take back to their day-to-day business practices, but at the end of the day it's up to them to adapt and implement what they've learned.

It's not all metrics and verbed nouns. Lobo said, "It's really important for us to highlight the team and community. There's no traction without them."

Gaining traction won't from following a set script. For these companies, traction will come from good advice, constant testing, lucky breaks, and breaking rules.

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