You say Progress. I say Traction. What do we mean?

You say Progress. I say Traction. What do we mean?

by | Nov 13, 2017 | Accelerators

In the world of startups and accelerators, we love the word “traction.” Traction means progress. It means growth. It means…

What does it mean?

I run a 90 day accelerator program, part of the GAN. Like a lot of other accelerators, we advertise that we help startups make “two years of progress in 90 days.” That’s a lot of progress.

I wholeheartedly believe in the spirit of this claim, but think we’re doing our programs and the founders we help a disservice by not being more specific with our language.

Traction, growth, progress are such nebulous terms, they can mean lots of different things to different people. Even seemingly specific words like Pre-Seed, Seed, and Series A rounds are up for personal interpretation and ever-changing definitions.

As a member of my team put it, Startupland has its own very special language and everyone speaks a different dialect.

Startupland was once an uncharted business frontier, but we now have our own satirical TV show. This “industry” is developed enough to have more fully-defined concepts that we can all rally around.

It’s time we speak a common language.

Last year, I developed a tool called the Founder Roadmap, designed to define and guide founders through the initial phases of startup building. Turns out, it’s an effective tool for accelerator directors, investors, and startup ecosystem builders too.

Why? It gives everyone at the table a common language and framework for thinking about the very earliest, most nebulous stages of startup formation.

We just can’t call every startup an “early stage” firm.

So, here again, I present the Founder Roadmap. (Full, downloadable version)

I’ve talked in the past about how founders can use this to focus and work on the right (most impactful) things at the right time.

This tool can also help Accelerator programs select companies to participate in their cohort, make choices about programming/workshops that support growth in the right stages, and evaluate the success (or progress) of their program.

Here is a view of a recent cohort I mentored, viewed through the lens of the Founder Roadmap:

Because of the programming, focus, and mentoring of the accelerator, this is where the companies landed the end of the 13 week program:

Four of five companies were in the initial, Validate Stage when they entered the accelerator. They had work to do to validate the basic business opportunity.

By Demo Day, three of these four companies had progressed all the way to the Scale Stage, meaning they were ready to launch their solution in the market and scale their customer base. This means they had completed customer discovery interviews, identified early adopters, validated a strong business opportunity around a common pain point, tested a solution with paying customers, developed a pricing model, tested distribution channels and marketing strategies, and had a clear go to market strategy.

Can you picture their progress?

That’s what is needed at this point — A common framework and language for describing the work we do. Building a startup is not a mysterious, magical process for serial entrepreneurs. They know the steps to take to de-risk their idea and bring it to market as efficiently and successfully as possible.

Accelerators are the very best place for first-time founders to learn the skills and develop the mindsets of serial entrepreneurs.

Let’s give them the tools and language to do this.

I have created an open source, Creative Commons version of the Founder Roadmap you can download and use. You’re welcome to use and share it! And please send me feedback, ideas, and stories of how it has helped the work you do serving founders.

In 2018, I am testing the applications of the Founder Roadmap with 100+ startups in accelerators and startup ecosystems all over the world, starting with Velocity Accelerator and Engler Agribusiness Program. If you’d like to chat about integrating the Founder Roadmap into your program, shoot me an email at