Startup early traction: Crossword puzzle

This crossword puzzle is about how some of the big startups got their early users. All the startups are big names today (see the answer pool below) and it is hard to believe in many situations as to what they did to get their early traction.

All the information used in this crossword is based on what is already available in the public domain.

The idea is that while you solve this crossword, you start getting some new clues on how you can get early users for your own startup.

If you really want to get the answer to this puzzle, or if you want to get a PDF printable copy of the puzzle, write to



1. This start-up started in a very different era of the Internet than currently exists. What was probably the biggest way it got the word out (AdWords didn’t come into existence until 2001) was its Associates program, that enabled a cut of any sale made through the link on your web page.

5. The founders of this start-up got early traction by literally throwing parties for their target audience. The entry for these parties was exclusive to those who could show its app downloaded on their phone.

6. This start-up used email marketing as their primary traction channel, via sales, discounts, and newsletters. Email marketing is a personal traction channel, with your messages from your company sit next to email updates from friends and family.

8. One key to their traction success is a free marketing review tool they created. When you enter your site’s web address into this free tool, you get back a customized report about how well you’re doing with your online marketing (social media mentions, blog post shares, basic SEO). This also helped the start-up with information used to qualify a potential prospect.

12. This is a social platform that started with 13 people inviting 112 people. With the initial challenge of, “How do you get a million people?”, email virality was the primary channel that gave this social network platform a viral growth.

13. Business development is like sales with one key distinction: it is primarily focused on exchanging value through partnerships (as against sales primarily focus on exchanging dollars for a product). This startup got most of its initial traction from two key partnerships = one with Netscape and the other with Yahoo!

14. This start-up built fake accounts to create a fake engagement. People started catching up convinced the fake engagement to be organic. As new (real) users started coming in, they stopped faking.

15. This start-up started with small, clearly defined audience groups, which made it possible for it to tip each one of them very quickly. Initially, each group was its own island, and then once it had enough groups, it started to link the groups together which lead to network effects both within and across groups. The early growth at this start-up was more linear than exponential, though it is no doubt one of the superstars of virally in the subsequent phase.

18. This is one start-up that used existing platforms – app stores and chrome extension as a traction strategy in its early stage. When it was readying to launch, these AppStores were brand new distribution channels, giving promising companies an instant reach to millions of users who were eager to add new, valuable apps to their smartphones.

19. This start-up held a competition called Build a Business with a cash prize for the winners.

20. The word-of-mouth worked for them. This start-up launched a massive referral campaign, growing its user base 40 times in just 15 months.


2. This start-up and its founders are known for hustling in the early days. Its early traction is attributed to specially created “back door” hack into Craigslist.

3. This start-up’s early user base came from friends of founders and early team members. Some media interviews too happened in the early days, but the real traction and growth happened from word of mouth and the viral nature of the product, from the initial user base of 100 users.

4. For this startup, its blog was the largest source of customer acquisition during an extended period of growth. This company wrote posts that receive hundreds of comments, lead to major PR, and result in thousands of shares. Ultimately, this activity leads to new customers.

7. This start-up recruited their users manually. It was not amongst the ones who relied on sitting back and waiting for their users. Instead, they were aggressive in their user acquisition. They even invented the technique called “Collison installation”.

9. To get their first users, the founders of this start-up cold-called prospects and offered to pay them an hourly rate while they tried out the platform. Three of the first 10 users that he called, agreed to give it a try.

10. The founder enlisted the initial users by chatting up strangers in coffee shops. He really did, walked around and said: “Will you please use my product?”

11. This start-up seeded their site with their own content, to solve the “chicken and egg problem” of “empty site = no users / no users = empty site”. Founders continued this until they attracted enough traction from real users.

16. Much of the traction success for this start-up is attributed to Google or to be precise SEO. Search engines value good content, and thus began a virtuous cycle where the top-ranked reviews grew traffic and increasing traffic resulted in more reviews.

17. And they had a very extensive affiliate program that encouraged thousands of people to start advertising on their behalf and signing up friends.


List of startups in the answer pool:

(Only some names from this pool will fit in the crossword)