It’s January 1, 2015. You’ve put on four kilos over the last 10 days, having stuffed your face with empty carbs – delicious empty carbs – and feel somewhat guilty. So you make the resolution to join a gym, in order to lose that extra weight and then some, and be in good shape for the rest of the summer!
You go out, purchase the 12 month gym membership – for value – and stop going approximately three weeks in, when your joints start aching and the memories of your recent gluttonous activities have faded.
The problem? Your resolution sucked. ‘Getting in shape’ is an ambiguous goal. How do you know when you’re in ‘shape’? To have a better chance of keeping the resolution you need to get specific. Say, for example, to lose 8kgs by the end of March. This gives you something quantifiable to work towards. You can track your progress. Measure your gains (or in this case, losses). And there’s a clearly definable point at which you’ve succeeded at your resolution.
So what does all this have to do with startups? Well, if you’ve been following along with the previous articles in this series, at the least you’ll have a lean canvas drawn up and filled with some assumptions you plan to test. But before you get to testing, you need to clearly define what results will validate your idea, and what falls short. In some cases this will be an obvious pass/fail type outcome, in others cases you will need to be far more specific. And it should go without saying that you need to track your progress as you go.
Tracking your progress, along with knowing your metrics, is crucial to your startup’s success. But it isn’t as straightforward as you may think. It’s easy to get caught up in tracking the wrong types of metrics: ones that don’t actually give you an indication as to the health of your startup. Such metrics are often referred to as ‘vanity metrics’, because they sound good but don’t really say much.
An example of this is ‘our product has been downloaded over 1 million times’. Sure sounds impressive, right? But how do you know. The fact that it has been downloaded a lot tells you nothing of the state of the product. And any savvy person in the startup scene will see through this type of metric immediately.
Metrics that matter tend to be time sensitive. ‘1 million downloads in the last month’ is far more encouraging than the first statement. Better still is ‘1 million active users per month’ – indicating that not only is your product popular but it has sufficient value that people are engaging and staying engaged to some degree. The vanity metrics steal the headlines, but the metrics that matter are those that tell a more substantial story.
So what type of metrics should you focus on at this early stage in your startup? Entrepreneur-turned-investor Dave McClure came out with a guide that goes by the acronym AARRR (which you can view in full via his presentation ‘Startup Metrics for Pirates’), which stands for Acquisition, Activation, Retention, Revenue, Referral. In more detail, this looks like:
- Acquisition: The various channels by which people find out and visit your startup. These include both offline and online channels, ranging from traditional advertising in print, events, and PR, to more modern channels like SEO, AdWords, and content marketing.
- Activation: The moment a person uses or experiences your product/service for the first time. Note this is not the same as someone visiting your page or downloading your app. Examples of ‘activation’ include the first time you rode in an Uber cab, or the first time you ‘tweeted’ something on Twitter. Merely signing up to a service or downloading an app does not necessarily count as activation. It is the moment a person becomes a user of your product/service.
- Retention: Once a person has ‘activated’ and becomes a user of your service, do they come back? A user who comes back to your product/service post their first activation experience signifies that you have created something of value – one of the strongest indicators that your assumption about the problem you are solving is correct. That they come back, and later, how often they come back, are key metrics that you should be paying attention too very early on.
- Revenue: This one is the most straightforward of the lot. The more revenue you earn for your product/service, the better! It doesn’t apply to all startups – there are now countless examples of companies that have been valued at and acquired for extremely large sums of money without ever seeing a cent in revenue – but for the vast majority of startups, revenue is a significant metric.
- Referral: This refers to the organic growth of your startup. To achieve what is known as ‘viral growth’, you will need every person who uses your product/service to actively refer more than 1 new person to your product/service. Very few businesses ever achieve viral growth, and even then it is more common in business to consumer (B2C) products/services like social networks and games.
There are a lot of potential metrics to pay attention to, as outlined above. The approach you must take when starting out is to focus primarily on Activation and Retention. If you can create a product/service with strong metrics around Activation and Retention, you will have something worth paying attention to. You are far better off finding 100 people who absolutely love your product/service and could not live without it, than having 100,000 people who have tried your product/service but are only lukewarm about it.
So that’s it for the series, you’ve now got the know-how, the inspiration, and the time to make something happen over the coming holiday season. Good luck and let us know how you go via twitter with the hashtag #2015istheyear.
Amir Nissen is program manager at AngelCube
This is concludes our #2015istheyear series. Good luck!
Part one – 2015 The year for my idea.
Part two – How to validate your idea this Christmas.
Part four – Why ‘manual first’ can help you MVP quicker.