Course corrections are necessary in any startup, especially younger ones. I’m not talking about pivoting from one industry to another. I’m talking about the daily adjustments that add up to something meaningful in the long run. The only way to do this is to measure the process so you know what to optimize. Like many startups, we knew we had to monitor a lot of metrics to see where we could improve. However, knowing something is wrong doesn’t tell you how to fix it.

Originally we created our own reporting infrastructure. Looking back now, what a waste of time that was. Worse yet, we stored all kinds of data, and we didn’t end up using any of it because it was simply too hard to pull anything meaningful out. We have now shifted to using off-the-shelf services so we can focus our attention on building software for users. This worked quite well in the beginning as everyone in the company knew where to find the relevant metrics. However, as we expanded the team and added more metrics, the complexity grew exponentially. Each team in the company started paying attention to their own metrics. Everyone knew our long term vision, but there was no way for them to know what was happening in the rest of company. The short term goals felt even more short sighted.

On one of my trips, I learned from a fellow entrepreneur that they internally share all of the important metrics on a single dashboard. I had my doubts of how this would work. However, thinking of our issues at hand, I decided to give it a go. Learning from our previous example of building something and not utilizing it, we decided to go out and buy rather than build. We chose Geckoboard for the ease of use. Some of the integrations were custom, but they were easy to build. The total setup time? Less than an hour, and writing integrations took another 2-3 hours. In fact buying a TV to display the dashboard took longer than setting the dashboard itself up!

We had a strict rule of not showing vanity metrics to fill the dashboard. In fact, we would rather leave a blank space than utilizing a graph that just looks good. In other words, don’t put anything like total user count unless it’s something you’re currently optimizing. Instead, we focused on things such as setup funnel completion rate and support response times. I’ve listed the full list below as a reference.

  • Uptime status
  • Annual Recurring Revenue with % to goal
  • Qualified leads in the last 7 days
  • Total Opportunity Funnel Value with changes in value
  • Opportunity Funnel with % conversion
  • Product sprint progress by category
  • Product Velocity (we use Pivotal Tracker for this)
  • Daily sign in chart vs last year
  • Net promoter score
  • 7 day signup rate
  • Setup funnel % completion rate
  • Server response times broken down to each layer
  • Support full resolution time from last 100 tickets
  • Support satisfaction from last 100 tickets

After unveiling the dashboard and explaining each metric to the entire company, people bought into the concept. The dashboard became a simple and effective way to keep everyone on the same page. Everyone knew how far were are from our goals. It also sparked more interactions. For example, engineers began to interact with sales people more. Suddenly, everyone became accountable to everyone else. Who would have thought that such a simple thing could have increased transparency and accountability so much. Today, our dashboard sits on a TV mounted in the middle of the office. Anyone can easily glance over it. We’ve constantly iterating on what we want to display. Yet, it is still just one page (in fact anything more is distracting).

Like any solution, there are downsides. For example, what are the consequences if we don’t hit our goals? The numbers don’t lie and it can easily hurt morale. In fact, transparency can hurt a lot during tough times. Nonetheless, to us, the good outweighs the bad. I would much rather have everyone know the truth than keeping the them in the dark. After all, having a team you can trust is more important than anything else.

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