Over this last year, I have been watching a whole group of startups attempt to land their series A. One aspect that has been shown to be incredibly important for sophisticated and series A investors is showing superior metrics and your knowledge surrounding them.
With internet startups, practically everything has been shown to be measurable.
Showing that you are tracking the right metrics means that you have experienced personnel in tracking the progress of your business.
Showing exponentially rising metrics means that you have found a way to grow and capture share that is grabbing customers in ever rising, large numbers, and that is hopefully growing faster than your competitors. Investors love startups that are growing exponentially in a short amount of time; for startups, time is your enemy and showing that you can get big quickly is critical.
Exhibiting metrics that are not only growing exponentially, but large in magnitude helps a great deal. But at series A level, the magnitude of the metrics may or may not be enough to land your next round.
Metrics on Demand
We have seen that investors demand that whomever is pitching should know every metric by heart and memorized. This shows that the team members are living and breathing metrics day in and day out.
If you cannot spew metrics on demand, you substantially reduce your ability to grab that series A. Investors are seeing too many pitches where the people pitching can recall detailed metrics from memory; it shows an obsession with tracking and deep knowledge of your business. If you don't show an equivalent grasp of the metrics, then investors may get skittish and think you don't know enough of about your business, thereby increasing the chance that something unknown might sink it.
You must also show proficiency with metrics, showing not only that you are tracking the right ones but that you are using them effectively to grow your business, and methodologies to improve and test them and also make them better over time.
As I sit down with startups, many need to track the same metrics. But different types of startups will have different metrics, and some will have different metrics they will focus on given the situation.
The topic of which metrics to track is too broad to cover in this post. Suffice to say there has been written on the topic of metrics, many of which can be found on the KISSmetrics blog. This book is about to be released: Lean Analytics by Alistair Croll and Ben Yoskovitz. You can buy the pre-release PDF at the O'Reilly site if you're impatient to wait until March.
Some great articles and posts to read:
Single Startup Metric - this is also discussed in Lean Analytics. It is about focusing on one metric at early stage to drive the success of your business and not getting overwhelmed with too many metrics.
9 Metrics to Help You Make Wise Decisions about Your Start-Up - A great list of common metrics used to drive startups' businesses.
Cohort Analysis - Measuring Engagement Over Time - Cohort analysis is very important. Showing increasing engagement across cohorts and over time is critical. Setting up the same graph with other metrics like LTV, which arguably is a measure of engagement, can be very valuable and worthwhile for an investor to see.
Ecommerce is a slog -- what's your angle ? - Fred Destin has an easy discussion on ecommerce metrics.
E-Commerce: What are the most important metrics for e-commerce companies? - A broader discussion on ecommerce metrics via Quora.
SaaS Metrics 2.0 - A Guide to Measuring and Improving what Matters - Written by David Skok of Matrix Partners. Great overview on metrics applied to SaaS businesses.
Many more great posts exist out there. Search on "
By the way, toss Vanity Metrics. Save those for the press; don't waste investors' time with them. Definitely don't use them for tracking the growth of your startup internally; they can lead you down the wrong path to death!
Are My Metrics Good Enough?
When you meet with seed investors, they may overlook the fact that you have metrics that are miniscule or non-existent. Seed investors often don't have traction for proof and need to invest on the dream more than concrete proof.
When you get to series A, the bar gets raised significantly. Very few startups get series A on the dream today; we can always find the example startup or exception - but that's the point - it's the EXCEPTION not the rule. Much better to have shown that you have a good handle on metrics and the metrics themselves are great.
The elements of great metrics are easy. You need ideally all four of:
1. Show that you operationally have a great handle on metrics, tracking the right ones, showing that you are applying strategies driven by those metrics, and have on staff the right people doing the right things with the appropriate technology in place.
2. Exhibit metrics large in magnitude, ex. not 100s users, but millions of users (or maybe 10s of millions of users now).
3. Exhibit exponential growth in key metrics. Linear is not good enough for most metrics - an example where linear might be still great is linearly growing LTV over time. Mostly, show a real hockey stick up and to the right!
4. Show that your metrics are greater than industry benchmarks and/or competitors.
If you don't have all 4, series A can be a real slog, potentially unachievable in today's Series A Crunch laden market where there are too many early stage startups coming up for their next round. Why? It's because too many startups have a handle on all 4 items above AND have higher magnitude and exponentially growing metrics than you. You've got your work cut out for you!
So the overall goal would be to achieve all 4. The first goal is item 1. Build the dream team for metrics and put in place technology to surface all sorts of metrics that you need. Use awesome tools like KISSmetrics and/or build your own. If you don't have 1., then other 3 are going to be super tough and you'll be reliant on luck to get there. Don't rely on luck! Throw the odds in your favor of achieving the other 3 by being deliberate with respect to metrics, not haphazard.
Once you build the dream team and have the right technology in place, then you need to find the right metrics. Read those posts above. Get the right help - talk to others in your industry who have experience in metrics like yours and get their help in developing the right metrics for you to work with. Replace vanity metrics with better ones!
Let's jump to item 4. This one is easy. Search Google, look at annual reports of public companies operating in your or similar spaces. Look on Quora for someone who may reveal metrics that you can't find elsewhere. Search Slideshare for an elusive presentation that may reveal industry numbers. Check industry reports for more. Now you have a target - if you can show that your metrics are better than existing companies out there, that's impressive!
Back to the hardest of the 4: items 2 and 3. How do you achieve these, and both in magnitude and exponentially growing numbers? Ack!
No magic I can impart on you from this post for sure. I will say that if you've got item 1, you're well on your way to do the right things to get there. This is where the rubber meets the road and now YOU have to make your project shine.
What If I Don't Have All 4 Items?
If you've got all 4 items, then why the heck are you reading this post? Go out and raise your series A!
However, if you've gotten this far, you may be one of the hordes of startups which do not exhibit all 4 qualities. What do you do now?
If you still have runway, go out and improve your metrics!
If you need to raise, then here are some suggestions to increase your chances, knowing that there could be hordes of startups with unfortunately much better metrics than you:
1. You probably can't hire since you are running low on cash and need to raise, unless you can get somebody to sign up on equity. But you should go to investors with someone who at least is tracking and implementing a metrics driven approach in your startup. That person could also be you! Bring that person to the pitch so that they can show uber-expertise in metrics at your company.
2. The most common problem I've encountered are items 2 and 3. You either have low magnitude numbers or slow, linear growth, or both. If you have either 2 or 3, you still have a chance to raise on the vision and team. The better one to exhibit is exponential growth, even with low magnitude numbers. If you don't have growth but big numbers, investors might think that your growth has stalled, or you're doing something wrong, or both.
Metrics are an important part of the startup process. Investors today demand not only great metrics, but people on the team who understand the critical metrics in the business and can use them to grow the company. Implementing technology and process for metrics in your startup will greatly increase your chances of landing that next round. Don't wait - do it now!