When Your Metrics Become Your Destiny


This guest column is by Anjli Jain, Managing Partner at EVC Ventures

This won’t be the first time I am warning against Lean Startup thinking. I’ve lamented over it before, over the possibility of allowing metrics transform from measurement of performance to measure of success.

What is success for your product and your company?

Making people click on things, or

Building a company that makes a difference?

If this looks too vague at the moment allow me to share an anecdote.

A random passer asked the man riding a horse – ‘Where are you heading sir?’

‘I don’t know’, he said. ‘Ask the horse.’

Here is a practical example that will make us understand further

In 2007, Stanford offered a course called “CS377W: Creating Engaging Facebook Apps”. The course assignment was to build a Facebook application that, according to the course website, would “focus on solving a problem for a broad audience.” It was an intensively metrics-driven class, and the key metric was user numbers. By the metrics, the results were astonishing: in the course of the 10-week term, the apps collectively reached 16 million users.

But were the results truly astonishing? Most of the apps allowed users to do things like rank the attractiveness of their friends, send virtual hugs and have virtual pillow fights. But what about measuring things like the value of a user’s attention, or how enriching an application is to her life? No one considered these “metrics.” No one asked for them.

This is one of the dangers that the Lean Startup approach brings for us especially if we forget that it is not a company building approach but more of a product development approach.

By setting ourselves on the wrong set of metrics just because they can be measured we might be missing the big picture of the type of company we want to build or the problem we want to solve.

And you can hardly consider sending virtual hugs or Poke, a problem worth solving.

Just like Seth Godin once said – Just because you are winning a game it doesn’t mean it is a good game.

Beware of metrics which you track just because they can be tracked. Beware of tuning the most important truths out just because they are inconvenient or because they do not look friendly with the impressive looking numbers on your dashboard.

Over obsessiveness with metrics doesn’t just spoil company building. It also spoils the act of marketing and branding.

Google Analytics has given marketers ability to measure the ROI of their efforts down to the last impression. But by doing so made them worse marketers than ever before.


Because now they are mistaking the forest for the trees. There is barely any marketer out there who is not obsessed with data and analytics while having no brand, no voice for his company, no positioning.

Facebook marketing, content marketing. These are not Marketing. They are marketing channels. They should be defined by the overall marketing persona of the company, by its positioning, not other way around

Imagine that it is the 1990s and I want to reach the people who watch “Friends” on television. I would have these three available strategies out of the five that comprise the traditional Promotion Mix:

Advertising Publicity (in the form of a product placement)

Direct marketing (in the form of a direct-response infomercial); I could run an advertisement during an episode of “Friends.” I could pay NBC to have the coffee house hold an event that would feature my product in an episode. I could hire a “Friends” actor to appear in an infomercial that would air directly after an episode. And so on.

Now, none of this would be “television marketing” because “television marketing” is not a “thing.” “Television” is a marketing channel, not a marketing strategy.

In the same way, “Facebook marketing,” “social media marketing” and “content marketing” are not “things.” “Facebook” is a marketing channel.

Facebook is not marketing just like the number of virtual hugs sent through your app is not a problem.

But the availability of metrics and dashboard make us see problems in the light of fixes and we know that for the man with a hammer everything looks like a nail.

Beware when the channel holds the dictum over what represents a problem.

Beware when the horse dictates the way just because it is a nice, beautiful horse.

Beware of letting your metrics become your destiny.

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