“One of the things that I felt working on each of these is that we never looked at numbers or metrics in the abstract — total page views, logged in accounts, etc, but we always talked about users. More specifically, what they were doing and why they were doing it.”
That strikes me as very good advice. Get past the startup metrics for their own sake, and back into why. He continues:
How many people are really using your product? You need a metric that specifically answers this. It can be “x people did 3 searches in the past week”. Or “y people visited my site 9 times in the past month”. Or “z people made at least one purchase in the last 90 days.” But whatever it is, it should be a signal that they are using their product in the way you expected and that they use it enough so that you believe they will come back to use it more and more.
I confess that as I was growing Palo Alto Software I would occasionally, for some presentation or other, browse through available metrics as if reading a menu, and choose the one that made us look best. I liked steep curves in line charts, and inflection charts. And if page views didn’t show it, I’d look at users, or downloads, or conversions, or hits … until I found one that showed a curve I wanted to show.
I bet I’m not the only one. Josh’s suggestion makes a lot more sense.