Start-up Life: Drowning in numbers - my descent into analytics hell

Confessions of a metrics addict...

...I like to make sure. The numbers aren't bad. I can see the ebb and flow that result from press coverage and making the category charts.

Next I'll check the Nokia downloads. I might check these numbers twice daily, mainly because we're flying high and the number makes me feel good. We're going well in Egypt, India, Saudi Arabia and Vietnam.

I inwardly congratulate the single Chinese person who has managed to download the app, even though Nokia rejected us in China - something about how Twitter was swaggering around, unchecked, inside our app.

These tools don't advise on how many user sessions we're getting, so I pull up our session-tracking software. I enjoy the animations, drawing graphs in an instant, that tell me user sessions are up a little and that our median session length is 47 seconds.

That figure may be poor or stellar, but it's an improvement of six seconds on last month. That heroic and ingenious Chinese user didn't actually use the app. Never mind. It's the principle that counts.

I might check these stats two or three times daily, focused on the numbers I already know look good, using them like a balm.

There's more. We've recently been experimenting with Net Promoter Score, a fairly simple measure of who likes the cut of our jib so much that they'll tell others. We're using this tool to benchmark before and after a web redesign we'll soon be launching.

Then there's the community engagement. I'll scan my emails for user reviews, see how many people have subscribed to our podcast, liked us on Facebook, followed us on Twitter or commented on our blog. Our community manager reports this stuff on a monthly basis, but it's just so tempting to have my finger on the pulse...

It's clear that all this stuff, tracked so easily using free software, is little more than white noise and a distraction from the actual business of running the company. It offers a daily fix of data that's only valuable when taken across a broad time span, yet it remains oddly satisfying.

But I'm working on it. I'm now on a strict diet of monthly key performance indicators, and just the occasional sneaky peak at the Nokia numbers.

I know I should leave it for month end, but I just can't help myself. And besides, should our Chinese user ever open the app, I really must be there to see it.

Richard Leyland is an entrepreneur and writer, focused on the future of work. He founded WorkSnug, a location-based service for mobile workers, in 2009.

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