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

Confessions of a metrics addict...

It's all too easy to get hooked on stats, but analytics can end up being a distraction from the actual business of running the company, says Richard Leyland.

The great thing about working in a digital start-up is surfing the wave of analytics. Our products are apps and a website and, oh, it's so easy.

We can scorecard, dashboard, visualise and - let's face it - bury ourselves whole in an infinite loop of witless measurement.

The truth is, I got addicted to this measurement and now I'm trying to wean myself off it. I'd like to share my decline into metrics hell, in the hope that others choose another, more righteous, path.

My gateway drugs were YouTube and Stephen Fry. A couple of years ago, when all we had was a beta app and much chutzpah, we made a concept film and put it online. We then pulled some strings and got Stephen Fry to play with the app.

CIO analytics

As the business grows, the scope for navel-gazing analytics can expand to unhealthy levelsPhoto: Shutterstock

He said some nice things on Twitter, linked to the film and we had a mini viral moment. We had no product in the market, nor a business to speak of, but we had people paying attention, and a view counter that jumped up each time I clicked refresh.

People I'd never met were looking at our stuff, and I could keep track of how many. Some sort of fire was lit within me, and I began to crave the insta-affirmation I could get from these numbers.

Two years later and I'm glad to report that we have both users and clients. Hell, we may even have a business. But the opportunities for navel-gazing measurement have increased 10-fold. Here's what I can monitor daily, at the bottom of a particularly deep rabbit hole.

I'll begin of course with Google Analytics. This month I've noticed that our total visitor number is a little down on a record month last month. Bounce rate is a little up, but then so is the average time on the site. I spend a couple of minutes establishing that Wyoming is the only US state to send us zero web traffic this month.

Analytics won't tell me much about outbound clicks, so we use another tool for that. That tool tells me who is online right now. I notice the number is fairly high, and wonder for a fleeting second if Google Analytics is under-reporting our traffic, undermining the whole shooting match.

Then the apps. I check iPhone downloads first. The number is predictable but...