A couple of people have politely said that they don’t think One Metric is a great name for what I’m building.

I’d be interested in your feedback. I’m very open to alternatives. So, if you have any good suggestions fire them through. Although, as time passes, I do see myself getting more and more attached to One Metric (see: endowment effect)

Those of you who have read the Lean Startup or Lean Analytics books (I strongly recommend both) will recognise the name from the idea of “one metric that matters”.

One of the keys to startup success is achieving real focus—and having the discipline to maintain it. You may succeed if you’re unfocused, but it’ll be by accident. You’ll spend a lot more time wandering aimlessly, and the lessons learned are more painful and harder-won. If there’s any secret to success for a startup, it’s focus.

Focus doesn’t mean myopia. We’re not saying that there’s only one metric you care about from the day you wake up with an idea to the day you sell your company. We are, however, saying that at any given time, there’s one metric you should care about above all else. Boiled down to its very essence, Lean Startup is really about getting you to focus on the right thing, at the right time, with the right mindset.

(source: Four reasons to use the One Metric That Matters)

This idea definitely resonates with me. In the early days of Trade Me the OMTM was the number of unique sellers per day. It turned out that by doing everything we could to improve that metric we created a positive feedback loop that made everything better:

more sellers -> more listings -> more buyers -> more feedback -> more delighted users who couldn’t help but tell everybody they knew about their experience turning a bunch of stuff they thought was worthless into cash -> more sellers.

But, here’s the crucial thing: you only get the opportunity to discover a measure like this for your venture by first starting by collecting all of the numbers you can, ideally in one place where you can wrangle them more easily, update them regularly and then work hard to understand which things are correlated with the goals you have.

Over time, as your goals change, the metrics you care about the most will likely also change. As Trade Me grew focus shifted onto the sell-thru rate (the number of listings that result in a sale - a good measure of the quality of the listings on the site) and eventually onto take rate (the average success fee on each listing - a useful way to track the progression of the business model as opposed to usage)

If it helps, ask yourself these questions about your venture: what is the unknown we’re trying to prove at the moment, and how will we tell when it’s working? 1

As I’ve described in a previous post, we were motivated to build One Metric after learning how doing those simple sounding things is much harder than it seems like they should be - because it’s intimidating when you’re first getting started, because the habits are hard to form and because the current tools are not designed with sharing in mind.

So, that’s why it’s One Metric (for now!) Not because we think you should only be tracking just one thing 2, but because we know it’s hard for most people to build the foundation that’s required to ever get there.

If you’re interested in the progression we’ve seen some companies make from feeling like they are drowning in data to having a good grasp on their most important metric or metrics, I wrote more about this recently:

Learning Russian: The Metrics Maturity Model

I really hope One Metric will help more people move up the levels, one step at a time!

  1. I’ve found it’s common to over think this. Finding a blended metric or ratio is often a good solution. Keep in mind that even the most common financial measures - like gross profit or margin - are calculated from a bunch of inputs. ↩︎

  2. Although how cool would it be to have a dashboard you can quickly look at on your phone every morning with just your most important metric on it, as a way to remind yourself of what is really important?! ↩︎