Developing my own product – Where to start measuring?

So I had designed and developed a minimum viable product for my HipHopListings iOS app. I had worked very closely with Alex the developer, designed the mobile workflow and outlining the way I expected users to interact with HipHopListings on their iOS devices. I tested, tested and tested. It led to some critical bug fixes and improvements to both the back-end and the front-end of the app.

My jaws dropped when Apple approved my HipHopListings app within less then a week after submitting it. You can find the app here and I’ve added a screenshot below (see Fig. 1). Based on my previous experiences with getting apps approved by the mighty Apple, this was super fast!! I celebrated and felt like the proudest man on the planet as I’d just launched my own app and had been able to do so within less than a month from actually designing the app screens!

However, I realised that I couldn’t just rest on my laurels and had to start measuring if and how people were actually using my app. If I wanted to learn about how to best improve my app, I really needed to start measuring things, but where to begin!? I had implemented Google Analytics but wondered what metrics to focus on, especially as there are countless analytics ratios and reports to choose from.

I decided to try and identify my key questions and assumptions that I wanted to validate first:

  1. How many people are using my app on a recurring basis? – My simple reasoning was that the number of people who had installed my app (which numbers are available via iTunes Connect) is pretty meaningless when those people never use the app again. I therefore wanted to be able to do some form of cohort analysis to get a better understanding of the usage patterns of new users, developing an insight as to wether my app was compelling enough for people to keep coming back to it.
  2. Where are most HipHopListings users based?  One of my underlying assumptions when creating the app was that the bulk of HipHopListings’ target audience were likely to be based in the UK, especially given the fact that the “Shows” screen on my app only lists UK gigs. I now wanted to find out whether this assumption was actually true. Is most of the (recurring) usage coming from the UK? If not, what can I do to attract more UK users to the app? Is there a particular reason that people use (or don’t) use the app?
  3. Which screens do users tend to look at most? – I felt that looking at screen views (and the duration of each view) could provide me with a better indication of where the app could be improved. When I started creating the HipHopListing app, one of my assumptions was that people would mostly use the app to view upcoming Hip Hop shows (this assumption was part of the opportunity assessment that I did before deciding to build the app). Was this actually true? If I started making slight changes to the “Releases” screen, would these have an impact on the performance of the screen that lists upcoming releases?
  4. What are common drop-off points in the app? Again, I believed that if I wanted to get a better insight into the understanding of my new app, I’d need to understand the common drop-off points within the app: where do users typically lose interest and why?

Main learning point: I realised as I was thinking about the kinds of things that I’d like to measure about my HipHopListings app that I was falling into a classic ‘data trap’. My thinking was very much around specific questions that I hoped would give me a better insight into the performance of my app. However, I’d forgotten to think about goals, setting some sort of benchmark or baseline of what success should look like for my app. I thus learned that it would be good to first take a step back and identify my main goals, before deciding on the right things to measure.

Fig. 1 – My own HipHopListings app in iTunes

Screen Shot 2013-06-20 at 05.27.44

Mike Lynch and his lessons learned

Last week I went to talk by founder Mike Lynch founder of Autonomy, a very successful software business that got acquired by Hewlett Packard last year. Since that acquisition, Mike has been involved in all kinds of battles with HP and its CEO Meg Whitman.

Luckily that’s not what this talk focused on. Instead, Mike shared some of the key lessons he has learned over the years:

  1. Focus – Mike explained that ultimately all businesses need to focus on one single thing: sales. Businesses need to set their own agendas and not just be responsive. Even on a personal level, Mike mentioned how he tends to pick 5 things each day that are really important and which he needs to focus on.
  2. The myth of doing things ‘properly’ – It was interesting to hear Mike effectively killing the idea that there is such a thing as doing things ‘properly’; you do something, you learn and you improve. However, there’s no such thing about doing things ‘properly’.
  3. Be flexible, things never go according to plan – Mike pointed out that the original business plan almost never survives, especially in a fast-pace environment like the technology sector. It was refreshing to hear Mike talk about the need to be flexible, especially when you get things wrong; admit you got it wrong, change things and move forward.
  4. Hedging – I guess in a similar vein to Mike’s previous point about being flexible, he also suggested to hedge your bets. His argument is that with so much market uncertainty, it’s a good thing to be able to spread your (product) bets.
  5. Do not start unless you have an unfair advantage – In his talk, Mike used the analogy of “taking a gun to a knife fight” meaning that there’s only a point in taking on the competition if you have some form of unfair competitive advantage or unique value.
  6. Create your own game –  A point that sounds fairly obvious but isn’t; “don’t define what you do in terms of what the competition does.” Mike thus stressed the importance of creating your own game and your own unique value proposition.
  7. Vision is everything – When Mike started talking about the importance of having a vision, I almost wanted to give him a hug. Whether it’s having a vision on a company-level or on a product-level, Mike explained how important it is to have a vision, a mission to change the world and how this can influence the products you build. He mentioned how technical people in particular “hate to see an inferior product win.”

Main learning point: I found it really helpful and inspiring to listen to Mike Lynch’s overview of his lessons learned. The honesty with which he talked about not always getting ‘it’ right and the need to be flexible, I found very refreshing and inspiring. Definitely a great person learn from!