Richard Reis
Aug 8 · 4 min read
By Richard Reis

Recently, I started building an app, Gurgeh. Every week I learn something new (this is a common feeling among founders). So I decided to share my weekly lessons in the hopes that (1) I don’t forget them and (2) they help you on your own journey.

Last Saturday, I attended the YC Startup School LA meetup.

I’m not great at meetups (in fact, I spent most of the time in a corner by myself). But I had a very clear goal: Ask Kevin Hale for feedback on my product.

Sidenote: Why Kevin Hale? Because this video is my favorite resource on “how to build a great product.” I’ve watched it countless times (something I’ve mentioned before), so it made sense to ask “the product guy” for product feedback.

We talked for a bit about the idea, the product, the users, monetization strategies, etc…

But I got totally stuck as soon as he asked me about metrics.

“Erm… Daily active users? I… I don’t know.”


Why I didn’t know

There’s a good reason for my ignorance; I thought I was avoiding what Paul Graham calls “playing house.”

“What you need to know to suceed in a startup is not expertise in startups, what you need is expertise in your own users.

Mark Zuckerberg did not succeed at Facebook because he was an expert in startups. […] Facebook was first incorporated as a Florida LLC… Even you guys know better than that!

He succeeded despite being a complete noob at startups because he understood his users very well. […]

[A] characteristic mistake of young founders starting startups is to go through the motions of starting a startup. They come up with some plausible-sounding idea, they raise funding to get a nice valuation, […] they rent a nice office in SoMa and hire a bunch of their friends.

Until they gradually realize how completely f***ed they are because while imitating all the outward forms of starting a startup, they have neglected the one thing that is actually essential, which is to make something people want. […]

We saw this happen so often […] that we made up a name for it: ‘Playing House.’” — Paul Graham

I’ve spent so much time talking to my users, I never thought about the “motions” of starting a startup.

This is why I don’t understand incorporation, I can’t tell the difference between an “angel round” and a “series A,” and I don’t know what a balance sheet is supposed to balance.

Sidenote: It’s not that these things don’t matter, they do. But if you’re part of a growing startup, you’ll experience many different stages (e.g. imagine a 10-person startup compared to a 300-person startup) and each stage requires different knowledge. At my stage, it makes no sense to think about anything other than reaching product/market fit.

I purposefully avoid “playing house.”

… But I was wrong about metrics.

Metrics are different

Metrics don’t count as playing house, because they’re simply a quantitative way of seeing whether or not people are using your app.

In other words, metrics are allllll about your users!

Want to be an expert in your users? Study your metrics.

Learning this made me go from not caring about metrics to loving them (and checking them obsessively every day).

“One of my greatest lessons that I learned in starting and running Twitter [and] Square, is how important it is to instrument all usage. […]

For the first two years of Twitter’s life, we were flying blind. […] And we were going down all the time because of it. Because we could not see what was happening.

So the first thing I wrote for Square, on the server, was an admin dashboard.” — Jack Dorsey

How to get metrics?

Part of me wanted to do the same thing Jack Dorsey did and write an admin dashboard for Gurgeh.

Alas, saner minds prevailed.

And by saner minds I mean this quote from Twitch co-founder, Emmett Shear:

“Use a third party service.

Collect logs, by all means, put them into your own system. Because I guarantee you’ll want to do something the third-party service doesn’t allow at some point, and you’ll be super annoyed if your data is only in the third-party service. So collect logs, or whatever.

But in the beginning, you don’t have time to mess around with building analytics tools. So just use Mixpanel, or use Google Analytics, or use whatever. They’re all better than what you need right now.” — Emmett Shear

At this stage, any third-party will do a better job than whatever I can hack together.

The same goes for you.

Sidenote: So if, like me, you’re building an iOS app, I recommend you look at this list of top 13 iOS app analytics and pick whichever one looks best. For any other platform, just find a similar list.

Remember, don’t fly blind. Instrument everything. Your metrics are your best friend.

And that’s it for today!

See you next week.

Be well.


Thanks for reading! 😊 If you enjoyed it, test how many times can you hit 👏 in 5 seconds. It’s great cardio for your fingers AND will help other people see the story.

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Richard Reis

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"I write this not for the many, but for you; each of us is enough of an audience for the other." - Epicurus

The Mission

A network of business & tech podcasts designed to accelerate learning. Selected as “Best of 2018” by Apple.

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