Why you should find your North Star before developing your product

Jon Butterfield
Mar 22, 2019 · 3 min read

Company Visions, Missions and Values have been around for a long time. Once a company begins to scale to more than the original founders, it usually comes with developing some sense of where the company wants to go. More often than not, it’s utter bollocks.

“Our vision is to be the best at this, and we value trust and integrity” sound familiar? We have an issue in the world of startup culture to develop our company ethics around these vanity keywords. Without any real depth, understanding or drive we lead our teams into a cloudy minefield that can easily be misconstrued.

So, the startup has found its way through and has released its first product to the world, and that’s often the time when they reflect on their real values and define a North Star Metric in hope of achieving incredible Growth. So let’s just look at what the definitions and aims of a North Star Metric are.

“The North Star Metric is the single metric that best captures the core value that your product delivers to customers.” this is what Sean Ellis wrote on GrowthHackers.com. So it’s clear here that the idea is to understand what the main point of your product is, and why people should be using it. From this, you’re then able to lead the team to a common goal, reverse engineer your product flow to optimise, develop your tracking and analytics, deliver true value to your users, as well as give your users the valuable “wow” moment early on in their journey into your product.

I’ve worked with so many companies over the last few years on understanding their Growth Models and helping them define their North Star Metrics. One common thing I’ve found is that the journey of finding a North Star Metric is eye-opening into what they are actually building. Quickly followed by a “Doh!” moment for areas where they dropped the ball, and this is usually in tracking in analytics.

In hindsight, most of these companies wish they had thought about this early on while developing their product. A North Star Metric would have enabled them to reverse engineer their product to create user flows that are already somewhat optimised, product features that work towards a common goal of user value and tracking and analytics that makes sense for what their product is actually going to do.

Now let’s take a step further back. Pre-product and nothing but an idea. During the stages of mapping out the idea for the product, try searching for your North Star Metric. Talk to potential customers, do your research into the area. You may be surprised, and you’ll certainly learn a lot about your customer. Use this metric to create value not only for your customer but also as a clear mission for your team. Your team will instantly know what you want to achieve, and you don’t have to develop it into a complicated and useless mission statement.

A North Star Metric doesn’t have to be debated and thrown around for weeks, hell, sometimes it doesn’t have to even be the right one. It just needs to be there. You’ll find that even if you develop a few draft ideas for your North Star Metric the values for the user are similar and the journey to get there is often the same. The most important thing is to have one single metric and stick to it. Later on, once the product has been released and your searching for product-market-fit, then be open to change. If you find after launching the product that your chosen North Star Metric is so wrong it’s confusing your team and your users, change it. You’ll still have the foundations for correctly tracking, analysing and optimising your product that the physical effort for change is minimal and it’s more of a challenge of a mind-shift.

W23 Labs

Ideas and Findings from W23 Labs

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