I remember the soccer match I ever played. I knew how to win, but when the whistle was blown my sights became so narrow that I could recognise nothing but the ball.

I had the same feeling for the past one year of building my own product.

No, actually worse. It was like playing without uniforms, lines, goal posts, or any sense of direction or rule.

I read tons of articles emphasizing metrics of a startup product before I initiated this project. I was confident in measuring my product. Now — after the project was terminated — I say, “I did not know shit.”

Which metrics is important to your product? What is one metric that matters? Retention rate? Growth rate of users? DAU? MAU?

Before anything, we — our product team — had to ask ourselves:

“What is the core value that the product give to the users? How are we going to measure it in clear numbers?”

Our product’s core value was to help users to decide what to eat for their next meal. However, there was no means to find out whether our recommendation actually affected the user’s decision. There was no clear number.

Failing to measure our value made us astray. We struggled to find direction of the next iteration. Should we reinforce the feature that many users clicked? Are we acquiring wrong set of users? Do we need to shorten the sign-up process? Should add a new feature? Should we renew the design?

Was our product doing well? We could not define nor measure “well.” Were we growing? Incremental change in the number of users did not necessarily mean “growing.”

At that time, we debated and fought with each other, but could not make a consensus. Looking backward, this was because we did not know which way the ball had to be dribbled. The product had to be called off, because of the lack of sense of direction and energy to proceed (which was caused by my shortcoming as a product manager).

Successful startup products have a clear, measurable number of each of its core value.

  • For ride-sharing and taxi services like Uber, it is the total number of taxi calls.
  • For crowdfunding platforms like Tumblbug, it is the total dollar amount of the gathered fund.
  • For payment services like Square, it is the total dollar amount of transactions done.
  • For messaging apps like KakaoTalk, it is the total number of messages sent.

This is the biggest startup lesson I am taking from today’s failure (second is fail fast and take your lesson).