And hopefully you'll act on them correctly

startups

Working in a startup, regardless of your position, requires close attention to data — there’s just no way around it. So if I could give you just one piece of advice, it would be to learn how to effectively analyze these numbers and metrics.

I’ve been working at Orcas for the past four and a half years. Orcas is an Education Technology platform that gives tutors access to lesson plans and provides students with free assessments. Tutors can offer their 1-to-1 sessions and 1-to-many courses both online or in-person and Orcas provides them with discovery, booking, scheduling, in-app communication, and video-conferencing tools.

Every year, our CEO would gather the whole team and tell us about the target for the coming period, and for us, it almost always seemed impossible to reach. One of these meetings was even called “Mission Impossible.” As the Chief Growth Officer, I felt a lot of pressure and had so many thoughts running through my mind: “How will we reach our goals? What do we need to make this happen?”

However, I quickly realized that the only way we’d get there is by looking at the numbers closely, understanding where we are and which numbers to work on.

The real trick though is not looking at any number or all the numbers, it’s looking at the right data. The metric that will make the difference.

Last year, after one of those yearly growth meetings, we needed to achieve a 4x growth year over year in new customer sales; which at the time seemed very challenging.

But by using the correct data and a properly thought-out strategy, nothing is impossible. I was able to achieve the required growth by following the steps below:

  1. Look at my funnel and understand our current performance
  2. Look at my resources: the team and their strength, my marketing and experimentation budget, and the general conditions of the market — the seasonality of schools and exams has a big effect on our business.
  3. Do a sensitivity test for the funnel numbers to see which numbers, if changed, will have the biggest impact on our sales.
  4. After choosing the metrics we will focus on and our overarching strategy, came the tactics and experiments phase. What are we going to do to make these metrics move?

In our case, we decided to focus on the number of people who search daily on our app. We know that by increasing this number, the top of our funnel will increase and generate more users who place a request on a daily basis and therefore increase our sales — which is what we’re ultimately aiming for.

There was a catch, though: we had to do that while decreasing our Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC), so we couldn’t throw money at the problem and spend more on ads to reach our goal.

We had to look at all the possible ways we can acquire new customers. One thing that we were confident in, was Facebook Ads. Unfortunately, we couldn’t only rely on ads because of our budget and how it could impact our CAC, so we had to find other ways.

Here’s what we’ve done:

  1. Optimized the acquisition of new customers through Facebook ads — we worked on our targeting and our messaging (visuals and captions).
  2. Activated old existing users: we defined new customers as customers who are paying for the first time. Luckily for us, we have thousands of customers who signed up and never paid before so we decided to hammer on this pool through push notifications, emails, and SMS — this worked really well! 25% of all new requests were placed by customers who had previously signed up but had never used Orcas before.
  3. Activating new sign-ups: we made sure that every person who signed up received event-triggered emails and notifications to guide them and lead them to place a request. Our customer liquidity ratio doubled from 8% to 16%.

This growth wouldn’t have been possible if we didn’t choose the right metric to monitor closely and experiment often.

I’d look at the number of searchers on an hourly basis and set a weekly growth goal. We’d try different combinations of timings, channels, and messages to see what’s working and what makes users search. We were laser-focused on increasing that number that we even doubled the efforts on slow days.

Not everything we tried worked though… especially when it came to referrals.

As part of our plan to decrease our CAC, we wanted to capitalize on our already existing customers to become our brand ambassadors and get us more customers for a significantly lower cost (especially after conducting a survey with them and discovering that 60% of our customers are using the app because someone they trust told them about it).

We thought we hit the jackpot! We decided to incentivize our customers to recommend us more aggressively to their friends. They would then give their friends a code to use while booking their sessions to get a discount. Alongside that, they’d receive a monetary reward in return for each person who uses their code.

A win-win situation that would work wonders, or so we thought.

Unfortunately, things didn’t go as planned, our satisfied users didn’t want to use their code. They didn’t want to seem like they were recommending us to benefit from their friends, after all, we are a trust business.

Our users are not buying goods or taking one short ride, they’re looking for someone who will enter their home, sit with their children and teach them. They need to trust that person and the company that’s providing them with this service.

Understanding this was key to understanding why our happy customers didn’t want to use their referral codes. They don’t want to lose their credibility, they want to give advice to their friends and relatives without it looking like there is something in it for them.

This finding didn’t demotivate us, on the contrary, it gave us a better understanding of our customer behavior. An understanding that will help us do better in the next trial.

Experimentation is an ongoing process and in my opinion the only way we’ll learn and grow. At Orcas, we celebrate failed experiments because they represent newly learned lessons — and I think you should too.

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