Why Product Metabolism Is Every Startup’s First KPI

Thursday Apr 28, 2011 by Dustin Dolginow - Analyst, Atlas Venture

Since I joined Atlas last April, Jeff and I have done a weekly call with Brian Norgard and Dan Gould at Namesake.  It’s been remarkable (and humbling) to watch this team mold their concept into a working product that’s changing the way people think about conversation on the web.  I’ve been particularly impressed with how the team iterates.  One day on the phone while we were catching up I blurted out, “You guys have highest product metabolism I’ve ever seen”.  We chuckled, but what I meant to say was that they iterate so fast on product that users can see innovation weekly.

There are three reasons I think the metabolism metaphor is apt:

  1. Metabolism is literally “the set of chemical reactions that happen in living organisms to maintain life”.  Startups are organisms and that “chemical” is typically innovation of some kind.  Consumer web products live and die by their ability to digest feedback and fresh thinking.
  2. As we all know, over time our metabolism slows down.  That matches well with the benefits and challenges of scaling.  Facebook has to think twice before broadly rolling out a feature.  Your users should be able to see real progress on a regular basis.  Weekly may be too aggressive for some but monthly seems like too long generally.
  3. In both organisms and startups, maintaining metabolism is a constant balancing act.  Move too fast and the resulting instability shakes both your users and your team.  Move too slow and your deficiencies kill the goodwill earned with your early users.

So why should it be the first KPI for every startup? Because it’s the best thing you can do to grow a user base, create investor interest and build lasting value.  Finding healthy product metabolism is the core activity as you find product/market fit.

Dustin Dolginow is an Analyst with Atlas Venture.  You can find this post, as well as additional content on his blog by clicking here.  You can also follow Dustin on Twitter (@dolginow) by clicking here.

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