I had few connections in New York when I moved here six years ago. I lucked out, though, and arrived during Social Media Week, a conference filled with tech professionals. I attended every event I could. Another entrepreneur I met that week, Brett Martin, had also recently moved here and was equally eager to make connections. He had a vision for a mobile app we both could have used that week, one that would show you who is nearby and what interests you share with them. It promised to help me make new connections in the city, so I joined Brett to help bring it to life.
Looking back on my time building that app, which we later named Sonar, my chief regret was my failure to measure its effectiveness at its purpose: increasing the rate at which we make new connections. Of course, everyone on the team understood that was our goal. But we lacked a quantifiable, visualizable measure of it. We measured and improved the metrics every startup ought to (acquisition, engagement, referral, etc.), but those metrics are popular precisely because they’re generalizable. Any product can show an increase in referrals, but the reason customers evangelize a product is unique to that product. For Sonar, I believe that would have happened once a customer noticed the app growing their social network. What if we had measured that network growth directly?
In hindsight, I suspect we could have. In order to surface people nearby with shared connections and interests, Sonar asked customers for access to their networks on Foursquare, Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. With that data we could have plotted a customer’s total connection count over time:
And to measure our impact on customers’ social connections, we could have measured the change in that curve over time, their “connection rate,” before and after joining the service:
Would Sonar have evolved differently had I built that visual? Who knows… that’s unknowable. But I believe it would have buttressed us against the turmoil typical of startups, helped us stay focused, by serving as a persistent reminder of the value we hoped to deliver, the change we hoped to affect, and of how close we were to achieving that goal. As a reminder of why we chose it in the first place, over all other pursuits.
I write this now, years after Sonar folded,1 because I still want the product that Sonar might have been, one that helps me form relationships more frequently than I otherwise will. So I’ve begun building a new product, superficially different from Sonar, but with the same purpose. How it works is irrelevant, I’ll change it until it’s effective. But this time around, I won’t lose sight of the goal. I’ll build the reminder I need to ensure it.
See Brett’s Postmortem of a Venture-backed Startup for color. ↩