Choose Ed-Tech Company Success Metrics That Focus on Impact, Not Just Growth
If there’s one thing every startup founder can agree on, it’s that metrics are important. If you’re not measuring how people use your product then you’re essentially flying blind. Without data you can’t truly tell if you’re on the right track.
There’s already been plenty written on the subject of metrics. Lean startup guru Eric Ries has talked about the difference between vanity metrics and actionable metrics. Dave McClure famously outlined his Startup Metrics for Pirates (spoiler alert: “AARRR!”). These thinkers and many others offer good advice on how to pick and interpret the right metrics for your startup.
But there’s another truth about metrics that doesn’t get discussed much, and it’s one that is especially important for ed-tech founders to consider:
The metrics you choose to track say a lot about the kind of company you’re building. In fact, they can determine it.
Growth Mindset Comes at a Cost
In the tech world there is a lot of preoccupation with growth. It seems like every startup (particularly those fueled by venture capital cash) is hell-bent on seeking out that beautiful “hockey stick” graph. You know, the one that shows you’re on a rapid growth trajectory and headed for low earth orbit.
Growth is vitally important, of course, but for an ed-tech founder there is real danger in making growth metrics your primary yardstick. That’s because companies that single-mindedly chase growth tend to make compromises and choose values that come back to haunt them later.
Examples abound, nowhere more so than in the world of social media. In their respective quests for growth, Facebook and Twitter have both long ignored the potential for their tools to amplify harassment, discrimination, political tension, and disinformation. These fears have now all come true but it’s unclear if either company is capable of truly addressing their underlying problems.
Choosing your success metrics means choosing your company’s values. And once you’ve chosen your values it is exceedingly difficult to change them. They get baked into your product’s design. They become ingrained on your workforce. They form the basis of your culture. That’s a lot of power for just a graph or two, isn’t it?
Choose to Measure for Impact
Before ed-tech founders focus on growth metrics, they should first focus on impact metrics.
What is “impact?” Fundamentally, it’s the educational benefit that your product aims to enable. It’s different for almost every product, and thus the metrics themselves are different.
My product, StoriumEdu, is a collaborative online game that builds students’ confidence and motivation as writers. Our desired impact, then, is to have a lasting and transferable positive impact on both the quality and quantity of student writing. We measure this in a variety of ways, for example:
- The number of words written per student, over time.
- The extent of each student’s engagement in the collaborative writing process.
- The quality of student writing before vs. after playing StoriumEdu.
- Teacher retention.
As a young startup we also, of course, track growth metrics like daily signups and active users. But the metrics listed above are more important to us because they measure our product’s actual impact, and in doing so they tell us if have a healthy foundation for future growth.
That matters because scaling an unhealthy product is not only a bad business decision: it’s also an irresponsible act for anyone entrusted with any portion of a child’s education.
It’s one thing to say that impact is more important than growth. It’s quite another to walk the walk. That’s particularly true if you’re venture backed. Even the most enlightened VC is still looking for a certain order of magnitude of return on their investment and may thus look askance at any founder who isn’t obviously chasing the “hockey stick.”
Wherever you’re coming from, putting anything before growth may feel difficult or risky. But as educational technologists, we have a higher obligation than many of our peers working on the consumer web. That obligation is to the teachers and students we aim to serve. We must make a positive impact before we can seek growth, and that starts at the beginning: with the things we choose to measure.
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