The Lean Gates of Analytics

You don’t know what book you’re writing until you’ve written it.

As most authors will tell you, the act of writing a book—particularly on a fast-changing, widely-discussed topic—is both a creative and a destructive one. You don’t know how little you know until you start to structure your thoughts.

As Ben and I have been working on the book (now topping out at over 200 pages on our various hard drives) we’ve come up with some basic stages and gates that most startups go through from initial idea to successful exit. These map—loosely—to established frameworks like those from Eric Ries, Steve Blank, Ash Maurya and Dave McClure. We’re not sure if we have it right, yet, but this is our current working model.

We’d love some feedback on whether this is right or wrong. Obviously, some startups will enter the Lean process at different stages, or clear certain gates before others; but as a general model, this is what we’re thinking.

Now that we’ve built it, it’s time to measure and learn: what’s wrong with it?

Get an Early Release of Lean Analytics Book!

lean analytics early release book coverLast week we released a sneak peek of Lean Analytics, sharing a few chapters.

Today you can buy an Early Release copy of the book!

Buy it now >>>

The Early Release copy in digital format means you’ll get updated versions as we write the book. The content will be fairly raw and unedited, but you’ll get access to it way before the final release. As we write content and post it into the Early Release, you get it.

Ebooks from are DRM-free. You get free lifetime access, multiple file formats, free updates. And now you get Dropbox syncing too.

You can also pre-order the final copy in paper format.

This is a big step for us as authors–we can now see if the early interest from people translates into early purchases. And we can push the digital copy on a constant basis to people and get ongoing feedback.

Take a look at the Early Release and … feel free to buy *smile*

Get a Sneak Peek at Lean Analytics Book

To-date, Alistair and I have written a total of 43,964 words for the book. We’ve actually written a lot more, but we’ve cut a bunch of stuff, and put a bunch of stuff on the blog too. But the book right now stands at that word count. It’s a decent number of words. We’re about 50% of the way there –at least with an overall draft– and there’s going to be a lot of editing and refining along the way.

We’ve always wanted to share with people, as much as we can, throughout the writing process. With that in mind, we’re releasing a draft of our first few chapters for everyone to read (and hopefully enjoy!) Please note: this is largely unedited. Alistair and I have edited the work but it hasn’t gone through any serious review process. And you can expect considerable change when the book is finally launched, but we want your feedback right away. We’re eager to hear from you on what you think of the approach, the tone, the ideas and the overall content.

All you have to do is click the link below:

Download the sneak peek of Lean Analytics book (pdf)

If you haven’t signed up for updates from us, we hope you’ll do that. Just drop your email address into the sidebar. But it’s not required to check out the sneak peek.

All feedback can go through our site:

Please share this with your friends and colleagues. You are free to distribute the sneak peek to anyone you’d like; the more distribution the better. Sharing this blog post with others is greatly appreciated as well … now we’re ready to start ramping up our marketing efforts. And one last thing, pre-orders of the book will be available soon.

Thank you!

Share your Lean Analytics story with us!

We want to make sure our book is chock full of case studies and stories from people that are using analytics and Lean Startup on a daily basis. We want to provide real numbers –where possible– so you can benchmark yourself and your startup or project against others. The more people share with us, the more we can as a group help each other and improve practices around Lean Startup and Lean Analytics.

With that being said, if you have a story, case study, anecdote or number you want to share, please do so!

Here’s our brief survey:

It should take ~10 minutes to complete. In return, we’ll buy you a beer (or another drink of your choice.) That’s assuming of course that we get to your city or meet you in-person somewhere (we’re not sending beers through the mail or sending out “free beer” coupons … sorry!)

A few things to remember:

  • We’re happy to keep things anonymous, so just tell us you want it to be that way in the survey.
  • The more specific you are, the better. If you can share real numbers with us – KPIs, benchmarks, targets, etc. – that’s fantastic. Again, if you don’t want us to share your name or company name publicly, we can hide that.
  • We may publish your stuff in our book. And if you don’t want it to be anonymous, we’ll thank you several times over publicly. Fame and fortune … here we come!
  • You’re genuinely going to help a lot of people. That’s a big deal.
Share Your Lean Analytics Story >>

Behind the scenes of a book launch

A couple of weeks ago, we launched the Lean Analytics website. Since we’re writing about lean analytics, we figured we should probably track a few things along the way. In the interest of transparency, here’s what we did and how it went.

Creating the site

Our first step was to create the website. We did this with the help of Nudge Design, a designer who knows WordPress really well and was able to turn things around quickly. We had to work fast, because Ben’s company had completed its recent acquisition by Salesforce and Startupfest was around the corner.

Setting up analytics and goals

We put Google Analytics into the site, and set up a couple of goals. These were simple enough. We wanted to know how many people would:

  • Click on the book cover to find out what an MVC was.
  • Sign up for our mailing list. (Come to think of it, you should probably do that now.)
  • Complete our brief survey to tell us about themselves.

Here’s what we configured in Google Analytics:

Note that we couldn’t easily track mailing list signups, since they happened elsewhere. We also configured the survey completion goal half-way through the launch; more on that later.

Generating tracking codes

We planned on telling some of our friends and proponents about the book. These are people with big followings: Tim O’Reilly, from our publisher; Eric Ries, the Lean Startup founder and series editor; Avinash Kaushik, arguably the smartest (and most irreverent) person in analytics; and Julien Smith, a Montrealer and bestselling author.

We also wanted to use our blogs (Solve for Interesting and Instigatorblog) as sources for traffic, as well as two events we’d be speaking at (Startupfest and Lean Startup Machine.)

Tracking all of these mentions across the “long funnel” from the first mention to the eventual visit is accomplished by embedding tags in the URL. Google has a page that helps you build these tracking URLs, allowing you to segment visitors by source, campaign, and so on.

The tags help distinguish visitors by their source, the campaign used, the medium, and so on. We didn’t want to burden our proponents with too many codes, but I did generate some codes for myself which identified different media (LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook) to demonstrate how it works.

Generating short URLs

A long URL from Google’s tool won’t fit easily into social media platforms. Plus, it looks messy and it’s hard to remember. So we needed to shorten these, which we did by generating short URLs with

For many of the shared URLs, we just used the default random string of letters that gave us, but for some of the events we generated custom ones that were easy to remember. For example, in my presentation on coefficients of friction at Startupfest, I used in my closing slide.

Giving the codes to famous people

Armed with these codes, we sent them to our proponents, and they mentioned the site to their followers. The race was on: who would generate the most traffic? Who would send us the most completed surveys?

We could have overwhelmed these proponents with too much tracking data, but that’s too big an “ask.” Giving them a single URL to mention is good; in fact, the less work, the better. I’ve run campaigns in the past where we actually gave each proponent a calendar invite, so they’d remember to do the thing we asked at the time we asked. Famous people are busy; you have to make it easy for them wherever you can if you want their support.

Watching the results on provides some detailed information about the way short links are shared, so we were able to see how each proponent’s URL spread across a particular medium. Here’s Eric’s mention spreading across Twitter on the day he announced it.

Note that we can also tell some things about how his audience interacts with content—some use Facebook, some Hootsuite, and the vast majority came through Twitter’s shortened URL ( which in turn encapsulated our URL.

Watching realtime on Google Analytics

Google Analytics has a beta feature in which realtime traffic scrolls across your screen. Here’s what we saw on the receiving end of Eric Ries’ mentions. Note that any shortfall (people who clicked his link, but for whom we didn’t see a visit) is an indicator of problems with the site (slow loading, for example, may cause someone to cancel their visit before the page loads.) This is known as the sessions to clicks ratio.)

I’m not sold on the benefits of realtime data unless you can react to things in realtime, but it is a good tool for seeing if you’ve got something hideously wrong (such as the wrong landing page in a link) so you can go fix it. Plus, it’s fun to watch.

Seeing the Facebook page traction

We also set up a Facebook page. Once it hit 30 people, we had access to some stats on traffic and growth.

Facebook doesn’t give you a ton of data, but it’s enough to see whether traction is growing and to know how big your reachable audience is.

Join us on Facebook »

Traffic to our own blogs

Ben and I both wrote posts about the book on our own sites. I created different URL tags for Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter, turned these into three different URLs, and used a different one on each social platform. The results show me how useful each of the three sources is for traffic to the site.

Note that this is traffic to the Solve For Interesting post about the book, which in turn links to the book site. As such, it’s part of a long funnel that begins with a tweet on Twitter; leads to this page; and then (hopefully) sends traffic to the Lean Analytics book site.

Seeing the Mailchimp traction

We use Mailchimp to track our mailing list size, as well as to manage subscriptions, opt-out, and other aspects of staying in touch with our readers. Mailchimp provides charts and data on signup growth.

Once we start sending out messages and posts, Mailchimp can measure things like unsubscriptions, bounce rate, and so on. When we first sign up subscribers, and clean up junk email addresses, we don’t know how many of those 572 subscribers are actually useful.

And by the way, if you haven’t already, you should probably sign up for the mailing list and take the survey. The form is over on the right, at the top of this page. Go on; we’ll wait.

Once we sent the first blog post to the mailing list, we had a better idea of our list quality. Here’s mailchimp’s dashboard for a mail sent to all the people who asked to receive blog updates.

Our open rate was 55.5%; the industry average for our industry (“consulting”) is a paltry 15.8%. And Mailchimp thinks we can actually reach 308 people as a result of all this work. We’re not currently using Mailchimp for other platforms like Twitter or Facebook, though.

At this point, we have to confess to something: we didn’t track survey completion properly. We use Wufoo for our survey, and only the paid version is able to direct someone to a separate page on completion of the survey. We’re cheap bastards, and hadn’t paid for this, so half-way through the launch we realized the error of our ways, turned up the forwarding feature, and sent respondents to a thank-you page.

This matters because the only way we could easily track survey completion was when someone came back to that page. We should have generated Google Analytics “events” when someone put their cursor in the signup box, and embedded an event in Wufoo when someone filled out the survey. We could even have used a tool like Clicktale to understand which fields in the form weren’t being completed. Our bad.

What it means is that some people who mentioned our book later in the launch process (Avinash, Julien) look like their followers are more likely to complete a survey than those who mentioned it early on (Tim, Eric.) It’s not their fault; it’s ours. This should underscore the challenge of Getting Your Shit Together First.

Setting up a Google Analytics dashboard

Finally, we set up a custom report in Google Analytics to compare traffic, survey rates, and the effectiveness each proponent had on our goals. We have data on pretty much the whole campaign; and we know who we have to buy drinks for, and whose blog generates the most traffic.

Some things we can tell from all this:

  • Julien had a tremendous number of followers visit the site (and Chris Brogan, his co-author, helped spread the word) but relatively few of them completed our survey compared to Avinash’s followers.
  • Eric Ries’ followers were much less likely to wonder what an MVC was and click on the picture of the book than Tim’s were.
  • “Uninvited” visitors from Twitter and Facebook clicked on the MVC picture, but Twitter users were far more likely to finish the survey.
  • Ben’s blog drove some traffic, but mine didn’t even make the top ten. Sigh.
  • Google Plus drove traffic our way, mostly due to Tim O’Reilly’s use of it; LinkedIn mentions didn’t drive anything.
  • It turns out the Facebook page did in fact generate quite a bit of traffic to the site.

And so on. Here’s a second custom report, which compares the unique visitors and goal completions to the referring URL.

Sadly, of the 99 people who followed links to Solve For Interesting (see “traffic to our blogs” above) only ten clicked through to the book site; and of those, only one completed the survey. Ben, on the other hand, had eight people do so. In other words, Ben’s followers are eight times as likely as mine to complete an online survey. Ouch.

Finding the unknown unknowns

Avinash likes to point out that Donald Rumsfeld was an analyst.

There are known knowns; there are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns; that is to say there are things that, we now know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns—there are things we do not know, we don’t know.

Known knowns are simply facts we regurgitate (time on site.) Known unknowns are simply analysis we perform based on things we already believe are important (“which sites send me the most traffic?”) But it’s the unknown unknowns that really matter, because that’s where the magic comes from. Here’s a great session from him at Strata earlier this year.

Admittedly, we have a very small site and a very small amount of traffic. Right now, it’s enough to go through by hand. But as it grows, having the system tell us what’s interesting is critical. Here’s an example of Google Analytics’ “intelligence events”. Basically, Google forms an opinion about what it expects to happen, and then tells  us when that opinion was wrong—when something was unexpected.

In this case, Google expected 1.18 to 4.74% of visitors to complete the survey, but on the 14th, 9.4% of visitors did so. We can then drill into this to see what provoked the change. (Note that we’re lying a bit here to make a point—the increase in exits from this page was almost certainly due to us changing the survey landing page halfway through the launch process. But the point is still valid: often, the most interesting thing that happens is a deviation from your expectation.)

One more piece of eye candy: We can further segment visitors by other dimensions and find out more detail. For example, when we split our four proponents’ traffic into new versus returning visitors, we find out that Julien’s returning visitors are much more likely to complete the survey.

(Again, these results are skewed because Tim and Eric didn’t have the benefit of the survey landing page to track the people they sent. We have 572 people in the mailing list, but only 186 visits to the survey landing page—clearly, Tim and Eric were responsible for a whole lot of survey enrolment. But you get the point.)

So what?

Right now, the thing we care most about is the followers and survey respondents we have. We want people’s attention (and nearly 3,000 of you have  visited the site, so that’s good.) But we also want the permission to reach out to you in order to ask you questions, send you updates, and ultimately, have you buy the book or pay to see us speak. For us, that’s the One Metric That Matters.

We know, from this data, that we should work on Facebook, Julien, and Ben’s blog for traffic. And because we know which people sent us posts, as we write things we’ll learn whose followers like what kinds of content—which means we’ll be able to ask different proponents to promote different content based on what their followers seem to like.

It’s early days for the blog, but we’ve got a pretty solid foundation in place with which to understand our audience in the coming months.

Putting it all together

We put all of this together into an infographic. It’s awesome. But we want something in return. We want you to sign up.

So put your email in the signup form below, and we’ll send you a beautiful, informative, no-holds-barred look at the campaign from start to finish.

You’ll also get future updates from us, and a bunch of chances to participate in the creation of the book by sharing your stories, taking surveys, attending regional events, and more.

Note: If you’re already a subscriber to our list, we’ll be sending the infographic in a couple days.

Introducing Lean Analytics

In a startup, the purpose of analytics is to find your way to the right product and market before the money runs out. Learning and iterating is at the core of the Lean Startup methodology, but with a flood of information available, it’s hard to know where to start. We want to fix that.

Lean Analytics will show you what to measure and how to report it—whether you’re validating a problem, testing new features, enticing investors, promoting to bloggers, or reporting progress to advisors. It will lay out practical, proven steps to take your startup from initial idea to product/market fit.

These lessons aren’t just for web companies. Even traditional businesses like restaurants are embracing a lean, learn-first approach: San Francisco’s Wise Sons deli used a temporary “pop-up” approach to optimize their menu and operations before launching a permanent restaurant. And big companies launch skunkworks so intrapreneurs can innovate outside the normal strictures of the organization.

The Internet of Things and an always-on world means that everything will soon be measured. Your customers carry mobile devices; QR codes, geolocation, and emerging technologies such as Near Field Communications will soon make the real world as instrumented as the online one.

What you collect—and how you use it—changes based on your audience and the stage of your business. But the importance of collecting, analyzing, acting and learning doesn’t change. Tomorrow, it’s how you’ll survive. You need to identify and measure the single most important metric for the stage your company is at, and then iterate until you get it right.

This book is primarily aimed at the lean entrepreneur or intrapreneur focused on the early stages of building something innovative. We’ll walk through the analytical process, from idea generation to nearing or achieving product-market fit, so the content is applicable to those starting their entrepreneurial journey as well as those that are right in the middle of it. The lessons are universal, so Lean Analytics is really for anyone trying to make their organization more effective—from tiny startups to global corporations, restaurants to sports teams, communities and church groups to international charities.

Minimum Viable Cover

What’s an MVC? One of the fundamental concepts in Lean Startup is the idea of building just enough to test your idea. That’s usually a Minimum Viable Product: only what you need to validate—or shut down—your assumptions. Sometimes, companies use a curated MVP, which means there isn’t even a real product behind the scenes, just a bunch of founders simulating the product to understand whether they’ve found a real need to satisfy.

Lean Analytics will come out in early 2013. We don’t know what the cover will look like. But we want to make it clear that it’s a book, and we know who’s writing it and what it will be about. So our homepage has a Minimum Viable Cover at the moment. As we experiment with content and branding, and talk with hundreds of aspiring and successful entrepreneurs, we’ll know more about the book.

For now, please enjoy our MVC.