When you first set out to build a new product, you have very little to go on.
Before talking to potential customers, friends, and family, all you have is a problem you want to solve and a hunch as to how to go about solving it.
Then as you start to make the product and give it life, you gather more and more data points as to how your product is going to do. Some of them are tangible (signups and sales) and some are intangible (tweets, referrals, emails, etc.).
Often times entrepreneurs, investors, and employees are focused on the tangible metrics as to how things are going.
They pull up the KPIs, note the growth curve, the number of sales, usage, and so on, and make an assumption as to how well your product is doing.
Your raw numbers tell a hell of a story, but they don’t tell the entire story.
In fact, numbers can be deceiving — both in a positive and negative direction — and especially in the early stages of your startup. “Wow, 100% growth month-over-month,” doesn’t mean a whole lot just out the gate.
That’s why I like to balance “The Numbers” with intangible sentiment I hear about Coach.
Like when a paying customer of Coach wrote to tell me, “your platform has taken away a lot of headaches from my day to day work” or when someone praises us for taking the time to listen to him.
It’s intangible sentiments like these that show you how important your product is, which is something your KPI sheet won’t tell you.
A lot of intangible sentiment can be gleaned from Twitter, Facebook, and emails, but I’ve found that talking to customers directly is the best and most authentic way to gauge sentiment.
For your own product: ask customers how they feel when using your product, what it does for them, and what they’d do if you took it away.
While the answers to those questions (positive or negative) won’t show up in your KPIs, it’s important to know the answers, and that you consider them just as much as your growth curve to determine whether or not you’re heading in the right direction.