Why income should not be your North Star Metric

I used to be not too long ago in a board assembly for considered one of my portfolio firms, and we had a dialogue that should occur in nearly each board assembly. The CEO shared the income goal for the 12 months at X, and the income goal for subsequent 12 months at 3X. Sounds fairly regular, doesn’t it?

The dialogue that ensued was insightful and I believed it will be price sharing it right here for founders who’re coping with an identical challenge. One of many board members requested a easy query: “Why is income our North Star KPI?”. Nobody questions the significance of income, however asking the query enabled us to begin considering on what can be the correct metric. Do you know that firms like Airbnb, Spotify and Netflix purposely keep away from setting income as their North Star Metric?

On this submit, I’ll cowl why income is essential, why it’s a nasty north star KPI and what startup founders ought to contemplate when selecting a North Star Metric (NSM).

Why is income essential (the plain details):

We are able to all agree that income is essential, and even important, for startup success. There are after all exceptions, primarily within the B2C world, like Waze, which bought to Google for $1.4 billion with zero revenues, or Whatsapp, that bought to Fb (aka Meta) for $19 billion with little or no income.

  1. Income is the one path to profitability and being ‘default alive’ (or in different phrases, worthwhile, and unbiased from outdoors funding for survival)
  2. Money is king – a startup’s runway relies on income and money can resolve a whole lot of issues on the subject of useful resource shortage
  3. Income has a huge impact on the corporate’s future valuation in a subsequent spherical and might be the main driver for worth in an acquisition situation
  4. ARR is the lifeblood of SaaS firms and determines your finances, advertising and marketing spend and different metrics
  5. Income is a mirrored image of consumers willingness to pay for the product/service the startup offers.

However when interested by income/progress, it’s price taking just a few issues into consideration earlier than you set income as the primary objective for an organization.

Why is income not ‘North Star’ Metric?

  1. Income just isn’t essentially an inspiring objective for workers – to draw prime expertise, you will want to encourage workers along with your mission, not simply your metrics. Staff could or could not have the ability to immediately contribute to a income goal (relying on their position) and received’t be impressed by it. A greater query to encourage workers might be, what worth can we unlock if we’re profitable with our mission?
  2. Income doesn’t measure gross sales effectivity – you possibly can hit a income goal however the query is at what value? i.e. should you get to $1M ARR, however cut back your runway by 6 months, is it price it? Sequoia shared this recommendation on gross sales effectivity with portfolio founders of their current ‘adapting to endure’ collection.
  3. Income can optimise quick time period considering – extracting as a lot cash as attainable from prospects will help you hit a quarterly or annual income objective, but it surely doesn’t inform you a lot about utilization and buyer satisfaction. With out measuring buyer delight/NPS and decreasing churn it may backfire and turn out to be unsustainable in the long term.
  4. Income doesn’t indicate product market match – if persons are paying for the product however not utilizing it, you don’t have product market match. Income might be the results of good advertising and marketing, however with out making an allowance for utilization and retention, specializing in income alone might be deceptive.

What’s North Star Metric?

A well-chosen north star metric will drive progress by focussing everybody within the firm on a single buyer behaviour. Your North Star Metric captures the consequences of all of the issues your crew is doing at the moment that result in sustained progress. It doesn’t simply measure progress, it drives insightful and dynamic considering.

Supply: What’s a “North Star Metric”? (+ 8 steps how one can uncover your NSM)

Lets have a look at some examples:

“To uncover your North Star Metric you will need to perceive the worth your most loyal prospects get from utilizing your product. Then you need to attempt to quantify this worth in a single metric. There could also be a couple of metric that works, however attempt to boil it all the way down to a single NSM”

Sean Ellis, What’s a North Star

“Your north star is how your customers would behave in the event that they cherished your product”

Nick Black, What’s a North Star Metric and tips on how to set one

For instance, a significant output metric for Spotify may very well be time spent listening to music.

“A North Star metric is the one measurement that’s most predictive of an organization’s long-term success. To qualify as a “North Star,” a metric should do three issues: result in income, replicate buyer worth, and measure progress”


“Income” is a poor North Star Metric. Income is the worth that your prospects pay, whereas your North Star Metric is the worth that your prospects get again for that worth.

Ward van Gasteren

A north star metric ought to encompass two components:

  1. An announcement of your product imaginative and prescient and
  2. A metric that serves as a key measure of your present product technique.

In “Don’t let your North Star deceive you“, Reforge makes an essential distinction between enter metrics (outcomes) and output metrics (actions). When selecting a north star, it’s higher to concentrate on actions, not on the scoreboard/outcomes. In a nutshell, Reforge claims {that a} North Star Metric ought to measure worth obtained by person, not outcomes.

Within the case of Spotify for instance, customers get probably the most worth out of the app once they hearken to songs, so a significant output metric for Spotify (i.e. motion) may very well be “time spent listening to music”. Time spent is the results of a set of actions. You might want to decide what these actions are by breaking the metric down into layers of enter metrics.  To do that you’ll ask your self, “What actions may we take to result in our customers to spend extra time consuming music?”

Two potential solutions can be:

  1. You would carry the person again to the app extra typically and/or
  2. Get them to spend extra time listening throughout every session
North Star Metric Progress (Reforge)

In “Selecting your North Star Metric“, Lenny Rachitsky describes the north star metric because the top-line metric that each one firm priorities are aligned round. Selecting the ‘enter metrics’ point out for Spotify above, the crew must know what levers to drag.

After surveying over 40 progress stage firms, Lenny concluded that the North Star Metric relies on the corporate’s enterprise mannequin and what drives progress. I summarised it beneath:

  1. Marketplaces – basket dimension and quantity of transactions (nights booked, rides taken, and orders positioned, respectively)
  2. B2C subscription primarily based firms – the place many of the worth is pushed by paid advertising and marketing, largely choose ‘progress effectivity’ as their north star, that means a sustained enchancment in margins and LTV/CAC.
  3. Freemium B2B merchandise -like lots of at the moment’s SaaS startups which begin free and develop backside up by way of paid subscriptions (suppose Slack or Coda) select both engagement or buyer progress (like Airtable’s weekly paid seats or Asana’s weekly lively paid customers)
  4. UGC subscription primarily based merchandise – firms like Twitch or Loom concentrate on consumption fairly than engagement, as a result of the sharing and consumption of content material is on the coronary heart of their progress flywheel.
  5. Advert-driven companies – like many of the media and social media platforms like Meta, Snap or Pinterest, concentrate on engagement as their north star. DAUs, WAUs or MAUs, are indication of how precious is their viewers for advertisers.
  6. Client subscription companies like Tinder, Duolingo or Strava, select both engagement (in lots of circumstances as a result of their fashions are ad-driven when free and engaged customers usually tend to convert to paid) or buyer progress. Spotify, which has each a subscription enterprise (music) and an ad-based enterprise (podcasts), focuses on engagement, buyer progress, and consumption.

Check out this checklist of 40+ North Star Metrics for progress stage firms (click on to enlarge)

Examples of 40+ North Star Metrics from progress firms (Supply: Lenny Rachitsky) – Click on to enlarge

In conclusion

Income is a nasty north star KPI as a result of it doesn’t essentially replicate the success of a startup. Enterprise capitalists typically have a look at income as the primary indicator of a startup’s success, but it surely’s not the one metric that ought to be thought-about.

Lastly, it doesn’t matter what stage you’re at as a startup or firm with a brand new product line, anticipate your North Star Metric to vary as your technique shifts. It would evolve as you be taught extra about what retains your crew targeted, motivated, and constructing towards the last word imaginative and prescient. Your North Star Metric is your technique, and your technique is your North Star Metric. Select correctly.

Lenny Rachitsky, Future.com

Keep in mind that the north star metric is about worth to the person, not a scoreboard for the startup and attempt to reply the query: should you’re profitable along with your mission, what worth are you unlocking?

Eze Vidra
Eze is managing companion of Remagine Ventures, a seed fund investing in bold founders on the intersection of tech, leisure, gaming and commerce with a highlight on Israel.

I am a former common companion at google ventures, head of Google for Entrepreneurs in Europe and founding head of Campus London, Google’s first bodily hub for startups.

I am additionally the founding father of Techbikers, a non-profit bringing collectively the startup ecosystem on biking challenges in help of Room to Learn. Since inception in 2012 we have constructed 11 colleges and 50 libraries within the growing world.

Eze Vidra
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