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September 3, 2017

Startup Vanity Metrics


Warning: This is not for the faint-hearted. Read on at your own risk of hurting your vanity..

I’ve had my share of conversations with a lot of entrepreneurs (and enthusiasts) for over two years now and have been keeping tab about the start-up world for over half-a-decade now.

Today, I stumbled upon a tweet from a successful entrepreneur and start-up adviser, Kunal Shah, asking “What are most common vanity metrics that startups measure and consider important (but aren’t)?”.

That tweet prompted me to jot my observations as a post here. If you as a founder have fallen in this trap (as what I think it really is) and think it is no trap or vanity, I’d love to hear your thoughts/experience.

Note: Every metric that is looked in isolation without context auto-qualifies to become a vanity metric.

Vanity Metric 1: Funding
Not every business/start-up needs funding. And any start-up that needs one shouldn't necessarily chase it.
The moment you start chasing to raise funds, your priorities have changed, at the very least. Hell, your business values are getting clouded to begin with. Be wary of this, and safeguard yourself.
Okay seriously, there are a ton of start-up entrepreneurs today, who begin their journey of a start-up adventure with (presumably easy) fund raising as goal rather than purpose. This is serious piece of $h!#.

And it doesn’t end there. I’ve attended those glorious start-up events where entrepreneurs get-together to help one-other, only to joke on how dumb the VCs/investors are and pass on their success cheat-sheet. #EpicFail

Vanity Metric 2: PR-ops
PR is a good thing to leverage. It definitely is not a panacea to live-by. Get it right!
Thanks to the media, the PR-ops is by far the craziest and easiest thing for many startups to fall prey to. And there are a host of others who try to thrive by just this.

Don’t trust me on this one, see how much a start-up advertises itself on how it is covered by various events, news articles, etc. #PaperTigers

Personally, I’d love and look forward to seeing how well the founder(s) can articulate on their vision for their start-up, not how many PR-ops, it managed to grab attention of.

Still doing this? Remember you’re not in your college to brag about the attention you managed to win.

Vanity Metric 3: Traction devoid of MRR/ARR
Traction is definitely an important metric but not the only one. It's not the whole story.
It is important to measure traction, and then the conversion rate at every stage down the funnel until it gets to the paid customer, and then for how long the customer loyalty is to acquiring newer ones.

I often find this one as more of a deliberate trick (albeit naive) employed by a founder to cover-up for their lack of progress in other stages/phases. #Magician

Announce your traction. And also do convey, where you are, in your journey of MRR/ARR and its growth. You don’t survive by just traction.

Unless, you’re building a platform like Quora, Facebook, etc. it makes sense for traction data alone for quite a long time. How long is too long, needs to be looked into, even in this case.

Vanity Metric 4: Count of Ivy League grads on-boarded
Care not where they come from. Do care for how and what they can contribute, to achieving your mission and vision.
This is mostly plagued by the VC firms as the grapevine has it. And then there are founders, even those from non-ivy league schools, who love to have ivy-league grads on boarded to satisfy their “vanity”.

In over a decade of my experience, I’ve witness and experienced first-hand the works of folks coming from a variety of backgrounds (schools, countries, religion, sex etc). I dare say that I’ve seen no strong co-relation between skill/performance and the background of a candidature. And yet, unfortunately we continue to witness this vanity.

And boy, India is notorious in this regard. Why can’t India follow the West in this? Have you seen job-ads in the US like, “Candidates from Tier-1 schools only apply”, for a developer/manager/any-other roles? #DayDreamer

To put it mildly, this is a demonstration of the fact that you are weak or don’t have skills enough to access the candidature right. Also, the big corporations make this mistake and they can perhaps afford it. Don’t ape them, for you can’t afford it. Remember, winners don’t do different things; they do things differently. Be a winner.

Vanity Metric 5: Buzzwords driven
Buzzwords is the new low, although it is portrayed as the new high.
All too often, I encounter yet another new start-up that shouts buzzwords like “AI/ML driven solution, Big-data problem-solver, AR makers, IoT driven, Uber of this, AirBnb of that, Amazon of India”. #PopCulture

It’s one thing to leverage technology to solve a piece of problem, and yet another thing to mimic solving the problem by building noise around the buzzword than on your solution. Tell not what you have, nobody cares. Tell your purpose and how you intend to solve a problem; you will make heads turn towards you.

Okay, you can say “Uber of this” to quickly explain what your company is about to a stakeholder and that alone is what it serves. It won’t get user traction let alone getting you a paying customer. Stop dreaming. Start working.


On a serious note, the true objective of this post is to help start-up founders (and enthusiasts alike) introspect on their vision and improve their safeguard against falling for this grand vanity metrics.

Hope you enjoyed the post. If not and/or you disagree with any of the mentioned vanity metrics, by all means please do share your thoughts. It matters and I’m all ears.

Friendly Reminder: Every metric that is looked in isolation without context auto-qualifies to become a vanity metric.

Needless to say, feel free to like and recommend as you please ;)

P.S: This post is reproduced from my medium channel. You can also follow me there.