Every moment of your startup’s existence depends greatly on optimizing the efficiency of your team and focusing on the things that matter. In business, it’s common to use data points to ensure we’re on the right track towards achieving our objectives for our team, our customers, and our shareholders. Sometimes though, the tendency is to focus far too dogmatically on the results. As someone who obsesses painstakingly over every aspect of my business, I’ve been guilty of not zooming out, focusing on the wrong metrics and not applying learnings as quickly as perhaps I should.

While this isn’t an all-encompassing list, and we’re still in the early chapters of FindBob’s story, over the course of these articles I will share some parts ofof my journey where I clearly wasn’t listening to what my metrics were saying. I’ll share how listening incorrectly to your metrics can sabotage your team in the growth stage and how focusing on vanity metrics delayed my fundraising efforts.

The early days
Those familiar with FindBob’s roots know I stumbled across the problem we’re solving in a personal way: The lack of transition planning and its effects on a financial enterprise can be, if not devastating, at least dramatic. So, frustrated with a lack of innovative solutions to address the problem I took off my agency operator hat and put on my engineering cap and set out to fix one of the industry’s biggest problems. Having seen the success of my earliest low fidelity attempt (a spreadsheet I’d use to illustrate the opportunity to my agents) I spent the next month after-hours building a prototype in my basement for a marketplace I’d eventually unveil to the world.

I’d read about minimum viable products,, and although the notion of building something low fidelity made a ton of economic sense, I thought I knew better. I’ll build it and they will come. I began defining traction metrics like gross merchandise value, average order value, and other typical SaaS engagement metrics that would demonstrate to the market how wildly successful we were once I hung the virtual “we’re open for business” shingle.

Crickets. There was no clamoring for a product I knew was needed and would work. I spent the next two months tweaking the product trying to figure out why the needle wasn’t moving, why my metrics were anemic and too statistically insignificant to demonstrate anything other than failure, and why my field of dreams was empty.

Get out of the basement
Somewhere between the time my wife was reminding me that I was missing out on precious family time and reading Steve Blank’s startup writings, I came across the notion of customer development. Essentially what that meant was I had to get out of my basement and get feedback on my idea, not my product.

I began interviewing everyone I thought had a stake in the problem. Carrier executives, large distributors, lawyers, accountants, business brokers, valuables, lenders, anyone who I thought had skin in the game. My goal quickly changed from validating my prototype to validating my idea.

My metrics turned to the number of interviews, keeping track of data points in surveys about quantifying how painful the problem was, challenges faced, how subjects were tackling the issue today, and what they wished they had to combat these matters. I still review those scorecards today to remind me of our company’s purpose.

Co-create metrics that matter
I was lucky enough to interview Terri Botoson, President of HUB Financial, who operates one of the largest distributions of life insurance in the country. We were acquainted through the industry, and by the time this interview rolled around, we began to gain a bit of momentum on our open marketplace. She shared her passion for the industry and financial advice within the industry and our shared concern for the future of that advice given so many demographic and competitive threats.

Towards the end of the “problem” interview I shared a new model (primitive as it was) of FindBob’s enterprise offering and how we could support large distributors and carriers to encourage better transition behavior. We talked about the metrics that mattered to her and her company, and what success might look like. 3 months later we had a master service agreement in place. A few years later we’ve seen thousands of searches and connections on HUB’s closed white-label marketplace that has lead to dozens of transactions and continuity plans that have supported HUB’s business goals.

Although I knew early on that FindBob was going to be an enterprise offering I’m not so sure I would’ve got there as early as we did had I not stopped following those early misleading metrics and started listening to my wife, Steve, and Terri about what really mattered to the future of FindBob.

Join me for Part 2 where I’ll share some lessons on how not to set metrics for your team. If you’ve got some tips of your own, feel free to share them in the comments!