The classic treasure hunt story always centers around the map. First, our heroine has to find the map. Then she has to decode the map. And then finally, she needs to follow the map, navigating dangerous obstacles along the way to riches beyond her wildest dreams.
Building a startup is a lot like this. Once you launch your company, you’re going to start getting data. You’ll learn how you’re attracting customers, how they engage with you when they arrive, where the value is being created.
It’s a messy map. There will be a lot of noise. It takes time to decode the map and find the path to growth.
And here’s the problem. Searching for the map can feel really exciting. You’re trying new things. You’re constantly innovating and trying new ideas. You’re developing new products and services. Every day you’re jumping into the unknown, swashbuckling your way through the building of your company.
In comparison, decoding the map, digging through that data, finding the answers, can feel like slow, boring, plodding work. In the movie, this is th slow bit 30 minutes in, where our heroine is pulling down library books and consulting with cryptography experts to decode the map. Not nearly as exciting as the beginning or end of the movie.
I’ve seen far too many startups struggle to gain traction because the founder enjoys the search for the map, and the rush of hunting for the treasure, far more than the process of decoding the map.
But this is where the magic happens. For me, it’s the most exciting part of building a company. Because there are answers in the data.
If you’re building a digital media company, you’re looking for the combination of stories, headlines and images that draw in larger audiences, keep them engaged, and keep them coming back for more. In the early days, those pieces of content are going to be few and far between. But if you spot them early enough, your editorial team can quickly apply new ideas from the data from high performing content, which can get your audience flywheel turning faster.
Your e-commerce startup is creating volumes of valuable insights everyday. What channels are drawing in high value customers? How much does it cost to acquire customers through paid advertising channels, and what kind of value do they create when they land on your site? Are your high gross margin items selling, or are your loss leaders dominating sales charts, which could point to problems ahead.
A SaaS company can follow the path from free trial to paid customers. From the number of times a subscriber logs in and uses the product, to the actual features they use over and over again.
All of these insights require that you take the time to slow down, dig into the data, and decode your map. You’ll hit dead ends. You’ll misinterpret the data and find yourself running down the wrong path, only to have to double back and try again. Lost time. Wasted effort. But all done in a measured, rigorous way that ensures you know when you’re headed in the wrong direction before it’s too late.
Innovating and creating new products and ideas
Take the time to dig in with your team on the insights your company is creating every day. If it helps, think of it as decoding a treasure map in your very own treasure hunt story. It’s far more exciting than you think, and it’s a critical part of the journey.