Introducing the concept of ‘vanity conversations’

Metrics such as cumulative registered users and total number of downloads are often called vanity metrics because they can make you feel good even when your startup is going south. Eric Reis coined the term back in 2009 to make the point that collecting metrics per se can be worse than useless and actionable metrics are the only ones worth collecting.

These days just about every startup collects metrics, but back then metrics were a bit the ‘new thing’ and Eric Reis was writing to help companies that were jumping on the metrics band wagon, but not doing it in the right way.

Today customer development is a bit the ‘new thing’, and lots of companies are once again jumping on the band wagon but not doing it in the right way. Following the advice of Steve Blank more and more entrepreneurs are getting out of the office and having conversations with potential customers to inform their product roadmap. However, too many are having what I’m calling ‘vanity conversations’ which feel good because the potential customer says nice things, but are misleading because they are either trying to protect the entrepreneur’s feelings or saying things about what they will do in the future that won’t turn out to be true. Even people with the best intentions are terrible at predicting what they will do.

I’ve written before about how easy it is to ask bad questions when talking with potential customers and about how The Mom Test is a great guide to asking good questions. The key point is that mentioning your startup and asking people to predict their future behaviours is a mistake because people will give you answers designed to protect your feelings and avoid conflict. These platitudes can give you false confidence in your business. Asking people about how they have done things related to your product in the past is a much better way to go because then you will get facts rather than dangerous guesses. Check out the links above for more on these points.

The thought for the weekend then is to avoid vanity conversations and concentrate on getting facts.