Vanity metrics are things like registered users, downloads, and raw pageviews. They are easily manipulated, and do not necessarily correlate to the numbers that really matter: active users, engagement, the cost of getting new customers, and ultimately revenues and profits. The latter are more actionable metrics. As First Round Capital’s Josh Kopelman recently advised on Founder Office Hours, “The real data is retention and repeat usage.” Startups that focus on the real metrics can make their products better, attract more customers, and make them happier.
It is important for startups to properly instrument the data they track so that they can get a handle on the true health of their business. If they track only the vanity metrics, they can get a false sense of success. Just because a startup can produce a chart that is up and to the right does not mean it has a great business. A mobile app could have millions of downloads but only a few hundred thousand active users, or a freemium website might see exploding traffic growth but barely any conversions to paying users.