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The Top Metrics that Matter to Startups

Here we discuss the specific metrics that matter most to startups as they strive to establish themselves.

Here we discuss the specific metrics that matter most to startups as they strive to establish themselves.

Almost 90% of startups fail, and 10% fail within their first year. So, with the odds stacked against every founder out there, how can you evaluate the effectiveness of your strategies and make sure that your company is headed in the right direction?

The answer in one word is metrics.

After all, success is about more than just having an innovative idea or a dedicated team. Instead, it is rooted in understanding and leveraging the right data. Moreover, financial planning and analysis, one of the 10 pillars of finance, must be backed by robust metrics that offer clarity and direction.  

In this guide, we bring a wealth of expertise to the table, breaking down the essential metrics every startup should have on its radar. We'll delve into their significance, interpretations, and impact at various growth stages. This guide ensures you're not just running the startup but moving it in the right direction.

The Importance of Tracking Financial Metrics for Startups

In running a business, metrics are indispensable. They don't merely depict a business's financial stance; they sculpt its future, fuel its growth, and affirm its viability in the marketplace.

Let's look at why metrics are essential, especially for startups.

1. Raising Investment

If you've ever tried to raise investment, you'll know that investors don't just throw their money at any idea. They want proof. And what better proof than cold, hard numbers? 

Your financial metrics show potential investors that you're not just about the "next big idea" but that you've got the business acumen to back it up. They demonstrate that you understand where your money is going and how effectively it's being spent.

2. Checking the Health of Your Business

Would you drive a car without checking the oil or getting a tune-up? 

Well, running a business without tracking financial metrics is pretty much the same. By closely monitoring metrics like cash flow, burn rate, and profitability, you ensure your startup isn’t just running—it’s thriving. 

Think of these metrics as the heartbeat of your business. Regular check-ups ensure everything runs smoothly and alert you if something's amiss.

3. Validating Business Decisions

We've all been there. You've got this fantastic idea, but you're unsure if it's a goer. 

This is where your financial metrics come into play. They offer an objective view of whether a certain decision or strategy is working.

Say you've rolled out a new product or feature and want to know if it's resonating with customers. By analyzing sales figures, costs, and profitability, you can make informed decisions about its future.

And when faced with different tasks, your metrics will help you prioritize them in order of importance and impact on the business, making it easier for you to manage your time and focus on what matters.

The Main Elements Any StartUp Should Track

It's crucial for you to know the key elements your startup should track. These are components you simply cannot afford to overlook as they ensure that every step you take is informed, purposeful, and oriented toward sustainable growth.

Let’s take a look at some of the important ones.

Financial Metrics

For your startup to truly thrive, you must familiarize yourself with critical financial metrics. These tools not only allow you to gauge your current success but also plan for future expansion. By understanding metrics like cash flow, revenue, expenses, profitability, and capital, you equip yourself to make more informed, data-driven decisions.

Revenue and Expenses

These are the basics. Your revenue looks at how much money the business is bringing in, while your expenses look at how much money you are spending. A clear understanding of these numbers can help your startup gauge its current financial health.


Generally speaking, when you deduct your expenses from your revenue, you can see how profitable your business is. This metric provides insights into the long-term viability of the business.

Cash Flow

Your cash flow looks at the money going in and out of your business.

To be clear, your cash flow is not the same as your income. Even though your income tracks your revenue and expenses, your cash flow looks at how much actual money is flowing through your company. So, if you sell a product and the customer promises to pay you within two months, your income has increased, but your cash flow hasn’t changed until you receive the money.

With that in mind, you can see how a positive cash flow can indicate a company's liquidity, providing it with the means for debt reduction, stock repurchase, dividend payments, and the capacity for potential business expansion.

Working Capital Metrics

Working capital represents the funds you have on hand to manage daily business operations, including paying salaries, satisfying debt obligations, and meeting any other short-term expenses. 

For startups, tracking your working capital is vital. Without sufficient working capital, your startup's growth and success could be significantly stifled. Here are some metrics that could help you manage your working capital better:

  • Burn Rate: The rate at which your company is spending its capital.
  • Cash Runway: This estimates how long the company can operate before it runs out of money.

Customer Metrics

Customer metrics offer a glimpse into your customers' behaviors, preferences, and sentiments. Usually presented as numerical scores, they simplify and condense a wealth of customer feedback into actionable data. 

By closely monitoring these metrics, you can adjust strategies based on real customer experiences and responses. Let’s quickly look at these metrics:

CLTV (Customer Lifetime Value)

CLTV is an essential metric that quantifies the total value of a customer over the entirety of their relationship with your business. CLTV is critical because when you know how much value each customer brings, you also know how much you might be willing to spend to capture said value. Using this, you can fine-tune your marketing and sales game for your business.

CAC (Cost of Customer Acquisition)

This number reflects the cost associated with acquiring a new customer, taking into account marketing and sales expenses.


The CLTV/CAC ratio is like a magnifying glass for your business. It is a key indicator of the profitability and scalability of your customer acquisition strategy. It highlights how well you're bringing in customers and how valuable these customers are over time. 

By keeping an eye on this ratio, your business can see if you're making a profit from your customers and decide if any tweaks are needed to keep the cash flowing. A ratio of 3:1, for instance, suggests you earn three times more from a customer than what it costs to acquire them.

NPS (Net Promoter Score)

NPS measures customer satisfaction and loyalty; it helps your startup gauge general sentiment around your product or service. 

The way it is measured is that a customer is sent a one-question survey, asking them, “On a scale of 1 to 10, how likely are you to recommend our company to a friend or colleague?”

Now, people giving a score of 0 to 6 are labeled detractors, those giving a score of 7 to 8 are considered passives, and only customers giving scores of 9s and 10s are considered promoters. 

After you have collected all of the responses, you calculate your company’s NPS score by taking your percentage of promoters and subtracting the percentage of detractors from that. What remains is your NPS score.

Product Metrics

Product metrics provide quantifiable data on how customers interact with your digital product. These data points offer insights into the product's success and reveal the impact of user interactions on your business. Let's have a look at some of these metrics:

Activation Rate

This metric shows the percentage of users who take the vital actions necessary to derive actual value from your product. It is a direct measure of initial user engagement and product fit.

Adoption Rate

You can evaluate the success of a new product or feature rollout with the adoption rate. It quantifies the number of new users or adopters over a predetermined timeframe, indicating feature relevance and market demand.

Retention Rate

Retention rate is a fundamental metric that gauges customer loyalty and product stickiness. It quantifies the percentage of customers retained during a specific period, emphasizing the long-term value and satisfaction delivered to your users.

Marketing Metrics

Marketing metrics quantify the performance of your campaigns, serving as essential tools to assess their effectiveness. While the most relevant metrics differ between campaigns, they generally evaluate the impact of your strategies on audience behavior. 

Here is a quick look at some of these metrics:

Return on Ad Spend (ROAS)

This gauges the efficacy of your ad campaigns, measuring the revenue generated for every dollar spent.

CPC (Cost Per Click), CPM (Cost Per Thousand Impressions), and CPA (Cost Per Action)

These metrics provide insight into the cost-effectiveness and performance of advertising campaigns.

  • CPC looks at how much every click is costing you. It’s a good metric to track when the ad's objective is to get people to click on a link, which is usually the case for something like Google Ads.
  • CPM looks at how much you have to pay for 1000 people to see your ad. This is a good metric for display ads, especially those used on social media platforms such as Instagram and Facebook.
  • CPA looks at how much you have to pay for people to perform a specific action, such as filling out a contact form or signing up for a demo. This can be a good metric to help you gauge the cost of achieving the objective of an advertising campaign.

Growth Metrics

Growth metrics provide insights into your company's progression, guiding your decisions regarding revenue trends, the potential of products and services, areas requiring refinement, and the most profitable initiatives. While numerous growth metrics exist, let’s look at some essential ones:

Referral Metrics and Virality

How often are your existing customers referring new ones, and how quickly are these referrals leading to new sign-ups? These are questions that you can answer by evaluating these metrics.

For instance, virality measures how many new sign-ups come from existing ones. More accurately, the viral coefficient looks at how many invitations each customer sends out and multiplies that by the conversion rate of those invitations. 

So, if your company has a viral coefficient of 2, each customer eventually brings in 2 new customers, creating a virtuous cycle of exponential growth, a founder’s dream.

To see the effect of the virality coefficient on growth, take a look at the following graph:

K represents the different virality coefficients.

Year-over-Year Growth

This is a measure to compare your company's performance in one period to its performance in a previous period, helping you to highlight growth trends.

Customer Growth Percentage

This metric focuses on the number of actual customers rather than just revenue, offering a different perspective on growth. It usually represents the ratio of new customers acquired in a given month compared to the total customer count from the end of the previous month.

Tailoring Metrics to Startup Types

While there are some universally valuable metrics that every startup should monitor, the reality is that different types of startups often have unique KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) tailored to their specific business models. Understanding the core of your business and its revenue streams is pivotal in discerning which metrics are most crucial for you.

Let’s look into some of these Startup types and their metrics.

Software as a Service (SaaS) Startups

Given that SaaS businesses rely heavily on subscriptions and recurring payments, their metrics often revolve around understanding and predicting revenue, as well as customer behaviors:

MRR (Monthly Recurring Revenue)

The MRR is a critical measure indicating the monthly predictable revenue generated from subscribers.

ARR (Annual Recurring Revenue)

While your MRR tracks how much money your subscribers bring in every month, your ARR looks at how much those same subscribers generate every year. This is crucial for understanding longer-term financial trajectories.


This indicates the percentage of customers or subscribers who stop using the SaaS product during a given period, acting as a major red flag when high. For instance, if you start with 100 customers and lose 7, your churn rate stands at 7%.

NRR (Net Retention Revenue)

The NRR is an important metric that balances new revenue against lost revenue, providing insights into customer satisfaction and product value. It also helps you track how fast your SaaS business is growing or shrinking. 

To calculate your company’s NRR over a period of time, here is the equation you would use:

NRR = (MRR at the beginning of the period + New subscribers during said period + any extra revenue from upgrades or additional purchases - churned customers during said period - revenue lost due to downgrades or else) / MRR at the beginning of the period

 ARPU (Average Revenue Per User)

ARPU indicates the revenue a company anticipates from each customer during a period of time. It helps gauge the value of each customer and informs pricing strategies. The main difference between ARPU and CLTV is that while the CLTV looks at how much revenue is generated from a customer over the lifetime of the relationship, ARPU homes in on a specified period, such as a month.

Freemium Conversion Rate

Specific to SaaS platforms offering a free version and following a product-led growth strategy, it reveals how many free users upgrade to a paid subscription, elucidating the effectiveness of your freemium model.

E-commerce Startups

For startups in the e-commerce sector, metrics often center around customer interactions with products and the overall shopping experience. Here are the metrics to track:

Average Order Value (AOV)

This represents the average amount a customer spends in a single transaction, helping startups gauge their pricing and sales strategies.

Conversion Rate

This metric shows the percentage of visitors who purchase after visiting your page, providing insights into the effectiveness of your website or sales funnel.

Shopping Cart Abandonment Rate

This reflects the percentage of visitors who added items to their cart but did not complete a purchase – a critical pain point to address for e-commerce startups.

Unit Economics

Unit economics reveal the value each item, or "unit," brings to the business. Especially for those holding or manufacturing inventory, understanding the direct revenues and costs associated with a single unit is pivotal.

COGS (Cost of Goods Sold)

For startups manufacturing products, this metric represents the total direct costs of producing the goods sold by a company.

Marketplace Startups

Marketplace startups, functioning as intermediaries, require metrics that track both sides of the platform – the providers and the consumers:

Here are the metrics to track:

GMV (Gross Merchandise Value)

This represents the total sales value of all items sold through the marketplace over a certain period.

MAU (Monthly Active Users)

MAU is a pulse check on the platform's health, indicating how many users actively engage with the marketplace monthly. 

The reason MAU matters so much for marketplaces, more so than SaaS or e-commerce businesses, is due to the power of network effects. Simply put, the more people who frequent or use a marketplace, the more valuable that marketplace becomes. After all, if I’m a vendor selling my goods, I want to put my products on a marketplace that will provide me with the highest number of eyeballs possible.     

Provider-to-Customer Ratio

The provider-to-customer ratio indicates how many customers a single vendor can cater to, reflecting the balance between providers and their customers. It ensures balance in the marketplace, indicating whether there are enough providers to meet customer demand or vice versa.

Metrics by Growth Stages

As a startup progresses from ideation to maturity, its objectives and priorities will shift, and so will the importance of specific metrics. Understanding which numbers to prioritize at various stages ensures the startup remains on the right track.

Startups Striving for Product-Market Fit

In the early stages, a startup is testing the waters, refining its product, and trying to understand its market. Here, the goal is to determine if there's a demand for what the startup offers. Metrics at this stage are often about understanding the product and the initial audience:

  • Product Metrics: It's important to gauge the frequency of product usage. Noting which features are highly favored or potentially overlooked is critical.
  • User Feedback and Surveys: Gleaning direct insights from users provides invaluable information. This includes aspects they appreciate and areas that cause friction.
  • User Engagement: Tracking the duration users spend with the product and observing if this duration trends upwards or downwards over time is essential.
  • Conversion Rate: This metric highlights the percentage of visitors on your website or app who proceed to take the intended action.
  • Early Revenue Generation: While profits might not be the primary focus, understanding early revenue can offer insights into pricing strategies.
  • Market Validation Metrics: You should evaluate if external industry experts or potential investors are showing interest.

Startups in the Scaling Phase

Once a startup identifies its product-market fit, scaling is the next step. Now, it's about reaching more people, entering new markets, and ensuring sustainable growth:

  • Growth Metrics: The focus here is expanding the user base and revenue. It's essential to gauge the rate of this growth.
  • CAC (Cost of Customer Acquisition): This metric determines the expenditure for acquiring each new customer during expansion.
  • CLTV (Customer Lifetime Value): This represents the projected revenue from each customer over a given duration.
  • Churn Rate: As the startup scales, this metric tracks customer retention and identifies if any are departing.
  • Conversion Rate and User Engagement: It's crucial to compare how new users act in relation to earlier ones. Any disparities in engagement or conversion rates should be noted.

Mature Companies Focusing on Brand Building

For mature startups, it's no longer just about growth. It's about sustainability, reputation, and brand loyalty:

  • Marketing Metrics: The efficacy of marketing efforts becomes pivotal. It's essential to determine if these campaigns yield a satisfactory return on investment.
  •  ROAS (Return on Ad Spend): A crucial metric that measures the revenue derived from every dollar invested in advertising.
  • Conversion Rate and CPA (Cost Per Action): These indicators highlight the frequency of users completing intended actions and the associated expense.
  • Customer and Brand Engagement Metrics: Beyond mere product utilization, it's about discerning if customers genuinely engage with and champion the brand.

Challenges Startups Face With Metrics Evaluation

While metrics are essential, startups frequently encounter difficulties in using them effectively. It's a balancing act for startups to maximize the benefits from these metrics without becoming overwhelmed or misguided. Here are some typical challenges they face:

  • Overwhelming Data: The plethora of available metrics can sometimes be paralyzing. It's essential to prioritize and focus on what truly matters.
  • Data Scarcity: Especially early on, there might not be enough data to derive significant insights.
  • Limited Resources: Not every startup has immediate access to advanced tools or specialized expertise in data analytics, making it challenging to delve deep into metrics.
  • Interpreting Data: Raw numbers are one thing, but extracting actionable insights is another. Startups can sometimes struggle to interpret what the data is truly saying.

Although you are bound to face challenges when measuring the metrics that matter the most, the trick is to start small and go from there. After all, as a startup founder and leader, you must always have a growth mindset and ask yourself, “The business might be tracking these metrics, but what other metrics should we look into so that we can do an even better job?”


During a startup's growth journey, understanding and prioritizing metrics is paramount. While driven by innovation and passion, startups must be grounded in data to ensure longevity and success. Whether you're evaluating the financial health of your business, understanding customer behaviors, or gauging the performance of your products, metrics serve as your guide. 

As outlined, the significance of these numbers goes beyond just monetary value; they sculpt the startup's trajectory, validate decisions, and can be pivotal in fundraising. Furthermore, the metrics a startup should focus on can vary based on its type – be it SaaS, e-commerce, or a marketplace. Equally vital is the understanding that as startups evolve, from ideation to maturity, the emphasis on certain metrics shifts. In essence, in the startup ecosystem, metrics aren't just numbers; they're narratives that shape stories of innovation, growth, and sustainability.

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