The 11 Most Important Growth Metrics for Startups

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An entrepreneur sits at a desk and assess their growth metrics for their startup to set their business up for success.

Starting a new business is an exciting endeavor filled with anticipation. Yet, it’s crucial to know how well your business strategies are working. That’s where growth metrics come in. These are measurable values that show the performance and growth of your business.

Despite their importance, going through these numbers can feel overwhelming and complex. With so many metrics to consider, figuring out which ones are truly important can be quite a task. Remembering the numerous startups that started with high hopes but didn’t reach their goals underscores the importance of this task.

To help you navigate this complex terrain, we’ve carefully compiled a list of the 11 most important growth metrics. These are the key indicators that give a well-rounded view of your business’ progress. They are also the metrics that potential investors find valuable when considering an investment. With this knowledge in your toolkit, you’ll be better prepared to lead your business towards success, no matter the challenges you may face.

How do you measure startup growth?

Growth metrics are essential tools for startups. They provide a solid foundation for measuring the growth and progress of your business. Think of it as keeping a pulse on your company’s performance and growth. These metrics give you a clear picture of where your business stands and where it’s heading.

Why measure for growth? Simply put, you can’t manage what you can’t measure. To ensure your business is on a growth trajectory, you need to know which aspects are performing well and which ones need improvement. This is where Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) often come in. KPIs are specific metrics that businesses use to gauge their progress towards certain goals.

Maybe you’ll want to consider growth planning as a different way to keep track of your business’ success. This involves using metrics to make strategic decisions that help your business grow. Remember, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach here. Your chosen metrics will largely depend on your business goals and industry.

Regardless of the approach you take, there are specific growth metrics that you should be aware of. Even if you don’t track all of them, understanding these metrics can provide valuable insights for your business decisions. Each metric, from customer acquisition costs to monthly active users, has the potential to drive growth and shape the future of your startup.

1. Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC)

Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC) is a critical metric that quantifies the resources invested to gain a new customer. This includes the total costs of marketing, advertising, sales, and more. Calculating CAC involves dividing the total spend on these efforts by the number of customers acquired within the same timeframe. Lower CAC indicates efficient spending, while a rising CAC may warrant revisiting your acquisition strategies.

2. Churn rate

Churn rate measures the rate at which customers stop doing business with you within a given period. A high churn rate could be a red flag, pointing to potential issues with customer satisfaction, product quality, or service delivery. Divide the number of lost customers by the total at the start of the period to compute your churn rate.

3. Customer Lifetime Value

Customer Lifetime Value (CLV) is a key metric that projects the total revenue a business can reasonably expect from a single customer account. It considers a customer’s revenue value and compares that to the company’s predicted customer lifespan. Businesses use this metric to identify significant customer segments that are the most profitable over time. CLV is calculated by multiplying the average purchase value, the average purchase frequency rate, and the average customer lifespan.

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4. Average order size

The average order size provides insights into the typical spending behavior of your customers. You calculate it by dividing your total sales by the number of orders placed. Higher values suggest that customers are willing to spend more on each transaction, which could signal customer trust and product value.

5. Monthly Recurring Revenue (MRR) and Annual Run Rate (ARR)

For startups operating on a subscription model, Monthly Recurring Revenue (MRR) is a fundamental metric. MRR gives a clear picture of your predictable revenue stream from subscriptions each month. The total monthly subscription revenue equals your MRR.

Similar to MRR but expanded over a year is the Annual Run Rate (ARR). To find your ARR, multiply your MRR by 12. This metric offers a quick and easy way to project future revenue, assuming current trends stay persistent.

6. Cash runway and Burn rate

The cash runway represents the duration your startup can continue operating with its existing cash reserves. You calculate it by dividing your current cash balance by your monthly burn rate, which leads us to our next critical metric.

Burn rate denotes the rate at which your startup is exhausting its cash reserves each month. Monitoring your burn rate is crucial to maintain financial stability and avoid prematurely running out of funds.

7. Referrals and Traffic Sources

Understanding the source of your customer referrals and traffic is key to determining which channels are most effective for your business. Here’s a breakdown of several common methods:

  • Word of Mouth: This organic method of marketing occurs when satisfied customers personally recommend your business to people they know. A strong word-of-mouth presence can lead to significant growth without heavy marketing investment.
  • Direct Referrals: Direct referrals are those coming from a specific partnership or relationship with another entity. For instance, another business may refer their customers to your startup because they believe in your offering. Tracking these referrals helps you identify valuable relationships to nurture.
  • Digital Ads: Online advertising, from search engine ads to banner ads on websites, is a vital traffic source for many startups. By measuring the traffic and conversion from your digital ads, you can assess their effectiveness and ROI.
  • Organic: Organic traffic refers to visitors who find your business through non-paid search results. High organic traffic often indicates strong SEO performance, demonstrating that your startup is visible and attractive to potential customers online.
  • Social: Social traffic comes from your social media platforms. Keeping track of this metric helps you understand how effective your social media marketing strategies are in attracting and engaging customers.

Each of these traffic sources has the potential to significantly contribute to your growth. By monitoring them individually, you can better understand where to allocate resources for maximum effect.

8. Gross Sales and Gross Margin

Gross sales are the total revenue from all sales transactions within a period, before accounting for costs. This raw figure broadly indicates your business’s scale and sales performance.

In addition, Gross Margin measures profitability. It’s calculated by subtracting the cost of goods sold (COGS) from total revenue, then dividing the result by total revenue. This percentage shows the proportion of revenue that remains after direct costs.

A high gross margin signals efficient production and good pricing, while a low one could hint at inefficiencies, prompting a review of production or pricing. Together, these metrics provide a snapshot of your startup’s financial status.

9. Cash Flow and Profit

Two fundamental financial metrics that startups must monitor are cash flow and profit, as they provide insight into your business’s liquidity and earning power.

Cash flow reflects the movement of money in and out of your business. Positive cash flow is crucial for maintaining your startup’s day-to-day operations and its overall financial health. It ensures you have the necessary liquidity to cover operational expenses, like payroll and rent, while still allowing for investment in growth opportunities.

On the other hand, profit is the financial gain remaining after all expenses have been deducted from revenue. It’s a clear indicator of your startup’s earning capacity. Profit isn’t just about survival; it’s also a source of capital that can be reinvested into the business to fuel growth.

Balancing these two metrics is key. While profit shows your earning success, cash flow keeps your business sustainable and capable of pursuing further growth opportunities. Tracking both enables you to build a financially healthy and growth-oriented startup.

10. Monthly Active Users (MAU)

If your startup involves a digital platform, such as an app or website, tracking your Monthly Active Users (MAU) is essential. It denotes the number of unique users interacting with your platform each month, providing insight into user engagement and platform growth.

11. Net promoter score (NPS) 

The Net Promoter Score (NPS) is a key metric that gauges customer loyalty and satisfaction. It asks customers: How likely are you to recommend our product to a friend or colleague? High NPS suggests customers value your product, indicating a good fit with market needs.

While NPS is a standalone metric, it can also hint at your product-market fit. Other metrics, like overall sales and customer acquisition rates, further signal product-market fit. Tracking these alongside NPS can guide strategic decisions, ensuring your product aligns with market demand.

Which startup metrics should you track for your business model?

The startup growth metrics you should track depend largely on your business model and objectives. If you run a subscription-based startup, MRR and ARR should be on your watchlist. If your business is digitally based, such as an app, keeping track of MAUs will be beneficial. But regardless of your business model, all startups should be mindful of their cash runway and burn rate to ensure financial health.

When determining which metrics to prioritize, think about your current business needs and focus. Are you keen on increasing your customer base? Then keep a close watch on CAC. Want to gain a deeper understanding of your customers? Consider tracking NPS and strive to achieve a product-market fit. 

Remember, these metrics are not an end in themselves. They’re tools that should aid you in driving growth and improving your business operations. If you want some extra help, it can be beneficial to find a tool that makes it easy to track your startup’s metrics.

Using metrics to guide your startup journey

Running a startup can feel like navigating a vast, uncharted ocean. It’s exhilarating, daunting, and full of surprises. However, growth metrics can serve as your compass, guiding you through the ebbs and flows of your entrepreneurial journey.

They enable you to identify strengths, pinpoint areas for improvement, and inform strategic decision-making. While these metrics are a crucial component of business management, they should complement – not overshadow – a clear vision, a motivated team, and a product or service that fills a genuine market need.

So, as you embark on your startup adventure, consider these metrics as your navigators. Stay focused on your customers, remain true to your mission, and don’t lose sight of your vision. By regularly tracking your growth metrics, you can ensure your startup is heading in the right direction, setting you on course for success in your entrepreneurial endeavors. 

Looking Forward

Want to avoid the common pitfalls that lead to startup failure? From cash flow management to market validation and business model refinement, LivePlan’s growth planning process has got you covered. Explore how LivePlan can help your startup navigate the road to success.

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Makenna Crocker
Makenna Crocker
Makenna Crocker is the Content Marketing Strategist at Palo Alto Software. Her work focuses on market and social trends, educational content creation, and providing entrepreneurs with small business tips and tools. With a master’s degree in Advertising and Brand Responsibility from the University of Oregon, she specializes in generating a strong and responsible brand presence through social media and sharable content.
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