Data Byte: Why Quantify Yourself?

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You are being tracked. Every single day, little pieces of your data are flying home to the vault. EZPass knows your driving habits, FICO knows (seemingly) everything, CVS anticipates when you need more band-aids, Target knows when you’re pregnant, Facebook can predict when you’ll get engaged, and FourSquare knows what you did last summer.

We’re essentially writing in a data diary every day, creating the story of our lives for an audience of analysts. Without having to do anything, we’re receiving the most efficient marketing ever, whether its for band-aids or diamond rings. But what happens when we track ourselves, for ourselves?

The desire to own and analyze personal information is crystallizing into the Quantified Self movement and it’s picking up steam, transforming Fitbit wearers, RunKeepers, and Lose It! users into data junkies. The official home of QS is, of course, in California:

The Quantified Self is an international collaboration of users and makers of self-tracking tools. Quantified Self Labs is a California-based company founded by Gary Wolf and Kevin Kelly that serves the Quantified Self user community worldwide by producing international meetings, conferences and expositions, community forums, web content and services, and a guide to self-tracking tools. Our aim is to help people get meaning out of their personal data.

This movement is a growing boon for data and research scientists as people are self-creating troves of information about themselves. In the journal, Big Data, Melanie Swain declared that, “The individual body becomes a more knowable, calculable, and administrable object through QS activity, and individuals have an increasingly intimate relationship with data as it mediates the experience of reality.”

What does this intimate relationship with data look like? How do our individual experiences wrap into the larger whole?

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The Data Byte: Pop Science Edition

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At RJMetrics, our mission is to inspire and empower data-driven people. So, on Fridays, we’re going to try something a little fun (because data is fun). We’re going to run The Data Byte — celebrating and examining the many ways data is surfacing in culture.

Neil Degrasse Tyson

useNeilDTysonThis guy! He’s the rockstar astrophysicist of the millennial age. He’s in millions of homes evangelizing for science every Sunday with Cosmos, he’s in your kid’s Superman comic, he demoted a planet.

What makes him important?

Neil deGrasse Tyson is a constant, opinionated advocate for the cosmic perspective. For him, it’s all about contextualizing our place in the universe as loudly as possible. If you take a moment to remember that you are made of starstuff, that you’re breathing the same air and drinking the same water as Napoleon and Cleopatra, that one day our Sun will supernova — if you take a moment for awe, isn’t the world a more marvelous place? And in this marvelous world full of facts, we can stuff our brains. Here’s some more things Neil deGrasse Tyson would like you to remember:

  • The night sky is full of ghosts. The farther away a star is, the longer it took for its light to reach us — long enough to have outlived the star itself. What we see is not what currently exists.
  • We share 90% of our DNA with trees
  • There are more stars than there are seconds of the Earth’s existence

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RJMetrics Relocates Global Headquarters by 436 Feet

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RJMetrics attracted great fanfare this past Tuesday by relocating its global headquarters to 1339 Chestnut Street in Philadelphia, a location exactly 436 feet from its previous global headquarters at 1315 Walnut Street.

The move took 6 months from inception to completion, representing an average pace of 2.4 feet per day, or roughly one-thousandth the speed of a common garden snail.

Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, in both a show of support for local entrepreneurship as well as Philadelphia’s struggling oversized-novelty-scissors industry, joined the RJMetrics team for a ceremonial ribbon cutting.

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The Results Are In: 2014 Charity Drive

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This holiday season we wanted to do something as a company to contribute to those less fortunate than us. A few members of our team previously worked at companies that organize canned food drives, but I’m not a big fan. While I think that any effort to help others is worthwhile, the data indicates that canned food drives are not particularly effective. If your goal is to feed the hungry, you can help 20 times as many people by giving cash to hunger relief organizations rather than using cash to buy cans of food.

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A Startup with a Stupid Rap Video

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Not long ago, a prospect was kind enough to share their thought process where they evaluated us against a competitor. One thing that stood out to me was an email chain where a consultant they employ positioned our competitor as a large, established enterprise and us as “a startup with a stupid rap video.”

Yup.

The not-so-subtle subtext of the consultant’s email was that their client shouldn’t feel comfortable relying on a bunch of jokers like us. It’s a fair point. We are a (5 year old) startup. We have a rap video. Guilty as charged.

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5 Improv Comedy Skills that Made Me a Better CEO

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Not everyone knows this, but for the past few years I’ve been living a double-life. After long days as CEO of RJMetrics, I’ve made a habit of sneaking off to musty classrooms and tiny theaters to learn and perform improv comedy. This spring, I was honored to join Big Baby, a resident “house team” at Philly Improv Theater.

As it turns out, I’m not the only one. A far more seasoned CEO, Twitter’s Dick Costolo, has a background in comedy as well. While listening to his awesome University of Michigan commencement speech recently, I couldn’t help but reflect on the fact that doing improv and running a business actually have a lot in common.

While both pursuits are fun and accessible for beginners, they also contain deep layers of nuance that separate the good from the great. As I’ve worked to peel back these layers, more and more of my improv skills have started showing up in my day job. These are my favorites.

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RJMetrics Mission Statement

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When we started RJMetrics, Bob and I were able to stay on the same page without much trouble. We had similar ways of thinking, and collaboration between two people in the same room is easy.

As we have grown, it has become both impossible and undesirable for us to stay in the loop on everything the company does. We hired all of these amazing people, and we think it’s great that they conceive their own initiatives and run with them. However, it’s more important than ever to clarify what we do, why we do it, and have a guidepost for all of our actions as a company. That guidepost is our mission statement.

While our mission statement is first and foremost for our team, we’re happy to let everyone in the world know about it. We think that it will be useful for our customers, partners, vendors, and friends to have a clear sense of what drives us.

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Defined: All the Startup Terms You Could Ever Imagine

aligator armsI recently heard the term alligator arms at a conference and had no idea what it meant. While I was looking up what it meant on Google, I realized everyone around me was doing the same thing, with poor results. I brought it up to the team and everyone agreed, there are a bunch of terms we throw around at startups that take a while to learn.

The team decided to put together a resource where people could go to find all of these terms in one place. Weren’t we all confused the first time we heard of a founder showing everyone their deck?

Hopefully, StartupDefinition.com will clear up that confusion and get everyone sounding like professional entrepreneurs from day one. Some terms, like Customer Lifetime Value, are really important to us at RJMetrics. Others, like Purchase Pretzel, are just frustrating to not know about when someone else uses the term.

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We’ve just launched StartupDefinition.com and plan to keep adding to it. Are there startup terms that we haven’t included? We’d love to add to this list. If you leave a comment or send us a message, we’ll make sure all new terms get added promptly.

RJMetrics Spring 2013 Hackathon Results

Spring is here, and with it another RJMetrics hackathon. Our third hackathon saw more outstanding projects, more pizza, and more bleary eyes.

The Projects

  • An inside look at what we eat in the company kitchen using RJMetrics dashboards to track snack and beverage metrics.
  • An automated gong-ringer that will sound every time a new client signs up.
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    Rohan and Ben test their project.

  • A new RJMetrics data connector, deployed on our Data Import API. It sucks down data from our marketing automation platform, Pardot, and updates RJMetrics dashboards on an hourly basis.
  • A dashboard that updates in real time. Hackathon_Shot1
  • A wiki search function for our newly upgraded company wiki on Github
  • A hack of our Keurig machine, which now refills on its own.
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    Jake and Shaun are blown away by the endless coffee.

  • A prototype of a pivot tables, bringing all the wonders of Excel pivot tables to your RJMetrics data.
  • An A/B testing tool for sales conversations.
  • A new UI which allows us to enable or disable features for different users

The Results

Congrats to Bob Moore, Connor McArthur, and Cathy Lennon who took home first place for their real-time dashboard project! Second place went to Matt Monihan, Nate Vecchiarelli, and Buck Ryan for their pivot tables prototype. And third place went to Shaun McAvinney and Jake Stein for their A/B testing tool.

Turns out hackathons are a lot of fun. Maybe quarterly isn’t enough…!

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4 Lean Startup Tactics that Worked

At RJMetrics, we pride ourselves on being a lean start-up focused on ecommerce analytics.  As a result, we’re always bringing new team members up to speed on what it means to be lean. My favorite way to educate them is through real-world examples.

Here are four of my favorite examples (from our team and others) of lean startups in action.

1. Faking A Move

To me, being lean is all about minimizing the ratio of resources consumed to insights gained. At RJMetrics, we did this to great effect when we were hiring our first employees. At that time, our company was based in Camden, NJ, and new applicants were few and far between. We suspected that our location was the reason for the talent shortage, but we had no way to prove that without making a really expensive bet and moving the business to nearby Philadelphia.

Just then, my co-founder Jake had a great idea: let’s just say we moved. We published an identical job posting but changed our address to a location in Downtown Philadelphia. The applicants started pouring in. We simultaneously started interviewing candidates and looking for new office space. We made our move literally one day before our first new employee started work.

Our Awesome Philly Office

I love this story for two reasons. First, had job applicants not increased we would have saved ourselves the trouble of moving with effectively zero downside. We then could have searched for more fundamental reasons that we weren’t getting applicants. Second, it saved us tons of time. By getting the answer to our question up-front, we were able to move and recruit in parallel rather than in sequence. I have no doubt that this accelerated our growth trajectory by months.

 

2. Actually Talking to Users

In the age of cookies, cheap storage, and abundant APIs, many companies have developed a strong bias against actually talking to their users.  Instead, they attempt to infer intent and sentiment from user actions.

While data can do a great job of telling us what is happening, it can often fall short on why it is happening.  Relying solely on data can also mask client frustrations.  Instead, from time to time companies should rely on a more time-honored tactic: asking what customers think.

Customer interviews are inexpensive, fast, and remove a lot of the interpretation risk associated with data-only strategies.  No matter how many numbers we crunch, we always learn something new when we ask our customers about their most and least favorite parts of our product.

 

3. Naming a Book

Tim Ferriss has a huge bag of tricks, but there is one that always sticks with me. When Ferriss was writing his book “The Four Hour Work Week,” he and his publishers were considering a number of potential titles. Rather than go with his gut, Ferriss devised a simple and brilliant strategy: buy Google Ads for each of the different potential titles, have them display when people were searching for content related to the book, and see what got people to click the most.

Users who clicked the ads would land on a blank page or “under construction” page.  All Tim needed to know was what moved people to click.

This inexpensive experiment allowed Ferriss to create an ad-hoc focus group consisting of thousands of ad viewers and learn which titles piqued their interest the most. Based on sales of The Four Hour Work Week, it’s quite clear that he made the right choice.   Ferriss shares this story in the video below.

4. Interactive Mock-Ups

Philadelphia entrepreneur Chris Cera recently turned me onto a really neat tool he uses called Axure. With Axure, you can to mock up interactive user interfaces without any backend coding. In other words, as long as testers follow pre-determined steps, they can get the impression that they’re interacting with a fully-built product.

Anyone who has done user experience work can appreciate why this is a brilliant and valuable tactic. An interactive mock UI/UX can answer huge up-front questions about how and when potential users would derive value from a product (or experience frustrations). With these questions answered, the development of the backend can be much more focused and deliberate, and there is far less risk associated with the final product’s release.