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Measuring for growth: what SaaS can learn from mobile.

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By Robin Campbell

The following is a guest post by Robin Campbell. He leads marketing at Tapstream, where he helps app makers learn how to blow-up their userbases. You can catch him on Twitter.



As SaaS web companies we’re all interested in growth hacking. Getting to the next level, finding that 10% of effort that’s going to bring in 90% of the results and help us scale our businesses. Tapstream’s no different. We’re building a platform that helps app makers market their apps better. So let’s talk growth, but that’s enough SaaS for today.

When encountering something new or learning for the first time, sometimes the best method of explanation is indirect. A metaphor. A perspective to offset your consistent thought patterns and pop the bubble that may be holding you back from your own growth genius.

While chatting with Will, the CEO of Referral SaaSquatch, he said: “One of the hardest parts of growth for me is understanding what to measure, how to measure and what to do with the results.” Since 99% of us can relate, let’s talk about this, but let’s try focusing on mobile and see where it takes us.

First off, get into a growth state of mind

Noah Kagan is a growth machine. He’s worked at Facebook, Mint and built a great business with AppSumo. He suggests focusing 80% of your time on the stuff that’s working and 20% of your time on trying new things. Let that frame how you read the rest of this post.

Understanding what to measure

The trick to growth is to figure out what’s working. For mobile apps the key areas to keep track of are:

Acquisition – what marketing channels are your users coming through? Which are working the best?

Retention – are users sticking around 1, 3, 7, and 30 days after an install? How about 90?

Engagement – are users active and using features as expected? How can you improve that?

Revenue (lifetime value) – is your app putting money in the bank?

Weird. This doesn’t look too far off SaaS.

For each area above:

1) Identify the metric that matters most for your business,

2) Set a goal for how you want to improve it, and then

3) Come up with an experiment.

You can always change stuff later, don’t spend too much time thinking.

How to measure it

This is the easy part. Handfuls of services exist to help you measure both mobile and SaaS marketing. Jump on a call with some of them and ask the tough questions to find out which can really serve YOUR needs.

Here’s what some of your goals might look like:

Acquisition – discover top 3 sources of new users, check if those users are good quality (based on your goals). If so, scale these channels. The more (qualified) traffic you can drive to the top of your funnel the better. For apps, Tapstream is a great way to find out what’s working. For SaaS, try KISSmetrics.

Retention – improve onboarding process to reduce churn that’s happening right after sign-up.

Once someone signs-up, make their life great with a smooth onboarding experience. Try implementing Intercom to improve your onboarding. It’s incredible. We’re huge fans.

Engagement – what features are people using most? Least? More importantly, decide what your most valuable user behaviours are and find ways to encourage them. Connect sign-ups and in-app behaviours to where the user came from – something called marketing attribution.

You may find that users coming from a certain source tend to carry out desired behaviours more than others. Try Mixpanel.

Revenue is tied closely to your customer acquisition. Keep tabs on how much it costs to acquire a customer through each marketing channel you use and how much that customer is worth to you, their lifetime value. Find winning channels and double-down. Look for a service that tracks lifetime value. The good ones will.

What to do with the results

Don’t over complicate it. Know your goals, measure the key metrics for each area of your business – acquisition, retention, engagement, revenue – and assign a team member to be responsible for its improvement. If you have a small team work together on one for a week or so and then move on to the next, and cycle through them.

In general, focus on metrics that are related to revenue. Think conversion rates, not just clicks. Spend 80% of your time on stuff that’s working and 20% exploring new paths.

The most important thing is consistent effort towards improvement. Make today better than yesterday.

A quick note on why case studies suck

Case studies prove the usefulness of a tool, service or approach – just look at how it worked for Company A! What they can’t prove is that carrying out step A, B, C is always going to lead to result X. Because it won’t.

Diving deep into tactics, the specifics, isn’t necessary or important. Overlying strategy is.


Everyone comes up with their own way of executing for their case, but that’s not helpful to you. Take inspiration from formidable examples of growth, but copying tactics is a waste of time. Just aim your efforts in the right direction and the tactics will follow from experimentation. Best practices are dead. RIP.

Your turn

The way app businesses and SaaS businesses approach measurement and growth aren’t so different. Start by focusing on the weakest pieces of your business that will give you 10x growth or more. Jump on a few calls to find out which services will be the best fit for you and start making decisions based on data.

Daily improvement is the key. Keep at it.

If you ever want to get in touch we’re @TapstreamApp on Twitter.

Best of luck!