TBM 32/53: Beyond Generic KPIs

At Amplitude (my day job), our north star metric is the count of weekly learning users (WLUs). What is a learning user? Aha! That’s part of what this post will discuss.

I want to use WLUs to explain an important concept when it comes to picking and defining metrics.

Companies often talk about daily active users (DAU) and monthly active users (MAU). The ratio of DAU to MAU is the "proportion of monthly active users who engage with your product in a single day window." Looking at this ratio gives us a sense of repeat use. If the DAU/MAU ratio is favorable, we know something is working. But what?

Back to WLUs. Here is how we define WLUs at Amplitude:

# of Weekly Users who are active and share a learning that is consumed by at least 2 other people in the previous 7 days.

I'll assume you don't know much about Amplitude (to the chagrin of our marketing team). Imagine I tell you that we're involved in product analytics. I share our north star metric (WLUs) and the definition above. You immediately know Amplitude is:

  • Focused on learning

  • Focused on teams and collaboration

Could we use weekly active users or weekly querying users? Sure. Would that inspire the team, and help us understand if the general gist of our big product bet was landing? No.

We aren't a generic querying tool. In fact, a customer querying all day and not sharing an insight is a product fail of sorts. We want teams to be happier and more effective, not sitting around running endless queries. And we didn’t build our product for the siloed, genius analyst (we help them, but more because we help them offload questions so they can focus on higher leverage work).


There's nothing inherently wrong with "standard" KPIs and metrics. But using them in isolation or as a primary indicator of success/progress is a missed opportunity. Custom metrics connected to the humans getting value from your product -- and how they are getting value from your product -- are much more compelling. Our key product bet manifests in the metric, and that transparency is powerful.

There's another important point.

Weekly learning users is an idea—a set of assumption and beliefs. It is a concept that I can describe in plain English with no numbers. Say at Amplitude we learn new things about how customers learn and collaborate. We may very well change the definition of the metric. But the general idea remains. The focus on learning and collaboration remains.

The action item for this week. If you don't already use a custom, human-centered metric, consider what one would look like in your org. What is the story of your product? What would you call a customer successfully using the product in a way that is aligned with your product strategy? Give it a try.

Note: I wrote a free book about the North Star Framework. You can read it here.