37: Suhail Doshi: How Mixpanel Delivers Value by Tracking Actions, Not Page Views
Anybody that’s got a website or app is probably gathering lots of data about their customers but wondering how to make sense of it all. In the old days it was all about counting page views but over the years this has led to inflated figures that are ultimately meaningless.
Imagine my surprise when I came across a start-up called Mixpanel. What caught my eye was them referring to something they called the BS metric. It was actually challenging these very figures that are meaningless, and they were looking at different ways of providing that hidden value behind all that data. So I reached out to Mixpanel CEO Suhail Doshi and invited him on the show.
Can you tell me more about yourself and your role at Mixpanel?
My name is Suhail Doshi, and I’m the co-founder and CEO at Mixpanel.
What exactly is Mixpanel and what services does it offer?
Mixpanel is a mobile analytics product. If you have an app, Mixpanel will help you understand how people are using that app.
I’m looking at your impressive client list that includes Uber, Air BnB, and so forth. Can you tell me how you got involved with these companies and how you help these heavyweights propel themselves forward?
Until 2009 most of the world was just interested in tracking page views because that was basically how you made money as a company. Most businesses would make money through ads, and the ad buyers would pay based on page views, so that became the most important metric on the internet.
Mixpanel took a very polarizing stance and said we’re not going to track page views because we don’t know if we can build a product or company that would add a whole lot more value if we did. So instead what we tried to do is track actions.
When you think about companies like Uber and Airbnb they have products that are much more engaging then your standard under construction, Geocities website that goes from page to page. These companies wanted to understand how people were using their products; they wanted an edge against the competition, and they wanted to understand their own products better than their competition. We got involved with these companies because a lot of them were building these tools internally just to be able to compete. When Mixpanel was created a lot of these companies just ended up using us because it’s not their core competency to have to build analytics in-house and what was available publically just wasn’t good enough.
Can you explain what you meant by the BS metric?
When we started our company, we noticed a lot of prospective customers expected things like sessions and page views. We started to notice the media celebrated those successes. I read an article about how LinkedIn had 250 million registered users. We thought just because 250 million people registered doesn’t mean 250 million use LinkedIn.
We started to think that a lot of those metrics used to measure business were BS. We just didn’t think it represented how successful those companies were.
How can nontechies answer questions about their own data with Mixpanel without technical knowledge or expertise?
What Mixpanel does is provides an easy way for people to not have to write SQL. They can just track the information and send it to Mixpanel, and we take care of the rest. We give them a very intuitive, easy to use, online form. They can answer advanced questions like, for example, “how many people came back five weeks later and requested a ride on Uber, between these ages, broken down by gender and just in the United States?” That’s a very deep question that provides a very powerful insight that makes it easy to go back to their team and say “look what I found”. That’s something that’s very difficult to do if you’re forced to write SQL and then forced to ask a data scientist and then get that information a week later because the data scientist has this huge back log.
Another problem is companies have been in a rush to capture as much data as possible. The problem with all this data is the sheer volume, which creates a lot of noise and makes it difficult to unlock the real value. How does Mixpanel separate the value from all the noise?
The utility of acquiring more data doesn’t really create lots of value. It’s about the variety, the kind of information that you get.
How is Mixpanel different from Google Analytics? Could you potentially use both products at the same time?
You can absolutely use Mixpanel and Google Analytics together, but there’s a difference between the two products. The thing that’s really different is Google Analytics tracks page views and Mixpanel tracks actions.
What’s next on the horizon for Mixpanel?
We should be releasing an Android app in the next month of two. We’ve already released our ios app. You can get that on the app store by searching Mixpanel.
What’s the best method to get in contact with Mixpanel?
If you’re an existing customer or have a problem as a customer, you should email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Otherwise, you can go to Twitter @mixpanel or website www.mixpanel.com.