I posted this on our company-internal blog at Travis CI to share progress on goals I’ve set myself over the past couple of months with my team.
They include some reflection on our development as a business and on what I got done and what I didn’t manage to finish.
I figured I might as well publish these here as a public commitment to improving and to give some more insight as to how our company works.
Transparency and openness are some of the goals we aim for, and this fits in well with these ideals.
For the last three months, starting 1. September 2014, I had set myself three bigger goals to focus on for the following three months, ending on 30. November.
The goals were:
- Set up our new office and move in with the Berlin team
- Improve our customer onboarding process
- Reduce customer churn by 0,5%
Part of setting goals is to have an honest retrospective on what got done and why something may not have gotten done, and what can be learned from that. That’s the purpose of this post, to look at the goals, what motivated them, what I got done and where I failed and why.
Another thing about goals is that, while they give something bigger to work towards, their purpose doesn’t have to be a finished result, but improvements. If a goal helps improve something, it’s been worth setting, whether you’ve reached the specific target or not. It’s not an excuse to set goals and not work towards them, but a guideline to help set and evaluate them.
During our offsite the topic of a new office in Berlin came up. We quickly found a great space and signed a lease starting in September.
The process of getting it up and running has been slow, to say the least. We installed a kitchen, commissioned custom table tops for standing desks, but it took two months to install even a basic set of furniture, leaving the office empty and not usable at that time.
In October we got internet, a kitchen, and meeting room furniture. In November, the couch arrived, more desk frames and the remaining custom table tops.
While I was able to start working from our office by late November, it wasn’t nearly ready for everyone on the Berlin team to work in.
Why has this goal not been met? I was travelling for two weeks in October, and I was preparing and giving a total of 8 talks in October and November, which took away a lot of time I could’ve devoted to the office.
By the first week, there’s a full set of desks at the office, kitchen seating and a few monitors, so it’s a close call, and progress has been made regardless of not reaching the finish line.
Looking back, we should’ve hired someone to manage the whole interior and getting everything set up and installed. Even then, it would’ve helped to be around and help make decisions.
In response to the excessive travel and time required for all those talks, I’ve also decided to go on a conference talk hiatus in 2015.
Improve our customer onboarding process
The idea was to improve our product’s onboarding process to make it easier for our customers to get started, send better lifecycle emails, find ways to proactively reach out to customers struggling to get their builds set up.
I didn’t get any idea implemented that I had on this over the last three months.
Why has this goal not been met? Mostly due to travels and conferences, I didn’t have enough time to focus on it.
I also realized that this is not a task for one person, it’s a product concern, which needs to be scheduled into the bigger plan for our teams to plan and implement. That needs to happen in a team that devotes time and resources towards this goal together.
Reduce churn by 0.5%
By the beginning of September, our churn was at 2.9%, according to Baremetrics. It went up and down since then, going up to 3.4% in late September, down to 2.75% in late October, now going back up to 3.5%.
There were a few things I got done that were related to this goal:
- Allow resubscribing expired subscriptions. This wasn’t possible before, so customers either didn’t renew them when their credit card expired, or they had to email us to do it for them.
- Add more people (admins in the organization) to the email that’s send out when a credit card charge has failed. Churn is more than just people cancelling, it’s also subscriptions expiring because of failed charges.
- Visit customers in San Francisco. I met with 20 different companies while I was over there. While that has little direct impact on churn, it can help build a longer term relationship with customers, effectively increasing their lifetime value.
What had I planned beyond these things?
- Add an upsell to our annual plans to the invoice emails.
- Send an end-of-the-year email to advertise upgrading to the annual plan.
While the annual plans don’t necessarily help to decrease churn, they can increase customer lifetime value and retention due to their annual nature.
The fluctuation in the churn, and it being higher now than it was in September suggest that this goal hasn’t been met.
What I did get done makes sense regardless of this goal, though, as it can help in the longer term.
The fluctuation, at least over this short time frame, also suggests that maybe this is our normal churn and the pattern of it, and maybe churn is only one part that can be focused on. There’s also lifetime value and monthly recurring revenue, which can be focused on.
Other things play into churn as well, making the current number a bit wonky, like our billing code creating duplicate customer entries in Stripe when a charge or something with the initial setup of the customer record failed.
Over the last three months, our MRR grew by 13.2%, whereas lifetime value is down 10.6%. Lifetime value is tied to churn, but there are other parameters to increase it, including improving your product, subscription plan upgrades, annual upsells, or changing your price structure.
For this month, I’d still like to focus on at least adding an annual plan upsell to our invoices, as the end of the year is a good opportunity to get some tax write-off for our customers with added expenses while helping increase their lifetime value for us.
What are my next goals?
My current time frame runs until February 16, when I’ll go on an extended leave. Until then, I’d like to focus on two things:
Build a dedicated customer support team
The motivation behind it has been discussed in a previous post. The goal is to help us define a hiring process, learn more about what it means to hire for diversity and what helps us find the right candidates.
Become a better manager
Given how little experience I have, my assumption right now is that I’m bad at what I do, and that I need to actively work on getting better. Over the past couple of months I’ve been reading a lot of books on how other companies are being lead.
But moving forward, I’m going to rely on outside experience to help in getting better in what I do or want to do. This is a long term goal, and one that’s hard to measure, but it helps me guide in what kind of work I focus on.
I’m starting to work with a management/leadership coach in December to help move forward with this goal.