By Chris Yuska

October 13th, 2015

Is your project failing?

It can be difficult to know if your project is really failing or not, especially early on. A week with zero or one new users can be frustrating, but it's not the end of the world. If your project is free to its users, continuing can be even harder to justify as you don't have any growing bank account to use as a sanity check. I've met a few people lately that aren't sure if they should keep working on their project, so I wanted to share the super-simple metric we use to designate current success in a project. This metric isn't original by any means, but it's useful enough to reiterate to those unfamiliar with it. Are you ready?


That's it. OK, it's a little more complicated, but not by much. Technically, I'm referring to 10% user growth per week. This is your target. Less can be OK too (as I'll demonstrate below), but you should shoot for 10% more users every week. Two minor notes here:

  • 10% user growth per week refers to active users. These are users that are using your product and then continuing to come back.
  • 10% is an average. Bad weeks are OK, although probably not a good trend. The general idea is to keep the total number of active users growing.

So what does 10% mean when you're just getting started? Let's say you start and convince 10 of your friends to use your project. A 10% growth rate for the next week means 1 new user that you need to acquire. Not too bad, right? You could spend several hours that week reaching out to people and probably get at least one person to sign up. That puts you at 11 users now. How about the next week? A 10% increase on 11 people is still roughly 1 person, so keep doing the same. Soon, you'll be shooting for 2 new users per week, and then 3, and on and on. Here's a graph of what that growth looks like if you do that over the next two years:

Total active users at 10% growth rate per week

10% user growth chart

This is pretty incredible to look at. Think about it. Just a 10% growth results in over 1,400 users after your first year. If you continue that growth for a second year, you'll have over 180,000 users! Compounding growth is awesome!

But what if you don't have 10%? Maybe you can only achieve just 5%. That's OK. The graphs will have a similar curve, but you'll notice this one has a considerably slower growth rate:

Total active users at 5% growth rate per week

5% user growth chart

It's not as impressive, but it's still an achievement. 1,500 active users after just 2 years can still be a success depending on your project.

You might be thinking, "I can't possibly reach out to so many people every week." That's true. Within a year, at 10% growth, you'd be personally acquiring over 100 users every week. That's not exactly practical. The general thought process here is that some fraction of your active users will become evangelists for your product. If they're continuing to come back and use your product, then some will eventually tell their friends, their coworkers, etc. Do this manual work of obtaining users until it's no longer manageable. By that point, your growth should start to take off on its own.

If your average growth rate is less than 5% for much longer than a few weeks, you may want to reevaluate things. Take a look at how you're marketing your product. Get feedback from the users you do have. Reconsider the audience you're trying to reach. Otherwise, keep shooting for that 10%.

Have a better metric for success? Let me know in the comments below.