Data, Analytics, & Finding Your OKM: Mixpanel Goes Beyond Page Views

7/11/12Follow @wroush

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how quickly Mixpanel’s graph-rendering package was doing its job for various users. The news was good: for most customers, graphs were showing up in less than a second. But the report was interactive, allowing Doshi to segment the analysis to his heart’s content. “If I want, I can view a distribution of response times where the time is less than one second, the browser is Chrome, and the user is from the U.S.,” he says. “These are incredibly sophisticated things that Kissmetrics, Omniture, and Coremetrics cannot do.”

The other thing that sets Mixpanel apart from its competitors in analytics, according to Doshi, is that its tools can parse incoming data points in real time—or as close to it as you can get. If a Path user shares a moment, in other words, it will show up on Path’s internal dashboards almost immediately. Omniture users have to wait 3 to 24 hours for data like that, Doshi says—and it’s not just building the reports, but querying them, that can be time-consuming. “Our metric is three seconds,” he says. “When you change the behavior of analytics like that to make it real time, customers start exploring their data a lot more than they used to. They don’t feel like they are going to get penalized if they ask the wrong question and then have to wait another day for the result.”

To make Mixpanel so fast, Doshi and his engineers had to throw out off-the-shelf database tools and write their own. He says the company started out using MySQL and Cassandra, an open source distributed database program first developed at Facebook, but abandoned them because they were too hard to modify. In mid-2011 the company switched to its own data store; it’s called Arb, short for arbitrary. “It can do pretty much do any kind of analysis we need it to. It’s the big reason a lot of our customers use Mixpanel.”

A Mixpanel funnel analysis report

Recently, the company has been sharpening its focus on individual users. So-called “funnel analysis” has long been one of the tricks its database can perform, meaning it can track whether a user completed all the steps in a procedure—say, picking a username, inputting a password, uploading a profile photo, and connecting with friends when joining a social network. But recently the company launched “Mixpanel People,” a new menu of options that lets customers tie analytics data to specific users and compare behavior across groups of similar users. Such capabilities are also available from services like Performable (now part of HubSpot), but it made sense for Mixpanel to add them, since customers were already collecting so much demographic data in the form the properties associated with each event data point. Doshi calls the people feature “the next evolution of our product line.”

As for the startup’s business model, it’s simple: customers pay by the data point. An early-stage startup with a few thousand users might generate 500,000 data points a month, at a cost of $150; enterprises might generate up to 20 million data points at a cost of $2,000 per month. Doshi says that Mixpanel tracks more than 6 billion data points per month overall. The company has been cash flow positive throughout 2012, and it’s got “massive deals with two companies in the Fortune 100 list” in the works, Doshi says. Another new customer offers a mobile game that’s “one quarter the size of Angry Birds,” he says.

Of course, it’s one thing to measure the performance of your app or website, and something else entirely to change or improve it. Mixpanel can’t actively help with that part. But if you don’t have One Key Metric—or, to be more realistic, Half a Dozen Key Metrics—you won’t even know if you’re making progress. Plus, there’s just something cool about data and dashboards, which provide at least the illusion of knowledge and control. “Analytics is the only objective way to determine whether you are growing, whether people care about what you’ve built, and how you can improve what you’re doing,” says Doshi. “Otherwise, it’s all just intuition.”

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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