Online video platform vzaar set up shop in London back in 2007, providing businesses with a solution for managing and publishing videos online. In 2012 they expanded to North America and today they serve customers in 75 countries, streaming to viewers across the globe.
Adrian Sevitz, CTO at vzaar, told us how Geckoboard gets everyone involved in the company and how clear communication reduces friction.
Tell us about vzaar and what you do.
Vzaar started about seven years ago as a video provider for eBay sellers, allowing eBay sellers to use video through the API. About five or six years ago we pivoted slightly and opened our doors to all business sellers. Now we provide video hosting for businesses of all shapes and sizes. We have clients from eLearning, publishing, eCommerce as well as the eBay community. Since then the rest of our business has grown. I was actually the first employee, and as the CTO my job is to head up the product division and our tech team and control the architecture.
Where’s your Geckoboard?
Initially we used it just on our local machines. Everyone works on laptops in vzaar using external monitors, so a lot of people would run Geckoboard on their laptop monitor and their main work on their main screen. But part of what I wanted around Geckoboard was for everyone to feel the company. If the numbers are doing well and we’re growing, everyone should feel positive reinforcement from that. And if the numbers aren't hitting their targets I want everyone to be aware and to feel that, too. We bought a couple of raspberry pies, repurposed some monitors, and put it up right in the kitchen next to the microwave and the kettle. Whenever someone is making a cup of tea or getting lunch, they're looking at the monitor. It's really had a positive impact on our culture when everybody knows the company's KPIs all the time. Ideally I'd like to buy six or seven more monitors and have more and more boards.
What metrics do you track?
When we first started using Geckoboard, we just used your normal plugins. But today we’ve done a lot of custom work using pie charts. We track metrics where the growth of the company is. We've got a new set of graphs that segment, so now we can track the kind of users we're getting today, which differs from the kind of users we were getting four years ago.
It really helps everyone in the company feel like they know what's going on with the company rather than it being abstract numbers. I’ve found that a graph of change has a lot of impact, as opposed to just a number.
Today we code our own widgets, and we don't use a lot of the Geckoboard plugins anymore or builtin widgets. But it's nice to have highcharts in Geckoboard handle the display of everything, and we just export feeds. We’ve probably spent a fair amount of development time coding new graphs for our Geckoboard to help us understand the growth side of the business.
So you mostly pull in your own data in custom widgets?
We do, yes but it’s not me driving it. Sometimes it's our chairman, who had an idea or wanted to track some stuff, and sometimes it comes from the tech team. For example, we had a bug in the system that processed log files, and we didn't notice it for a day or two. We were able to easily rectify that. But after that, the tech team built a chart that displayed the processing of those log files, so now you can quite easily see if the chart suddenly crashes to zero in the middle of a day, and it allows us to know exactly on what's going on.
In the past we’ve been bad at following up on projects and knowing whether they were a success or not. What we do now is that whenever we make a change we pair that with a Geckoboard chart. For example, the sales and marketing team had a theory about making a change to the system that would change the split between two different user types in a certain area. We created a chart that factored that split in a 100% line chart, normalising it to 100%. Now we need only take a look at the chart to see the impact our change made. When we launched our update the split between those two segments was 12.9% to 87%, today it’s 20% to 79%. We can easily see that we were correct in our theory, and here’s the proof of it. If those charts haven’t changed we would see that we were incorrect in our theory, and we would go back to the drawing board. So it’s very good at getting feedback on here’s an idea by the marketing team, the sales team, the tech team...
How do you choose your metrics?
Some of it comes from having used Geckoboard for a while and some of it is from experience. Some of it comes from the stuff we keep doing manually every day, and we simply say, ‘Well, why don't we put that on a Geckoboard?’ We started off with some of the default widgets and then we realised that certain metrics for us aren't that important and just by
plugging in to what’s there, we weren't really getting what we wanted out of it. We started taking off a lot of the default things that you could integrate with the normal Geckoboard widgets and started building custom ones, and that was more significant than just using the plugins.
What kind of impact does Geckoboard have on your company?
Reducing the space and time between a change in the business and the entire team being aware of it gets the everyone more involved in the company. If we have a big credit card problem and a lot of credit cards bounce, the whole team feels the pain because they can see the graph of that happening. But equally, if we hit our best bandwidth day in the last 90 days, everyone on the team feels great about it. So instead of one person putting up those stats and sending it around to the office, everyone sees it all the time, and because people see it all the time, they discuss it, and because people discuss it they feel more involved. They also think of ideas to solve problems they see or to reproduce successes they see. I think, as I'm sure you guys talk about as a business, reducing friction and pain points between you and your customer base make impact. So reducing friction between members of my team and what's going on in the business makes the business more successful.
How would you tell a business who’s new to being data-driven to go about choosing their metrics?
I would start with one or two key business metrics - number of users, revenue, amount of bandwidth streamed, pictures uploaded - a business metric you feel is meaningful to your business. I think it’s quite important to use a coding layer. It’s a bit more work than just plugging it in directly, but it gives you more meaningful numbers to look at. Whether it's every day or every week or every month, graph the history and have a few graphs that show the change over time. Seeing the change over time, plus what's happening today, gives you two very strong lenses to view the business through. I think it really helps everyone in the company feel they know what's going on with the company rather than it being abstract numbers. I found a graph of change has a lot of impact, as opposed to just a number.
Find out more about vzaar by visiting their website.