To Succeed, Growth Hacking Has To Focus More On Product Development Than Marketing

Next Story

Editor’s note: Justin Caldbeck is a partner at Lightspeed Venture Partners and invests primarily in the Internet and mobile sectors with a focus on social media, e-commerce and enterprise software. Follow him on Twitter @caldbeckj.

I can’t think of a buzzier phrase in the tech industry these days than “growth hacking,” and in some ways I also can’t think of a more dangerous trend to glom onto. Sure, growth is good. But only if it’s real growth.

If it’s a marketing campaign that goes viral and wins you a bunch of one-time “users,” it can actually do more harm than good. If it’s a product that is growing through spammy unsolicited social “sharing,” the growth numbers will massively misrepresent the health of the business. The really great growth hackers out there — people like Andy Johns, who helped Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Quora all reach record user numbers — understand that it’s not just about getting as many users as possible, but about helping to get the product experience right and ultimately amassing as large a user base as possible. Those are two very different things.

Take what happened with Formspring as an example. In 2010, the Q&A site experienced the fastest growth of any site ever (as its top brass were quick to point out on Twitter when TechCrunch awarded that honor to Pinterest last year). But within a year that growth had trailed off and eventually the site traffic/usage began to decline. Why? Because of its integration with social media sites, Formspring was able to generate rapid growth, but once visitors had taken a look at the site once or twice, they realized that there was very little value in the underlying product and, as a result, the vast majority of “users” that touched the site didn’t ever come back or engage in a meaningful way.

I am starting to fear that Zynga is destined to be another such example: They did well early on by leveraging very aggressive viral marketing techniques and combining them with what was, at the time, cutting edge in-game monetization. However, it appears to me that the company has lacked something that I always look for as an investor: Product Soul. By that I mean a founder’s vision for the products he or she wants the company to create, a strong belief in the product’s ability to change the lives of its users for the better, and an unrelenting focus on making those products great and easy to use.

rocket2For Zynga, this has never been the case. The focus on growth and lack of true product innovation (the company has largely been one that has created knock-offs of other games) has resulted in a company that appears to lack real direction and whose relevance has largely faded over the past year.

Social video app Viddy is an even better examples. It was jockeying with Socialcam and others to be “the Instagram of video” in early 2012 and its growth appeared to be exceptional. From May 2011 to March 2012, the company registered 10 million users, and by May 2012 it had 30 million. By December 2012, it had 40 million registered, but only 675,000 monthly users.

In a six-month span the company’s growth plummeted 95 percent, not just because Facebook cracked down on spammy apps that required users to install them in order to view content, but because the underlying product didn’t resonate with consumers from an ongoing usage standpoint. As a result, tens of millions of users had “tried” Viddy and were left with an underwhelming experience. As any good entrepreneur will tell you, it’s much harder to acquire a user a second time after a bad product experience than it is to acquire them the first time.

There’s no inherent problem with growth hacking, of course. Growth is great and ultimately can be a big driver of enterprise value. The problem is that right now, far too many entrepreneurs are focused more on that than they are on what I believe to be the most important thing of all and, ultimately a more successful driver of sustained growth: When a user touches a product, do they love it? Do they come back and use it again? And, overall, do they have a good experience with it?

I recently had an entrepreneur that I really respect talk to me about the fact that he was considering hiring a growth hacker. They have a strong team, a great company mission and are the early leaders in a large addressable market with a product that is attempting to solve a major pain point for a set of users. But they have a growth problem. Why? First, their early growth has been driven by marketing spend as opposed to organic growth. And second, the vast majority of users who have tried the product aren’t engaging with it on an ongoing basis (even though the product is designed for repeat usage).

Those are two key issues for me, and ones I don’t think a growth hacker can fix. When evaluating the “quality of growth” early on in a company, I look for companies that are growing largely through organic channels (in other words, 85 to 90 percent or more of growth is being driven by free channels). That sort of growth tends to mean that users are choosing to tell others about how great a product is. I also look at a company’s engagement metrics over time to see if users are trying a product or service out once and leaving, or if they’re choosing to engage with the product over and over again.

Given what I heard from this entrepreneur, I strongly suggested that he improve both word-of-mouth endorsements and user engagement before trying to accelerate growth. Once the product is growing organically, and users are voluntarily engaging with it on an ongoing basis, then, sure, by all means hire a growth hacker to help ramp things up.

rocket3The problem right now is that many companies seem to be operating under the total misconception that growth fixes all. That leads them to bring on self-proclaimed “growth hackers” who rapidly acquire more customers through spammy viral techniques, but when those customers don’t engage, or — worse — have bad experiences and tell their friends about it, that growth curve crashes. By that point your growth hacker is on to his or her next gig, and you’re left with what you had to begin with: a product that either hasn’t found its audience yet or hasn’t yet given people a reason to engage with it.

So if you’re thinking about hiring a growth hacker, find someone who’s a great product person and who really knows user experience and understands user value, not just someone who knows all the tricks to ratcheting up your growth curve.

Starbucks CEO Sticks Out His Neck for Innovation

The Wall Street Journal reports that Chief Executive Howard Schultz expands his role in innovation and digital retailing. It is part of a shuffling of senior executives aimed largely at adjusting to technology-driven shifts in its industry.

A Starbucks press release states “Schultz will expand his focus on innovation in coffee, tea and the Starbucks Experience as well as next generation retailing and payments initiatives in the areas of digital, mobile, card, loyalty and e-commerce to position Starbucks for its next wave of global growth”.

In the last ten years Starbucks grew their number of stores from 7,200 in 2003 to 19,700 in over 60 countries: a phenomenal growth. And, as the French say ‘Noblesse Oblige’. So Starbucks must lead their business in an consumer industry that’s changing fast the coming years.

I think it’s great Starbucks CEO takes a more explicit active role in leading innovation for three reasons:

  1. Being explicitly involved as CEO, he puts innovation really on the map in the internal organization as one of their top priorities, leading by example.
  2. Being explicitly involved as CEO, he will ensure that all the necessary resources will be made made available within the company to ideate, experiment, facilitate and implement new innovations.
  3. Being explicitly involved as CEO, he implicitly increases the success rate of innovation because I am sure Mr. Schulz wants to prevent his failure.

Not all CEO’s are fond of innovation. A lot of them in reality wait until not innovating is not an option anymore. Although this is so human, it is also very frustrating when you as an innovative employee wants to move your company forward. I like to quote the CEO of BMW AG, the German luxury car producer, Dr.-Ing. Norbert Reithofer. When asked why BMW started the risky E-car project with the BMWi-3 and i-8 he responded very honest: “Because doing nothing was even a bigger risk” [Autoweek 41-2013].

The CEO of Starbucks sticks out his neck for innovation. He is an example in entrepreneurship for other CEOs.

Is your CEO also sticking his/her neck out for innovation?


To read more from Gijs on LinkedIn, please click the FOLLOW button above or below.

If you like this article; you will like:

How to Structure the Chaotic Start of Innovation?

Companies Frustrate Innovative Employees

Five Key Questions to Break Old Patterns

Gijs van Wulfen recently published : “The Innovation Expedition” You can order it at or Photo: courtesy of Starbucks.






Posted by:Gijs V.

Three Simple Steps to Brand Differentiations: an Open Letter to CEOs

A new year calls for a fresh start—it presents an opportunity for CEOs like you to evaluate your brands, and reinvigorate how they are differentiated. Per usual, social media channels are cluttered with advice for 2014, and full of jargon and the latest marketing trends and buzzwords. But the most effective, time-tested approach to true brand differentiation is actually simple—and if you follow it, you will position your company for years of success. It requires that you do three things.

1. Define the purpose

As a CEO, you play a pivotal role in defining your brand’s purpose and ensuring that it is infused through all ranks of the business. Asking the fundamental question “why do we do what we do?” provides you with a platform of a higher order that can drive long-term brand differentiation. Ultimately, a well-defined purpose sits at the intersection of what the company excels at, the moral imperative of its mission, and the business model.

Greg Brown at Motorola expertly articulated this standout purpose: “helping people be their best in the moments that matter.” He recognized that defining that distinct purpose was the starting point for his company’s success.

2. Be the brand

Your job is not finished once the purpose is defined—you have to live it. Every decision you make must be consistent with the defined purpose—from management practices and strategic business acquisitions, to new product development and partnerships. This means learning to say “no” to any decision that is not in-line with the brand purpose, no matter how profitable it may seem in the short-term.

Amazon’s Jeff Bezos is a primary example of living his brand’s purpose—to be the earth’s most customer-centric company. His laser focus on providing a wide selection of products, at low cost, with fast delivery has guided the company’s product innovation and feature sets. The newest Kindle tablet includes a “Mayday” button that when pressed connects a user to a customer support specialist, for real-time trouble-shooting, 24 hours a day.

Bezos’s recent purchase of the Washington Post (a personal investment not linked to Amazon) was guided by a desire to instill that same customer centricity in the culture of the publication: “Our touchstone will be readers, understanding what they care about…and working backwards from there,” he wrote to Post employees. Beyond his role at, it is clear that Bezos lives the purpose on which he continues to run that $70+ billion business.

3. Unleash your employees

Armed with a clear purpose, your employees will be happier, more productive, and represent the organization in a way that consistently reflects the brand. But they can’t do this unless you let them—leaving room for short-term bumps in the road and creating a culture that supports them. You have to be brave—unleashing employees requires that you trust them to live your company’s purpose.

The leadership at the Ritz-Carlton, for example, allows employees to spend up to $2,000 (per incident) to improve a guest’s experience, handle a complaint, or fix a problem without approval from a manager. This policy requires deep trust in front-line employees, and belief that the company’s Gold Standards are deeply instilled in every one of them. It is a clear demonstration that all employees are empowered—and resourced—to carry out the brand purpose every day.

Experience the difference

The approach is simple, but the process isn’t easy. You must be able to define a clear and compelling brand purpose, model it, and trust your employees to do the same. By following these practical steps, you will not only differentiate your brand, but set a powerful model for true and lasting leadership. And that is how truly great companies are built and make a difference for years to come.

Written by

The Complete Quantitative Guide To Judging Your Startup

Next Story

Raising capital from investors is often a frustrating experience. While part of that frustration will always be present when working on high-risk projects, a lot of the aggravation comes from the lack of clear signposts that allow founders to judge their company’s performance. The reality is, most founders only ever hear a “yes” or a “no” from a venture capitalist, without a lucid understanding of the factors that influenced that decision.

There have been fantastic essays written about the fundraising process itself, such as Paul Graham’s guide posted last year. This post is not a guide to fundraising, but rather a look behind the curtain from my own experience as a venture investor at most of the quantitative metrics that are analyzed when judging an early-stage startup.

These metrics fall into five groups: financial, user, acquisition, sales, and marketing. While the statistics are important, the relevant weight any one metric will hold in a VC’s decision will depend on the type of startup, as well as the VC’s own opinion about which metrics matter and which do not.

When possible, I give guideposts on how to judge a particular value. These are from my own experience analyzing and engaging several hundred startups over the past two years, and all of my personal biases are certainly present. As with any guidelines in the venture business, companies break rules and expectations all the time.

Financial Metrics

Finances are crucial for any startup, and some companies are indeed funded by venture capitalists simply for having a great balance sheet and statement of cash flows. While this post could be a tutorial on the principles of accounting, I want to zoom in on a handful of key metrics.

Monthly Revenue Growth

Take the current month’s revenue, subtract last month’s revenue, and then divide by last month’s revenue.

One surprise for me is that this number is used more by founders than venture capitalists. The reason is that it shows proportion without magnitude, and magnitude matters a lot because a startup’s revenue is a major determinant on what the growth rate can be. If you made $20 last month, you need to increase that to $30 to get a 50 percent growth rate. That might be a single customer. But if you have a $10 million per month revenue business, reaching the same growth is significantly more challenging.

While VCs don’t use this metric as heavily as the next one we will discuss, some guideposts are still helpful. A growth rate of 40 percent per month is very good. A growth rate below 40 percent can be considered good if you can convince an investor that additional capital placed in sales and marketing will drive the growth rate higher.

Revenue Run Rate

Take the revenues recognized in the most recent month and multiply by 12.

shutterstock_163179656-300aVCs often talk about the current revenue run rate as well as the projected run rate in 12 months. So they will say something like “The company is currently at a $2 million run rate, but will be $10 million by the end of the year.” These numbers are often preferred, since they solve the magnitude problem.

Furthermore, almost all startups at the early stage are going to have to raise further capital. So when evaluating a startup, VCs are thinking about where the business has to be in 18–24 months when the next fundraise will happen. Getting a sense of the projected revenue run rate allows us to surmise whether series B or C growth investors are likely to be interested in a company. Thus, great performance is a revenue run rate that allows the next fundraise to happen. To get that number, reach out to investors and other founders until you have a good handle on the trajectory needed for your company.


Gross margin is calculated as total revenue minus the “cost of goods sold” divided by the revenue. Net margin is similar, except we also subtract the total expenses of the business as well (except for taxes and a handful of other accounting line items).

Margins are important because they show the ability of your startup to spend venture capital and get significant return. There are pretty bright guidelines on what your margins should be given an industry. For example, cloud storage and services companies can reach margins in the 90s, SAAS companies and other software businesses tend to be in the 70s, and hardware companies often struggle to get above 40 percent. Again, research your space until you know exactly what this metric should look like for your particular business.

One additional consideration is margin compression. Margins become tighter when competition is greater, so successful businesses must develop defenses against new entrants who might force a company’s margins lower. I personally have seen dozens of startups fail to receive funding because they could not articulate a strategy to avoid margin compression.

Burn Rate and Runway

This is the operating loss per month. To calculate runway, take the amount of available capital and divide by the monthly burn rate to get the number of months until your start-up runs out of cash.

These numbers show the efficiency of a business, the timeline for fundraising, and the need for capital. While startups are often run quite cheaply until their first fundraise, VCs will want to understand how you will increase your expenses to grow the business more quickly with any new infusion of capital. Lest anyone get the wrong impression, most investors expect their entire investment to be spent within 18–30 months. So if you’re asking for a fundraise of $10 million, but your monthly burn rate is $100,000, you must develop a very clear plan on how the burn rate is going to increase, and how that will propel the growth of the business.

User Metrics

Users are the lifeblood of any company, and therefore, VCs assiduously analyze everything about a startup’s users. Some user metrics are well-known, including daily active users (DAUs) and monthly active users (MAUs). I am actually going to skip those and instead will focus on a couple of other metrics that provide keen insight into a startup’s quality.


Choose a time frame, such as one week. Take the number of users at the beginning of the week as a base. Now, track all invites that these users make to other people (for example, using an “Invite Your Friends” link). Aggregate the number of new users entering through this channel and then calculate the ratio of new users to old users and add 1. So, if you start with 1,000 users, and they bring on board 200 new users, we have a ratio of .2 + 1 (our base population) and that leads to a k-value of 1.2.

The k-value is a measure of virality, and is borrowed from epidemiological studies of disease progression. This number is exponential, and defines the magnitude of the user growth rate by word of mouth (as opposed to paid acquisition). For social media startups, this is often the only metric that matters (the other is retention).

Thankfully, there are some clear guidelines for performance. A value less than 1 means that the population is dying and will cease to exist. A value of 1 means that the population is stable. A value of 1.2 is strong, and a value of over 1.4 means incredible growth.

If you start with 1,000 users and have a k-value of 1.2 per week, after 30 weeks you will have about 200,000 users. But if you have a k-value of 1.4, you will have more than 17 million users within the same period. Growing at such a speed usually doesn’t last long, since old users are not as likely as new ones to bring additional users to the product (they already invited everyone!). However, some companies like Facebook and Snapchat have exhibited extremely high growth like this for an extended period of time, so it is certainly possible.

Proportion of Mobile Traffic

Take the number of visits from mobile and divide by the total number of visits to your product.

This is a simple ratio, but an important one in a world where more and more of our time is spent on mobile. Nearly every company that targets consumers and talks to an investor today will have to discuss their mobile strategy. Data today shows that people are potentially spending a majority of their computer usage on mobile devices. Engaging such users is crucial today.

Cohort Analysis and Churn

Take all of the users who joined a product in a given time frame (usually a week). Then calculate how many of these users engaged with the product over every successive week. Churn is slightly different and is calculated by taking the number of users who leave and dividing by the number of total users (regardless of start time).

Cohort analysis is a metric by which we see the decay in user engagement. Users leave even the most sticky products for any number of reasons. For instance, small and medium businesses may leave your product because they are shutting down operation. VCs really like to see cohort-analysis tables, because they give us a perspective on when users are leaving the platform.

First-week retention is probably the most immediately interesting number. For social media, 80 percent one-week churn is very high, 40 percent is good, and only 20 percent is phenomenal. For paid products like SaaS, churn and other conversion metrics tend to make more impact here rather than pure cohort analysis. SaaS churn in the low single digits (1–3 percent) is strong.

Seasonality can be an important component to elucidating cohort analysis. Education startups often see their users return at the beginning of the school year as people think through their software choices. Be sure your story includes all facets of your cohort analysis.


User Acquisition and Marketing Metrics

We know that users are important for a business, but they don’t often walk right through the door. Instead, companies have to exert significant resources to get users to sign up and potentially pay for the product they are selling. Thus, these metrics go to the core of a business model and its sustainability.

Cost of Acquiring a Customer and Payback

Take the amount spent on all forms of user acquisition (search engine marketing, content marketing, public relations, etc.) and divide by the number of new users within a given period. Thus, if we spent a total of $100,000 acquiring users, and we have 100 new users, we just paid $1000 per user (fully-blended).

This is the bread-and-butter of almost all subscription companies, but also applies to most other startups. While the fully blended number is interesting, it doesn’t give a venture capitalist a lot of information about the channels that users are joining from. Therefore, we often split this into paid and free channels.

Free acquisition is what it sounds like – someone started using a product without seeing an advertisement, perhaps through word of mouth, or maybe reading about it in the press. In contrast, paid acquisition is generally synonymous with advertising. If you spend $60 on Google AdWords and get one customer, you had a CAC of $60. We often express the number of free versus paid acquisitions as a ratio, since this can show if the growth of the user base is primarily organic.

There are a lot of signposts for CAC, almost all of them dependent on the type of business. In general, the higher the ARPU – average revenue per user – the higher the cost of acquiring a customer can be. In social media, this number needs to be as low as possible (and can be near zero if growth is purely viral). In e-commerce, great CAC prices are around $30–$60 per user. Acquisition prices above that are not uncommon, but they do require more diligence. Prices above $200 are pretty rare in successful online businesses. Then again, financial services often have CACs in the upper hundreds, so, as always, there are exceptions.

Another way to judge whether the CAC is reasonable is to calculate the payback time for a new user. In e-commerce, this is generally measured as the number of orders that need to be purchased to cover the cost of acquiring a customer. If the number of orders is one, that is fantastic – it means the customer is immediately profitable. For advertising-driven and freemium subscription startups, payback times of 3–6 months are good, and anything more than 18 months is likely going to be very hard to swallow.

Net Promoter Score

Run a survey among your customers asking how likely it is that they will recommend (i.e. promote) your product to other people on a 1 to 10 scale. Promoters are those who give an answer of 9 or 10, and detractors are those that respond with a 1 or 2. Calculate the proportion of both groups as a total of the survey population. The net promoter score is the proportion of promoters minus the proportion of detractors. Thus, if 50 percent of your customers are promoters and 10 percent are detractors, your net score is 40.

This is one of my favorite metrics. It shows how satisfied your customers are with your product and your overall experience. NPSs of 50 are considered excellent, and companies like Amazon and Google generally hover around such numbers. However, scores as high as 80 or even 90 are possible. Businesses that inculcate such fervency in its customers are highly valuable, and should raise capital easily.

Sales Metrics

So you want to have a company that has actual, flesh-and-blood customers? If so, then you are going to have to build sales channels to efficiently build revenue. These metrics are helpful ways to judge the success of those efforts.

Magic Number

Take the net growth of subscription revenue over two quarters, multiply by 4, and then divide by the total spend on sales and marketing. So if in Q1 we had $200,000 in subscription revenue, and in Q2 we have $400,000, and we spent $300,000 in sales and marketing in Q1, we would have $400,000-$200,000, which is $200,000 net growth, multiplying by 4, we have $800,000, and dividing by our expenses, we have a ratio of 2.66.

This is arguably the best-named metric here, and a favorite of Scale Venture Partners, which popularized it. Essentially what this metric calculates is our return on investment of spending a dollar on sales and marketing. For each dollar we spend, we get the magic number back in additional revenue. A magic number above 1 means that a company has found a way to scale sales and marketing to build sustainable profit growth. A number below 1 isn’t necessarily terrible, but it also means that the company is not scaling as efficiently as other companies.

Basket Size and Order Velocity

The average sales price (ASP) is the price of a typical order. Order velocity is the time it takes for a customer to make a repeat purchase.

For e-commerce businesses, these are among the most important metrics to calculate. ASP often drives the rest of a startup’s fundamentals, and so like run rate, acts as a clustering algorithm to quickly assess a startup’s business model for VCs. A high ASP generally means wealthier customers, fewer repeat purchases, more flexibility on the cost of acquiring a customer, etc. Order velocity also is influenced by ASP.

For instance, Uber is a low ASP, high-velocity e-commerce business, whereas One Kings Lane tends toward a high ASP but low-velocity business. There is no “best” answer regarding these metrics, but generally, the lower the ASP, the higher the velocity of sales needs to be to compensate.

Average Sales Cycle

Take the date that a customer is first contacted, and then the date that they make their first purchase. The difference is the sales cycle. Average across all customers.

Like ASP, the average sales cycle often determines a lot of the fundamentals of a startup’s business, and therefore tells us about how to think about a company rather than its performance. We tend to use average sales cycle for enterprise and subscription sales, whereas we use order velocity for e-commerce and other repeatable purchases. Sales to government and education institutions generally have the longest cycles, possibly two years or even longer. Sales to Fortune 500 businesses are shorter, generally 6–18 months depending on the product (for instance, software is easier to purchase than storage infrastructure). Converting a customer in a freemium model can take 18 months or more, but generally a cycle below one year is good.

Long Term Value

This is the total value of a customer over the life of that customer’s relationship with the company.

This metric is really well-known, so I won’t cover it in-depth. It works hand-in-hand with churn, since the length of the relationship is inversely proportional to the churn. Calculating this value tends to be really hard, and getting to a number that is actually comparable across companies is challenging. VCs often have to substitute more objective metrics like ASP to get to values that are more easily measurable. Nonetheless, this number is crucially important, particularly as a company scales for the long-term.

Chasing Money

Market Metrics

Startups are competing for the limited time and resources of customers. Understanding the size of a market and its composition is the final metric analysis, but also a key one, since it determines the potential ceiling in value for a company.

Total Addressable Market

This is the total amount of money spent in a startup’s defined space.

While incredibly important, there is a huge amount of fuzziness in any sort of market analysis. Startups may want to define themselves a certain way, and venture capitalists may have an entirely different market in mind when they analyze a startup.

Generally speaking, markets greater than $1 billion are good, and any market definition that uses the word “trillion” is likely to get a laugh from a venture capitalist. Often, describing the TAM is more an opportunity for a founder to demonstrate an understanding of their startup’s market than it is about actually getting a quantitative figure.

Average Wallet Size

This is a key metric for a lot of businesses, particularly enterprise companies. Average wallet size is the total amount that a single customer can spend in a given period of time for a category of services (i.e. its budget). This metric is important because it gives a sense of the financial capabilities of your customers, and it allows a VC to judge how expensive your product is relative to a customer’s appetite.

This number cuts both ways. Startups that charge a small amount compared to the average wallet size are just as risky as those that charge a very high proportion of the wallet size as their product’s price. You don’t generally want to be insignificant, nor do you want to be so large that you knock out an entire budget.


This essay is a crash course in the metrics used in the quantitative analysis of startups by early-stage investors. As I said before, every investor has their own approach, and every startup is unique. Guidelines here are general, and more specialized information from your specific space is always the most important benchmark by which to judge your startup’s performance.

I would like to leave with one important observation, and that is that one metric tends to drive the curiosity of a venture capitalist more than a complete set of decent ones. An incredible k-value by a social media company, an extremely short sales cycle in the Fortune 500, and an incredibly high net promoter score in e-commerce are just some examples of how a single metric can be the defining story of your company.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, quantitative metrics are informative about various dimensions of a startup’s performance, but they are not conclusive proof of the worth of a startup. Dazzling products with superb design, strong teams, unique markets, and other areas are just as vital to the success of a business. Outstanding metrics are probably necessary to successfully fundraise (particularly today), but they are not usually sufficient to guarantee an outcome. Great companies are built from greatness, both quantitative and qualitative.

[Images via Shutterstock]

Introducing the HTML5 Table API

The Alternative to CSS grids we’ve all been waiting for

The problem with modern web design

Since the introduction of the world wide web, designing websites with robust and flexible layouts has confounded developers. Overtime, using divs to size and position content elements became a common practice. While this works, it’s more of hack that is not without its issues. For instance:

  • divs are semantically meaningless
  • requires the use complicated C.S.S (California Style Sheet) properties
  • they are not inherently responsive
  • they incur a huge performance impact, especially on mobile devices
  • there are many issues with “crawlability” of content contained with in a div delement
  • jQuery, a library with a large carbon footprint, is needed to add content to DIVs

HTML 5 Tables

While browsing W3Schools (the best resource for all developers, expert or novice) I happened upon a newly approved API (Automatic Programming Interface) called ‘tables’. But I know what you’re thinking. I’m not going to use an experimental API feature on my blog. True, but here’s the crazy thing: Microsoft has patched all its old browsers (IE 5.5+) to support the new table API. So they are fairly safe to use. (Although the API might change unexpectedly in the future)

The Basics

An HTML table consists of 3 parts. The table element, which is the root; tr, which represents a table row, and tc, or table column. An easy way to remember this is table stands for “table”, tr stands for “table row”, and tc stands for “table column”

If you’ve used a DIV based css grid (DBCG) before, you might be familiar with this. The Table API was probably modeled after this so that developers would be instantly familiar with the new API.

So what’s the difference? In DBCG’s, tables, rows and columns are all represented using the div element (hence the name). This is a big no-no. As it completely destroys the informational hierarchy of your content. People who do this are called Anti-Semantics.

With tables, the divs are replaced by their properly semantic cousins. And the C.S.S is built right into the browser. Theres nothing more for you to do.

An Example

Below I will take you through an extremely simple, yet power, table sample.

    <h2>row 1</h2>
    <td>left column</td>
    <td>middle column</td>
    <td>right column</td>
   <h2>row 1</h2>
   <td>left column</td>
   <td>middle column</td>
   <td>right column</td>

And the Result:

There is absolutely no CSS styling involved there and this flows & resizes properly, works cross browser, and most importantly, it looks beautiful.

“It can’t be that easy”

Tables aren’t without their own drawbacks however. For instance, they can be extremely complicated to set up initially. That’s why I’ve built Tablr, an HTML 5 Table template bootstrap. From there you can completely customize your own Table and download the source for use in non-profit projects. (Commercial and Corporate Volume licenses also available)

The answer we’ve been praying for

I really believe in Tables. They are exactly what web developers have been asking for for years now. Finally Microsoft has listened and given us a new tool for creating sophisticated websites. Thank you, Flying Spaghetti Monster.

“The Future of the web has passed” — Nicholas Ortenzio

Nicholas Ortenzio is a software developer & olympic hoverboarder

Further Reading

XBox One vs PS4 definitive showdown

 — The top 4 ways to click bait your Medium article

4 more Javascript hacks to make your javascript faster

 — fast like a shark in a car

Written by

Published in

  • Go to CSS Perverts

    CSS Perverts

    The most important articles about code and technology you’ll ever read.