SmugMug case study

SmugMug Accelerating decision-making

How SmugMug leverages BoostKPI for actionable insights, accelerated decision-making, and improved productivity


SmugMug is a paid image sharing, image hosting service, and online video platform on which users can upload photos and videos. The company also facilitates the sale of digital and print media for amateur and professional photographers. SmugMug also owns Flickr, a popular image hosting and video hosting service, as well as an online community.


Before adopting BoostKPI, SmugMug encountered several significant challenges in understanding and optimizing its subscription funnel, user retention, and financial discrepancies between subscription Annual Recurring Revenue (ARR) and the cash collected. These challenges stemmed from the complexity of correlating user actions with subscription outcomes, measuring account happiness, and accurately tracking financial performance. The specific problems included:

Ineffective Subscription Funnel Analysis: SmugMug struggled to understand how different user actions, such as the number of photos uploaded during a trial period, affected the likelihood of subscription and the chosen subscription tier. This lack of insight made it difficult to optimize the trial experience to improve conversion rates.
Poor User Retention Insights: The company lacked a clear understanding of how the frequency of photo uploads and other engagement metrics correlated with user retention. Without these insights, SmugMug could not effectively tailor its platform to increase account happiness and reduce churn.
Inefficiencies in Reconciling Financials: SmugMug faced challenges in reconciling the subscription ARR with the actual cash collected. This discrepancy made financial forecasting and budgeting difficult, impacting the company's strategic planning and operational efficiency.
Segmentation and Personalization Limitations: The inability to segment data analysis based on user state, device usage, plan type, and photography event type hindered SmugMug's ability to personalize marketing efforts and product development.
Lack of Proactive Alerts and Insights: Before BoostKPI, SmugMug did not have a system in place for receiving proactive, granular alerts or insights into KPI changes. This limitation meant that opportunities for optimization or the need to address emerging issues were often identified too late, leading to missed opportunities and reactive measures.


SmugMug uses Amazon Redshift as its data warehouse. All of the data from its native iOS and Android apps as well as its transactional database is pre-processed and joined and made available in Redshift. Redshift is one of the supported sources in BoostKPI. It takes just a few mins to connect Redshift to BoostKPI. After the initial connection, any dataset or group of datasets can be set up for analysis in BoostKPI.

BoostKPI used the data both for on-demand root cause analysis as well as for sending proactive, granular alerts. The Smugmug team can receive alerts on email as well as slack messages.

The BoostKPI Advantage

SmugMug uses BoostKPI for several use cases:

Understand the subscription funnel and correlate user actions (for example, the number of uploaded photos during trial) with subscriptions and the tier the user subscribes in.
Understand user retention. In particular, how does the frequency of photo uploads correlate with overall account happiness.
Understand the discrepancy between subscription ARR and the cash collected by the business.

All of this tracking is naturally segmented into the user's state, the device that the user uses, the plan type, type of event photographer, and a few other dimensions.

With BoostKPI, the SmugMug team is able to receive granular alerts on any KPI changes, along with their root causes. In addition, the team uses BoostKPI’s dashboard, every week, to look at changes in their onboarding funnel and how it is impacting subscriptions.

In one of those weekly reviews, the SmugMug team was surprised to learn that while the overall number of trial_started had not changed, the number of trial_started had shot up on the Android app. (BoostKPI’s heat-map feature showed the sudden jump; the chart below shows the underlying data.). Once the team observed this behavior, they were able to track it down to erroneous marketing spend on Android.

The SmugMug team also receives granular alerts, via email and slack. Some examples include:

Alert if weekly subscription revenue for any plan dips by more than 10% compared to the previous week.
Alert if user count for any plan and photographer type decreases by 10% compared to the previous week.
Alert if the time-aware primary key count does not equal the number of uniques.

These alerts have been extremely helpful to the team, saving them tens of hours a week, while ensuring that the ‘unknown unknowns’ don’t go unnoticed.


The integration of BoostKPI into SmugMug's operational framework has marked a significant turning point in how the company approaches data analysis, decision-making, and strategic planning. By leveraging Amazon Redshift for data warehousing and BoostKPI for advanced analytics, SmugMug has effectively addressed critical challenges in subscription funnel optimization, user retention, financial reconciliation, and personalized marketing efforts. The proactive alerts and granular insights provided by BoostKPI have not only saved the SmugMug team countless hours previously spent on manual data queries but have also unearthed valuable opportunities for optimization that were previously overlooked.

Jill Choi, Director of Product Management at SmugMug, says:

"Prior to BoostKPI, my team and I were spending hours every week running manual queries to keep a pulse on our business and ensure our KPIs were being met. In cases where the KPIs were not being met we were spending even more time doing discrete queries in order to nail down the root cause. It was literally like looking for needles in a haystack until we started using BoostKPI. Now BoostKPI's machine learning technology does a lot of that manual work for us and surfaces the biggest contributors and detractors to meeting our goals, enabling us to be more nimble in decision-making. With BoostKPI we are able to accelerate release/learn cycles and ultimately provide better products for our customers."