May 16, 2013

Building a Habit Startup

This is a follow-up to my essay, Habit Startups.

To recap, Habit Startups design a product using an existing behavior as leverage. Many of today’s most successful consumer products are designed around a specific behavior to attract users, attach to existing routines, and provide value.

But how does one build a Habit Startup?

Opportunities lie within nascent behaviors; emerging behaviors that no one else sees.

An interface change, cultural shift, or unexpected use of an existing product can lead to new behaviors.

Identifying these behaviors early is the key. Once users form a habit and association with an existing product, it is difficult to replace. As Boromir stated in Lord of the Rings, “one does not simply walk into Mordor.” And neither do startups competing against incumbents that have already formed habits through these budding behaviors.

Here are a few examples of Habit Startups that have capitalized on nascent behaviors:

  • Zynga - Facebook is a part of millions of users’ routine as they visit the site multiple times per day to interact with friends. Pincus saw an opportunity to insert games within this growing trend, using Facebook’s communication channels for distribution and re-engagement.
  • Sunrise - Schedules are by definition a daily routine and for many, becoming increasingly more difficult to manage as invites are scattered across multiple channels (e.g. Gmail, Facebook). Sunrise entered the market to make this just a little better. It doesn’t do anything extraordinary (yet) but its simple yet elegant improvements to a frequent activity (viewing and managing ones schedule) has driven its success.
  • Instagram - As smartphone adoption increased and mainstream audiences became equipped with an always-accessible camera, more consumers began capturing and sharing photos. Instagram identified this increasing behavior and built a product to make photography more beautiful and easier to share.
  • Foodspotting - Foodspotting observed foodies continuously snapping and sharing pictures of their meals so they created a product to do exactly that. For many, Foodspotting is as routine as their eating habits, as the delivery of a delicious meal becomes a queue to use the service.
  • TalkTo - Many people, especially “digital natives”, hate talking on the phone, preferring the brief, asynchronous communication of text messaging. TalkTo extends this behavior beyond communication with friends and family to businesses. Rather than calling a restaurant to book a reservation or a retail store to see if they have something is in stock, users simply send a text message and TalkTo does the heavy lifting, replying via text 5 minutes later.

In retrospect, these behaviors and the tactics used by these startups may seem obvious but at the time, they are not. It takes an insight, a prediction.

Those that build a product to attach to nascent behaviors have an opportunity to form a habit and association before anyone else. This lead can make all the difference in success or failure.

In the next essay of this series, I’ll share some examples of nascent behaviors I’ve identified BUT I’d love your input! What nascent behaviors do you see? Let me know on Twitter (@rrhoover) or drop me an email.

P.S. if you’d like to be notified when the next essay is published, sign up for my email list. In addition, I’ll send you a FREE copy of the upcoming book, Hooked, by habit-design researcher and blogger, Nir Eyal, in collaboration with myself. :)

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