April 22, 2013

Habit Startups


In case you haven’t noticed, habits are a big deal, becoming increasingly important in technology products and in many cases, a necessity to compete.

Many of today’s most successful consumer products are designed to become a habit, re-engaging users without prompt. Just consider how often you checked Twitter, email, or calendar each day.

So how does one build a habit-forming product? Well to start, habits do not form overnight and changing user behaviors is extremely difficult.

The easiest way to become a habit is to attach to an existing behavior.

An Anecdote

Twitter has long since been a part of my daily routine (just hit my 5 year anniversary!). As an active reader of blogs and online content, I regularly share articles I find interesting with my followers. And this is where Buffer shines.

For those not familiar, Buffer is a beautifully simple app for posting to multiple social networks, including Twitter. Buffer’s unique value add is its ability to schedule tweets, the primary purpose why I use it and the reason why I’m hooked.

By attaching to a pre-existing behavior - tweeting articles - Buffer has inserted itself within my daily workflow to become a habit. I now use the service at least 10 times per day.

Habit Startups are Behavior-Focused

Similar to the thin edge of the wedge strategy in which startups laser-focus on a specific niche or use case within the market, Habit Startups design a product using an existing behavior as leverage.

Products designed for a pre-existing, specific behavior bear lower cognitive overhead and increase likeliness of adoption as users recognize how the product will fit into their existing routine.

The Habit Double Jump

I started using Buffer in November, 2012. For the first few months, I continued to tweet the same volume of articles that I normally have for several years. Over time as the service implanted itself into my mental model (“Oh! Interesting article. I’ll ‘buffer’ that!”), I began to use it frequently, sharing more articles to Twitter. I now tweet 3x more than I did before.

Like Sonic’s physics-defying double jump, Habit Startups use the momentum of existing habits to amplify and sometimes create entirely new behaviors. Habit-forming products demonstrate high levels of engagement and retention.

Habit Startups Don’t Need to be “10x Better”

It’s often said that startups need to build a product 10x better than incumbents to succeed. While I agree in many cases, Habit Startups are an exception.

As a huge fan and regular user of Buffer, even I won’t claim that it is 10x better than other social network sharing apps like TweetDeck or Hootsuite. Buffer competes in the market by supporting an existing behavior to become the best solution for that specific use case.

The beauty of Habit Startups is that it doesn’t take a radical step-function in innovation to engage users as they are built off of things people already do.

Building a Habit Startup

In part two of this series, I will provide examples of successful Habit Startups and actionable steps for building habit-forming products.

If you would like to be notified when this is published, please subscribe to my email list. You will also receive a FREE digital copy of the upcoming book, Hooked (due 2013), written by habit researcher and blogger, Nir Eyal in collaboration with myself.

P.S. I’d love to connect on Twitter (@rrhoover)!


Note: this was originally published to Medium on 4/22/2013.

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