October 30, 2013

Is Your Product Too Engaging?

This week I met with Hsu Ken Ooi to chat about his new project, a “Tinder for startup professionals,” called CoffeeMe. Having just opened in San Francisco, Hsu Ken spent his afternoon manually approving applicants to nurture a high-quality, relevant early adopter community. After logging in with LinkedIn and being approved, users browse through profiles of entrepreneurs, designers, hackers, product managers, and other startup folk one at a time.

CoffeeMe is beautifully simple as evident by its minimal aesthetic. This isn’t just a design decision but a byproduct of Hsu Ken’s limited resources and recognition of the importance of early user feedback. The initial reception has been incredibly positive. Maybe too good. The product first launched in Seattle a few months ago, resulting in hundreds of introductions generated from an average of 34 yes/no choices per user. The serendipitous outcome of these face-to-face meetings may not play out until months in the future but Hsu Ken informed me two of his early users met through the service and are now co-founding a company together.

But CoffeeMe has a problem. The product is too engaging.

When users first join the service, they begin browsing a fresh list of CoffeeMe profiles. Some eager users may quickly exhaust this list of potential matches within a few visits, leaving little incentive to return until more users join. This is a common problem in many dating and social products but CoffeeMe has an even bigger, more unique challenge: too many introductions. It’s not uncommon for users - especially the most influential and therefore desired - to return to the site to find numerous invitations to meet. Great, right? Not really. Who has time to meet a dozen people for coffee?

So how can Hsu Ken address this high-class problem? We discussed taking a cue from freemium gaming and restricting engagement.

High engagement is a bad thing if there isn’t enough content to satiate users’ appetite. Successful games like Candy Crush or Clash of Clans limit playtime to avoid burnout and extend lifetime engagement. Without this restriction, players may finish the game within a few days. Limiting session lengths gives game developers time to create new levels, weapons, and other content just in time to maintain healthy growth and engagement while improving the product based on actual user feedback. This also happens to be a fantastic monetization and virality mechanism as game creators charge or ask players to invite their friends to skip the wait.

CoffeeMe’s challenge illustrates the importance of a deep understanding of the user narrative at all stages of the funnel. We often focus on the first time user experience (FTUX) but the second, third, fourth, and 100th experience needs thorough thought.

CoffeeMe is a serendipity machine, enabling people to connect using the most personal and intimate medium: face-to-face. Having made several amazing connections over coffee myself, I’m excited to see the product and community develop. If you’re in San Francisco or Seattle, sign up and tell Hsu Ken I sent you. :)

Interested in startups and product design? Subscribe to my blog to receive a free copy of the upcoming book, Hooked, written by habit design researcher, Nir Eyal in collaboration with myself. Also, connect with me on Twitter (@rrhoover).

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