Nir’s Note: In this guest post, Abhay Vardhan, discusses how to measure the strength of user habits with cohort analysis and retention rate. Abhay is a founder of Blippy.com and blogs at abhayv.com. Follow Abhay on Twitter @abhayvardhan.
Imagine an entrepreneur showed you the graph to the right for his new app called, “PinterestForDogs.”
You would think PinterestForDogs is doing quite well, right? Well, it depends.
A common mistake entrepreneurs make is to focus too much on user growth. Instead, it is often more important to ask: “Is the product creating a habit so users keep coming back?” and “How do we measure the strength of such a habit?” These questions are crucial because without establishing user habits, it is impossible to sustain a healthy user base. Eventually, all user acquisition channels saturate.
I learned this the hard way with our first product, a walkie-talkie app called blip.me that allowed users to record and share audio clips. Initially, we saw good viral growth as users invited others. User retention, however, was not so great; people were excited initially but dropped off within a few weeks. So how did it end? The app was downloaded by millions, but used by few.
Given the importance of establishing a user habit, how do we track it? In my experience, the best way to do this is by measuring retention rate through cohort analysis. Let us define these terms.
If you are an email subscriber, you will soon receive access to my new book titled, “Hooked: A Guide to Building Habit-Forming Technology.” I am working hard to have it to you by the end of the year.
In the meantime, I need your help. I am offering a first look to those interested in reading, editing, and providing suggestions for improvement.
In exchange for your time, your name will be listed in the book as a “Contributor” and in addition to receiving a free copy of the e-book, you will earn my sincere thanks.
If you are interested in being a contributor, please click here
NOTE: The Contributor Program will be open until December 12th, at which time I will be finishing the final draft and sending it to print. If you’d like to help, please hurry.
Last Workshops of the Year
Tickets are available to my “Hooked” workshops in San Francisco and Denver.
The workshop is a practical synthesis of what you’ve been reading here on my blog. It’s designed for anyone working on products they want to make more engaging and habit-forming.
San Francisco – Thursday, December 5 – http://hookedsfdec5.eventbrite.com/
Denver – Wednesday, December 18 – http://www.eventbrite.com/e/hooked-workshop-tickets-9485709011
IMPORTANT: Blog subscribers get 50% off the admission price using the discount code: “NirAndFarFriends”
A few minutes before his helicopter touched down in a covert military base just outside of Kabul, Afghanistan, Tommy Thompson reached for his secret weapon. He was about to meet with top Afghan officials and he needed to ensure he hit his mark. But Thompson’s mission to the war-torn region in 2004 did not involve delivering guns and bombs. As the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services, the diplomat was there to win hearts and minds.
To accomplish his directive, assigned to him by the President of the United States, Thompson relied upon information delivered at exactly the right time and place. Minutes before each meeting with dignitaries, he was handed a top-secret intelligence briefing.
The CIA-prepared binder contained the most vital, and at times trivial, information on who the Secretary was going to meet. A quick glance provided the context for the meeting, notes from previous encounters, and often times contained personal information.
“Speaking to Secretary Thompson after he read his briefing gave you the feeling you were the most important person in the world,” said Bhavin Shah, who traveled with Thompson to Afghanistan. “You understood that he cared about you enough to mention the things that were on your mind.”
Thanks to his dossier, Thompson was never without a piece of information, which when used in the right context, served to ease the conversation. His meetings were never awkward, he was never dull, and somehow, it always appeared the Secretary was, in Shah’s words, “conversationally refreshed.”
This article originally appeared in the Harvard Business Review
A friend called me heartbroken, crying. She had spent months looking for investors to fund her fledgling startup and now she had a big problem. Someone was ready to give her the money.
Trouble was, the cash came with a catch. The only investor willing to pony-up the money was someone she didn’t like. She also got the feeling he did not like her much either, and yet, he wanted to invest. “If he was involved, I have the feeling I would quit my company down the road,” she told me over the phone.
Time was running out, she needed the funds and with no other investor ready to commit, she feared she’d have to take the money from someone she couldn’t stand. The very thought made her sick in the stomach.
I felt for her and her dilemma piqued my curiosity. What differentiates a great early-stage investor from someone no entrepreneur wants to take money from unless they absolutely have to? I wanted to know what separated angel investors — those who add value to a company — from devil investors — those who destroy it.
Last month, famed investor and Sun Microsystems co-founder, Vinod Khosla, shocked a tech conference audience claiming, “… 95 percent of VCs add zero value. I would bet that 70-80 percent add negative value to a startup in their advising.” Can Khosla be right? Can investors be a liability rather than an asset?
Nir’s Note: This guest post comes from Brendan Kane who has built technology for MTV, Paramount, Taylor Swift, Rihanna, and the NHL. In this article, Brendan describes how he reprogramed the way he views the world using little more than his iPhone and iPad.
We all have the power to change our lives. I know this because I found ways to reprogram my inner circuitry and change my perspective of the world. A few simple steps inserted into my daily routine dramatically improved my life. Surprisingly, many of my new rituals were made possible using the technology I carry with me every day.
“Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones that do.”
I was trained to think small and seek comfort rather than risk. From an early age, many of us are told to think realistically and to leave the big audacious ideas to people with more experience and resources. But the truth is, as Steve Jobs said, ““Everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you.”
We are all born with the same basic brain hardware and though there are variations in intelligence between people, the differences are relatively minor and show little correlation with life outcomes. However, what does make a difference is how much we believe in ourselves and our capabilities. A much greater determinant of where we will end up in life is whether we have what Stanford researcher Carol Dweck calls a “fixed” or “growth mindset.”
Recently, I was asked by a friend why there have been so many guest posts on the blog lately. “What’s Nir been up to?” he asked. “Why aren’t you writing anymore?” The answer is, I am writing.
I’m working on two books at the moment. The first is a brief overview of my Hook Model, targeted at product managers, designers, and start-up folks. This e-book will be emailed to all blog subscribers by the end of the year.
The second book — still in early stages — is also about habit-forming technology, but is written in a narrative-style and targeted at a broader audience.
So while I’m feverishly plugging away at these two projects, I will publish occasional blog post of my own in addition to featuring select guest posts related to business, behavior and the brain. Feel free to suggest your own ideas for a guest post.
In other news, I’ve been teaching quite a bit lately. I once again taught the Hook Model at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business and Design Schools this fall and continue to host workshops across the country.
The three upcoming workshops below will be open to the public:
(Blog readers get 50% off using the discount code “NirAndFarFriends”)
I’ve starting an Angelist syndicate!
I’ve been angel investing for the past 5 years and am now pleased to offer others the opportunity to invest along with me. My thesis centers around businesses that do good for customers and their bottom line by forming — you guessed it – habits!
Nir’s Note: In this guest post, user experience designer Aaron Wilson, discusses a deep flaw of our digital devices and makes an audacious prediction about the future of consumer technology. Follow Aaron on Twitter @aarowilso.
No one wants to make a mistake like the one Clifford Stoll made in 1996. In the February issue of Newsweek Magazine, his now infamous article carried the headline, “The Internet? Bah!”
An “online database,” Stoll wrote, will never replace your daily newspaper. To futurists like Nicholas Negroponte who predicted that one day we’d buy books and newspapers “straight over the Internet,” Stoll responded flippantly, “Uh, sure.”
Clifford Stoll is not a stupid man. He has a Ph.D. in astronomy, was a system administrator at Berkeley Lab, and is considered by some to be the father of digital forensics.
Stoll has a wild Einsteinian head of grey hair that bounces as he jumps around a room. His voice has the inflection and excitement of a cartoon character and he hardly stays on topic for more than a few minutes. As he waves wildly in conversation you might catch a glimpse of the notes scribbled on his hands.
Attempting to predict the future, as Stoll did, is always a terrible idea. If you’re right, you won’t be completely right. And if you’re wrong, it will be blindingly obvious in retrospect. However, at the risk of “pulling a Stoll,” I feel compelled to share some visions of the future, in order to hopefully expand our thoughts on what we mean when we talk about technology.
Nir’s Note: In this last in a series of guest posts on the topic of technology habits, Jason Shah shares practical tips he used to regain control over his devices. Jason is a Product Manager at Yammer and blogs about user experience and technology at blog.jasonshah.org. You can follow him on Twitter @jasonyogeshshah.
“Not long ago, in a drug and alcohol rehabilitation center in Texas, a 17-year-old boy was weathering withdrawal at its worst. His body shuddered with convulsions. He hurled tables and chairs around the hospital.
Had he been hooked on heroin? Cocaine? Jim Beam? Joe Camel?
No, his psychologist said. The teenager had withdrawn cold turkey from the Internet.”
This account of a young man’s struggle with Internet withdrawal is from a 1996 New York Times article. Since then, the Internet has become even more pervasive and habit-forming.
The Internet has much in common with gambling: it’s compulsive; it’s compelling; it’s distracting. Many people find it hard to resist the Web’s grip. Affluent adults in the US spend more than 30 hours a week on the Internet — it’s almost a full-time job!
Indeed, much of the web’s appeal is hardwired in our DNA. Technology companies carefully hone their services to cater to our survival instincts. Over time, we have become conditioned to know where to look on the Internet for rewards, and in the spirit of survival, we return repeatedly to get as much as possible out of a reliable source of pleasure.
Nir’s Note: In this guest post, Sharbani Roy explores techniques she used to change her bad habits related to eating, sleeping and exercising. Sharbani blogs at sharbaniroy.com and you can follow her on twitter @Sharbani.
It’s 2 AM and you’re exhausted, but unable to sleep. You’ve been cycling through Facebook, email, and other online media for hours. You want to stop, but you can’t. This technology-induced insomnia will likely ruin your next day (or two) of productivity — and you’ve really achieved nothing according to your list of to-dos. Late-night surfing has become a bad habit you’d like to break, but just can’t figure out how.
Sound familiar? Let’s take a look at some data, narrated by my inner monologue.
Inner Monologue: “Wow, 12AM, I should get into bed.”
Lights turned off, head on pillow. Check.
Inner Monologue: “Hmm, I’m a little bored. I had those articles I was going to read…and I’m not that sleepy yet.” I reach for my phone. “I love you, smart phone.”
One article later.
Inner Monologue: “What a great article! I should share it.” Switch to Facebook news feed. “Oh, look at Amanda’s adorable baby!” Like. Scrolling down. “Ha! Teslas ARE awesome.” Continue scrolling. “Puppies and kittens AND a baby hedgehog all in one photo!?” Like. “Oh, I should send that Tesla pic to Aleks … and email her to catch-up.” Switch to Gmail. “Hmm, inbox full. I’ll just respond to two.” Mid-response, a new post from TechCrunch pops up. ” Oh, what’s this? Smartwatch?” Click.
Nir’s Note: This guest post by Avi Itzkovitch offers some clues as to why we can’t seem to put our cell phones down. Avi (@xgmedia) is an Independent User Experience Consultant. He is currently working from his Tel-Aviv Studio XG Media.
Do you constantly check your smartphone to see if you’ve received messages or notifications on Facebook? Does your phone distract you from your studies or work? Do your friends, parents, children, or spouse complain that you are not giving them enough attention because of your phone? You may be addicted.
The smartphone has become a constant companion. We carry it throughout the day and keep it by our bedside at night. We allow ourselves to be interrupted with messages from social media, emails and texts. We answer phone calls at times when it is not socially acceptable, and we put our immediate interactions with friends and family on hold when we hear that ring tone that tells us a message is arrived. Something fundamental in human behavior has changed: our sense of phone etiquette and propriety has caused us to get out of whack in our interactions with one another.
So why is it that we allow ourselves to be interrupted? Why do we feel it necessary to answer these calls? Maybe the addiction started long before cell phones even existed, with the advent of the phone itself. Albrecht Schmidt speculates in the Interaction Design Foundation Encyclopedia: