Tag / startup

Whenever I feel uncomfortable writing about a topic, that’s when I know I should write about it. So here goes. This article is about how a new way of designing apps changed my life. But to explain the power of this trend, I need to tell you about poop. That’s the uncomfortable part.

For the past five years or so, I’ve struggled with intestinal discomfort. (I’ll spare you the gory details.) I spent countless hours crawling the web searching for a possible diagnosis and tried dozens of different remedies and diets. Nothing seemed to help.

Finally, I saw a gastroenterologist. He listened for all of five minutes while I described my symptoms and quickly jotted down a prescription for antibiotics. They worked for a while but soon the symptoms returned. I went back to the doc. A few tests were done and more antibiotics were dolled out. But the problems came back. Then again. And again.

Addictive products: a hand raised for help from a phoneAddiction can be a difficult thing to see. From outward appearances, Dr. Zoe Chance looked fine. A professor at the Yale School of Management with a doctorate from Harvard, Chance’s pedigree made what she revealed in front of a crowded TEDx audience all the more shocking. “I’m coming clean today telling this story for the very first time in its raw ugly detail,” she said. “In March of 2012 … I purchased a device that would slowly begin to ruin my life.”

At Yale, Chance teaches a class to future executives eager to know the secrets of changing consumer behavior to benefit their brands. The class is titled “Mastering Influence and Persuasion,” but as her confession revealed, Chance was not immune from manipulation herself. What began as a research project soon turned into a mindless compulsion.

Devil investors are not angel investors

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.

Nir’s Note: This guest post is by Max Ogles, a writer and entrepreneur based in Utah. Connect with him on Twitter at @maxogles.

Spotlight Effect

In the beginning of 2010, when daily deals site Groupon was really hitting its stride and copycat businesses were popping up left and right, a small startup called Yipit was just getting off the ground. Yipit was involved in daily deals, too, but rather than creating the deals itself, Yipit simply aggregated the deals offered by the other companies to offer a nice tidy list in a daily email.

Like any startup, the Yipit team planned PR and marketing around their launch and hoped that the buzz would yield a nice base of users, who in turn would share with friends and create steady word-of-mouth growth. They managed to secure the spotlight from a major tech publication and then rode the wave. “After months of toiling away in obscurity, you feel like you’ve finally made it,” wrote Vinicius Vacanti, Yipit’s CEO, on his blog. “People know what you’re working on now. People all over the world are now using your product.”

Nir’s Note: In this guest post, Ryan Hoover takes a look at how new behaviors are shaping tech opportunities. Ryan blogs at ryanhoover.me and you can follow him on Twitter at rrhoover.

Nascent behaviors and business opportunities

Startups that build a product attached to nascent behaviors have an opportunity to form habits before anyone else. First mover advantage matters. Once a habit is formed, it’s difficult to change and often provides a sustained competitive advantage.

In order to mine for yet untapped opportunities, I began to observe my own behaviors and those of people around me:

How is my daily routine different than last year?

What new behaviors have I seen amongst my social circles (online and off)?

How are “normals” engaging with technology in new ways?

Here are some of the nascent behaviors I’ve observed:

Our brain seeks out social rewards, especially for our tribeWe are a species that depend on one another. Scientists theorize humans have specially adapted neurons that help us feel what others feel, providing evidence that we survive through our empathy for others. We’re meant to be part of a tribe and our brains seek out rewards that make us feel accepted, important, attractive, and included; all in the form of social rewards.

Many of our institutions and industries are built around this need for social reinforcement. From civic and religious groups to spectator sports, the need to feel social connectedness informs our values and drives much of how we spend our time. Communication technology in particular has given rise to a long history of companies that have provided better ways of delivering what I call, “rewards of the tribe.”

Hat rack for devices: don't use devices in meetingsThe first thing Don Draper does when he gets to his office is give his busty secretary a suggestive wink. The second thing he does is take off his fedora. Finally, depending on the severity of the previous night, he completes his morning routine with a stiff drink.

What can we learn from Don’s habits? First, that scotch and submissive secretaries always equal drama. But what of that fedora? There’s a lesson there too.

As any Mad Men fan knows, it was once popular for men to wear hats everywhere they went — except that is, when they stepped indoors. When a gentleman went inside, he removed his hat and placed it on the nearest rack. It was a required social norm, a sign you were ready for business.

There are 3 ways to get people to do things they don't want to doA reader recently asked me a pointed question: “I’ve read your work on creating user habits. It’s all well and good for getting people to do things, like using an app on their iPhone, but I’ve got a bigger problem. How do I get people to do things they don’t want to do?” Taken aback by the directness and potentially immoral implications of his question, my gut reaction was to say, “You can’t and shouldn’t!” To which his response was, “I have to; it’s my job.”

This gentleman, who asked that I not disclose his name, is the corporate equivalent of the guy the mob sends to break kneecaps if a worker doesn’t do as they’re told. For the past decade, he has run the same methodical process of cajoling, and at times threatening, people to do things they don’t want to do. “It’s really unfair and mean. I know it is,” he said. “But people have to comply or else people get hurt.”

Inauthentic messaging calls for helpWe are caught in an endless cycle of messaging hell and the pattern is always the same. First, a new communication system is born — take email or Facebook, for example. Ease-of-use helps the product gain wide adoption and reach a critical mass of users. And then things turn ugly.

Some crafty entrepreneur figures out how to exploit the system and starts building a business around it. He reaches millions of people and opens the floodgates to countless others who seek to emulate his methods. Inevitably, the messaging channel is deluged with crap, clogging the pipes of what was once an efficient mode of communication — again, email or Facebook.

Notification Noise

The latest messaging onslaught is hitting the notification systems on our smartphones. Those little red badges hovering over our app icons and urgent graphics along the top of our screens incessantly remind us of some task that needs doing. They crowd out real priorities with bits of tiny triviality. Notification spam has many up in arms, but the flood of distractions continues.

Variability keeps users engagedStep 1: Build an app. Step 2: Get users hooked to it. Step 3: Profit. It sounds simple and, given our umbilical ties to cell phones, social media, and email inboxes, it may even sound plausible. Recently, tech entrepreneurs and investors have started to look to psychology for ways to strike it rich by altering user behavior. Perhaps you’ve read essays on how to create habit-forming technology and figured you’d give it a shot?

Well hold your dogs Pavlov! Though I’m an advocate for understanding user behavior to build high-engagement products, the reality is that successfully creating long-term habits is exceptionally rare. Changing behavior requires not only an understanding of how to persuade users to act — for example, the first time they land on a webpage — but also necessitates getting them to behave differently for long periods of time, ideally for the rest of their lives.