Nir’s Note: Lyle McKeany is an entrepreneur writing and working on an early-stage startup. In this essay, he shares his experience using lean startup methodologies with my Hook Model at the Lean Startup Machine conference. This article also appears today on Pando Daily. Follow Lyle on Twitter @lylemckeany.
The conventional view of lean startup ideation methodology is to identify a problem, test your riskiest assumption with a certain success criterion, talk to potential customers before coming up with a solution. Then pivot or persevere until you validate a solution. But it turns out that this conventional view isn’t always the appropriate approach. Here’s how my experience at a Lean Startup Machine(LSM) event in San Francisco earlier this month proves it.
The Lean startup movement is not hurting for attention these days. There are plenty of advocates who write and speak about it almost daily, some of them even make their living doing so. According to Wikipedia,
As of 2012, there are lean startup meetups in over 100 cities and 17 countries as well as an online discussion forum with over 5500 members.
And I’m sure those numbers have grown considerably throughout 2013 since the popularity of Lean Startup certainly hasn’t wained.
My lean startup experience
LSM is a roller coaster of an event. I’ve attended two of them, one in March in Mountain View and one in December in San Francisco. They are three days of long hours, getting out of the building to talk with strangers, and deep thinking about the problem you’re trying to solve.
The event starts with an introductory speech and then attendees can pitch their ideas to the crowd in order to attempt to assemble a team to work on it for the weekend. I pitched my mobile app idea for bands and fans at both LSM events, although the idea was admittedly not very fully formed in my mind at the event in March. The fact that people start by pitching an initial idea is odd considering the emphasis LSM has on not getting hung up on an idea/solution and instead focusing on a problem you think needs solving. More on this in a bit below.
The introductory speaker at the event in December was Trevor Owens. He’s the original founder of LSM, which he started after he saw the value of using lean principles to create a Vespa rental business. In his talk, he spoke about pivoting, the oft-mentioned buzzword these days. He explained,
PayPal, for example, started as mobile payments on a Palm Pilot. Groupon started as an online petition website. YouTube started as an online dating site. Flickr started as an online social game. Odeo pivoted from a podcasting website into Twitter. And Instagram started as a location-based social network that was competing with Foursquare.
All of the examples he provided have one thing in common: not one of them started by using the Lean Startup ideation principles Trevor teaches at LSM. All of them built a potential “solution” right off the bat and some of them raised lots of VC money before they ever made the decision to pivot. Moreover, they all followed the traditional Lean Startup mantra of build-measure-learn, that is build first then measure and learn.
Most technology companies start with an initial idea in mind. That idea often times solves a problem the founders have themselves, a problem they’re passionate about, or a problem they have expertise in. I’m sure every single founder from the examples given by Trevor were passionate about their idea before they even started building it. From that initial idea, they then built what they believed to be a viable solution and thus began the build-measure-learn feedback loop that eventually informed their decision to pivot.
LSM teaches upside validation techniques, meaning they teach entrepreneurs to continually test if it makes sense to continue on their current path or pivot. As Andreas Klinger explained in his thought-provoking blog post Why Lean Startup sucks for startups,
Startups are not about validating you do the right thing. Startups are about validating you are not doing the wrong thing. It sounds very similar but it is fundamentally different. Validating every step to get more certainty makes sense for some – eg. people who work in enterprises. But not for normal startups.
After two LSM attempts, I’ve come to the conclusion that my idea is incredibly hard to properly test during the course of a weekend. Since the market is double-sided (bands and their fans) and the product involves network effects, it is difficult to test given the time constraints of LSM and without at least a prototype of the product. On both occasions I compromised on the original idea and went down paths that were less interesting to me, but at least made it possible to go through the exercise.
By Sunday, the final day of LSM, I was starting to feel pretty down about my idea. Maybe it’s not worth pursuing. Maybe I’m crazy to keep working on it. Maybe I should just try something else.
So you’re saying there’s a chance
That’s when Nir Eyal gave a presentation called Hooked and restored my faith in the potential of my idea. I’ve been a reader of Nir’s blog, Nir and Far, for awhile now and have always enjoyed his insights, so I was looking forward to his talk.
He first clarified the difference between a product that is considered a vitamin (nice to have) or a painkiller (addresses a burning need) by asking the audience if they thought Facebook was a vitamin or painkiller. Nearly the whole crowd, myself included, raised their hand when he said vitamin. However, he argued that Facebook is a painkiller that addresses the burning need to not feel alone.
He then went on to outline a framework he calls the “Hook Model” for creating habit-forming technology products. It has helped me think through the experience as a potential user of the app I seek to build.
The phases of the Hook Model are easily remembered with a clever acronym, ATARI:
A hook contains contains four parts:
Triggers can be both external (FB, Twitter, WOM) and internal (bored, lonely, unsure). Actions are the actions a user takes to interact with the product (scrolling on Pinterest, searching on Google, playing a video on YouTube). Rewards scratch the itches initiated by the triggers and come in three forms: tribe (search for social rewards), hunt (search for resources), and self (search for self-achievement). And finally, investments load the next trigger of the hook and improve the product with use (followers and following on Twitter, reputation on Airbnb, data in Mint). Products that drive users through all four phases, and with high frequency, stand a better chance of becoming a habit and successful business.
In the end, I don’t feel either LSM event validated or invalidated my idea. However, I learned a ton and had a great time putting myself out there and meeting new people. On a side note, I was shocked that throughout both events only one stranger in San Francisco didn’t stop to answer my questions; I learned people are more than willing to take a few moments out of their day to talk.
Even though it didn’t work exactly like I hoped it would, I still recommend attending LSM since it forces you to think hard about the problem you’re trying to solve. There’s no doubt that Lean Startup principles are valuable and have become popular for good reason. My fear is that when used during ideation the techniques taught at LSM and echoed by Lean Startup advocates are steering some entrepreneurs away from ideas that might have the potential to lead them on a path to building the next great company of our time.
Top Consumer Psychology Articles
- The One Fitness App That Hooked Me For Good
- Here’s How Fortnite ‘Hooked’ Millions
- How Apps Can Shape Your Future Self
- How Netflix’s Customer Obsession Created a Customer Obsession
- Want to Design User Behavior? Pass the ‘Regret Test’ First
- How to Trigger Product Usage that Sticks
- How to Get People to Help Each Other, Online and Off
- Here’s How Amazon’s Alexa Hooks You
- How to Use Psychology to Make Persuasive Video
- How to Use Personality Science to Drive Online Conversions
- The Unbelievable Future of Habit-Forming Technology
- The Secret Marketing Power of Evolutionary Psychology
- Don’t Ask People What They Want, Watch What They Do
- How Cognitive Biases Can Help (and Hurt) Your Business
- What Most People Don’t Know About Behavioral Design
- How to Start a Career in Behavioral Design
- Your World is Full of Placebo Buttons (and That’s a Good Thing)
- How to Build Technology that Feels Like a Friend
- 3 Pillars of the Most Successful Tech Products
- Here’s How to Ethically Manipulate Other People
- How Two Companies Hooked Customers On Products They Rarely Use
- How to Hook Users in 3 Steps: An Intro to Habit Testing
- Die Dashboards, Die! Why Conversations Will Reinvent Software
- The Secret to Sending Emails and Notifications That Work
- How to Win Your Competition’s Customers
- Hooked for Good: How Habit-Forming Products Improve Lives
- Good Products Start With Good Questions
- Human + A.I. = Your Digital Future
- Why ‘Assistant-As-App’ Might Be the Next Big Tech Trend
- People Don’t Want Something Truly New, They Want the Familiar Done Differently.
- 4 Ways to Win Your Competitor’s Customer Habits (Slides)
- Here’s Why You’ll Hate the Apple Watch (and the Important Business Lesson You Need to Know)
- The Secret Psychology of Snapchat
- The Psychology of Notifications: How to Send Triggers that Work
- How Technology Tricks You Into Tipping More
- The Limits of Loyalty: When Habits Change, You’re Toast
- 4 Ways to Use Psychology to Win Your Competition’s Customers
- The Real Reason “Stupid” Startups Raise So Much Money
- The Psychology Behind Why We Can’t Stop Messaging
- The Psychology of a Billion-Dollar Enterprise App: Why is Slack so Habit-Forming?
- Framing Reward is as Important as Reward Itself
- A Free Course on User Behavior
- It’s Not All Fun And Games: The Pros and Cons of Gamification at Work
- Getting Traction: How to Hook New Users
- Designing for Behavior Change Book Review
- The Sneaky Trick Behind the Explosive Growth of the Kardashian Game
- How Successful Companies Design for Users’ Multi-Device Lives
- The Link Between Habits and User Satisfaction
- What Triggers The Best Word of Mouth Marketing?
- What Tech Companies Can Learn from Rehab
- The Secrets of Addictive Online Auctions
- Teach or Hook? What’s the Real Goal of Online Education?
- Using Mind Control to Raise Startup Cash
- How To Build Habits In A Multi-Device World
- How To Cope with Your Insane Jealousy Of The WhatsApp Deal
- Why Do Fads Fade? The Inevitable Death Of Flappy Bird
- You’d Be Surprised By What Really Motivates Users
- Nostalgia: A Product Designer’s Secret Weapon
- How You Can Help Users Change Habits
- Is “Lean Startup” Right for Your Idea?
- Hunting for Habits: Keying in on smart design to make a product irresistible
- Are Companies Too Obsessed With Growth? How to Measure Habits
- Refresh: The App a Secret Agent Would Love
- Angel or Devil: Who’s Really Investing In Your Start-Up?
- In 10 Years, We Won’t Use Personal Technology
- 4 Simple Things I Did to Control My Bad Tech Habits
- “Yes, And”: The Two Words that Created a #1 App
- From Laid to Paid: How Tinder Set Fire to Online Dating
- What if In-App Purchases Came to Real Life?
- Hooking Users One Snapchat at a Time
- How To Save Your Startup From The “Spotlight Effect”
- Bible App: Getting 100 Million Downloads is More Psychology Than Miracles
- How to Boost Desire Using the Psychology of Scarcity
- Marketplaces & The Curse of the Network Effect
- Today’s Behaviors, Tomorrow’s Startups
- Venture Capital and The Superstitious Investor
- The Future is Driven by Interface Changes
- Why Business is Addicted to Habits
- Viral Loops Or Viral ‘Oops’?
- Making a Marketplace
- What Killed Turntable.fm?
- What You Don’t Know About Human Intuition Can Hurt You
- Designing to Reward our Tribal Sides
- New Video – “Hooked: Building Habit-Forming Products”
- How Technology is Like Bug Sex
- Ways To Get People To Do Things They Don’t Want To Do
- The Network Effect Isn’t Good Enough
- Mass Persuasion, One User At A Time
- How Investment Drives Engagement (Slides)
- Getting Your Product Into the Habit Zone
- Where Have The Users Gone?
- Infinite Scroll: The Web’s Slot Machine
- Designing User Habits Video
- Psychology of Sports: How Sports Infect Your Brain
- This is Your Brain On Boarding: How to Turn Visitors Into Users
- User Investment: Make Your Users Do the Work
- Behavior by Design Video
- When Designing for Good Is Bad
- Stop Building Apps, Start Building User Behaviors
- The Next Secrets of the Internet
- User Growth and Engagement: A Hacker Metric
- Spotting the Next Facebook: Why Emotions are Big Business
- The Billion Dollar Mind Trick: An Intro to Triggers
- Why Everyone Hates I.T. People
- Hooking Users In 3 Steps: An Intro to Habit Testing
- Abolish The Reference Check
- Variable Rewards: Want To Hook Users? Drive Them Crazy
- How to Design Behavior (The Behavior Change Matrix)
- How To Design For “Normals”
- Hooks: An Intro on How to Manufacture Desire
- User Habits: Why Startups Must Be Behavior Experts
- What Is, and Is Not, Your Product’s Job
- Pinterest’s Obvious Secret
- Personalized eCommerce Is Already Here, You Just Don’t Recognize It
- Where is the Web Going?
- The Developer Divide: When Great Companies Can’t Hire
- Being a Quitter Makes You a Good Entrepreneur
- Behavior by Design
- Why You Should Run Your Business Barefoot
- Are you a Startup Star, Wacko, or Wannabe?