How to build habit forming products? – Nir Eyal

How to build habit forming products?

Nir Eyal writes, consults, and teaches about the intersection of psychology, technology, and business. The M.I.T. Technology Review dubbed Nir, “The Prophet of Habit-Forming Technology.”

Nir founded two tech companies since 2003 and has taught at the Stanford Graduate School of Business and the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford. He is the author of the bestselling book, Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products.

In addition to blogging at, Nir’s writing has been featured in The Harvard Business Review, TechCrunch, and Psychology Today.

Nir is also an active investor in habit-forming technologies. Some of his past investments include: Eventbrite, Product Hunt, Pantry, Marco Polo, Presence Learning, 7 Cups, Pana, Symphony Commerce, Worklife (acquired by Cisco) and (acquired by LinkedIn).

Nir attended The Stanford Graduate School of Business and Emory University.

Nir spent several years in the gaming and advertising industry. These are the two industries that are really dependent upon mind control and so at these two industries that he learnt quite a bit about how to change people’s behaviour and the techniques that are used in these two Industries. So what he really wanted to do was to figure out how to apply the same techniques to his own businesses and hopefully to help others utilize these techniques to use them for good. How to use them for all kinds of ways that can help people live better lives with these techniques.

This led him to write his most popular book Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products.

Why we do certain things like checking emails or Facebook unconsciously?

According to Nir, it’s really all about the hook model that he detailed in the book. It’s a four step process of

  1. A Trigger
  2. An Action
  3. A Reward and
  4. An Investment.

In a candid talk with the our  team, Nir talks about the hook model, challenges faced by entrepreneurs and his productivity secrets.

Its through successive cycles through these four steps of hook models that a behaviour is shaped by these products and our tastes are formed and are habits take hold

Hook model - Demystified

There is this trigger which starts with an external stimuli which tells us what to do next so some kind of notification, a call to action, some kind of something that tells a user what to do next with some piece of information.

Then there’s this action itself so this is where the behaviours manifest, the checking, the opening, the scrolling whatever the behaviour is that starts a habit.

Then the variable reward which is where the user is getting what they came for a bit. There still is a bit of mystery around what they might find the next time they engage with the product and then finally the investment phase.

In the investment phase, the user put something into the product that improves it with use and so what they do what he calls storing value in the product so that it becomes better and better and better the more they use it. So that there is successive cycles through the hook that they began to associate that products use with what he calls an internal trigger which brings us back full Circle through the hook.

Creating internal triggers is the ultimate goal because than the product cues us to action without any kind of prompting, without an advertisement, without a spam message, we use the product on our own unprompted.

How to identify hooks for a new product?

Not all products need to form habits. So the idea is if you have a product or service that needs to become a habit and your business model depends upon forming a user habit, well than what you should do is to first start up on making sure that you have a hook. So it’s a matter of asking yourself if you have a hook in your product and service and if its efficient and if it doesn’t form a hook then you should figure out how to change your product accordingly. So it’s a tool to help you design the hook and to modify one if you have one which is not working.

“So it’s a matter of asking yourself if you have a hook in your product and service and if its efficient and if it doesn’t form a hook then you should figure out how to change your product accordingly”

Best time to use the hook model (during early product stage or later)

The best place to use the hook model is in the very early stages before you’ve committed any code, before you spend money on designing anything. To very quickly ask yourself these five fundamental questions associated with the hook model that Nir details in the book and that will help you determine whether your product can ever become habit forming in the first place and then that’s the best place to use it. The other best place to use it is after the product is in market and for whatever reason it’s not habit forming and people are not engaging with it. In that case the hook model can help you diagnose why it is not very effective for one reason or another, it will help you identify if it is the trigger, is it the action, is the reward that they are missing, or are you not asking for an investment at the right time and place. So in that case it can be a diagnostic tool.

Examples of good product designs

Nir thinks the most famous examples are Facebook or Instagram or Twitter or Snapchat, or Slack. Any of these companies have habits at their core and it’s  no coincidence.

Mark Zuckerberg before he dropped out of Harvard had two majors, Computer Science and Psychology, Kevin Seistrom the founder of Instagram was a Symbolic Systems major. Symbolic Systems is again intersection of Computer Science and Psychology. These folks know what they’re doing it’s not chance. 

They just didn’t get lucky, they understand human behaviour very, very well. All of these company like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, WhatsApp, Snapchat, LinkedIn are masters of human behaviour.

How to scale content platforms?

The chicken and the egg is a very common problem for any community platform. The fact is that nobody wants to be at a party where nobody else is partying and so there’s only two ways he has ever seen to solve the chicken and the egg problem.

The first way is to seed the network. You can invite people to bring their own audience who can use the platform. That’s one technique you can use. So if you look at what Twitter did, they invited the Silicon Valley Technorati people like Robert Scoble and people who had their own audience and that’s how the people started using Twitter. So you need to seed the network.

The other technique is to make the product useful in single-player mode, meaning can you make the product something that people will want to use even when nobody else is there. The best example is Pinterest. So when Pinterest started out, Ben Silbermann would go to conventions of interior designers and graphic designers and he would show them what Pinterest could do.

So people started using it for storing collections of their interesting pictures even though they didn’t care if anybody else was going to see them. Now of course once they started doing that then the fact that other people started to join as well made the product better and better. But it was always useful on its own. So these are the two techniques 1. Either seed the network 2. or make the product useful in single player mode.

Secret of Nir’s productivity

Nir sticks to pretty basic routine and training right first thing in the morning that’s the hardest thing he does during his day. So he leave that time available. He drinks a lot of coffee and get himself time to think. A lot of people don’t give themselves enough time to think to process and he think that’s a luxury that he has and he don’t claim that everyone has the time to do that.

Something that benefited him greatly is just getting himself the space, the permission to do nothing but thinking. He doesn’t think he is particularly smarter than most people. He just think he give himself the time to process information more than most people do and he think that there’s a lot of useful insights that come with people just sit and ask themselves these questions. He hear from founders who just want to be told the answer and he think that’s a critical mistake.

You don’t want to be told the answer, you want to figure out the answer for yourself and he really think that the secret to success is not being satisfied with just learning how to do something but actually learning the 

fundamentals of first principles around how things work in the world is a huge advantage.

He is constantly reading something. He is always either listening to audio books or reading lot of articles. He uses a great app called Pocket where he save articles that appear on the web and then he either listen to those articles while working out or walking or driving from place to place. So he read a lot of books.

“I always have a book on my nightstand as well and of course read for academic research as well:

Advice for entrepreneurs looking for growth

“I think there’s a fundamental question that’s often times missed which is we get so into ok how do I grow, how do I move, how do I expand my business and I think a question that I would have wished I would have spent more time asking myself was this question of am I working on the right thing” Nir says that “I think far too many people start companies because they want to get rich. I wanna make a lot of money and I think that is a terrible idea. That’s a terrible reason to start a company because if you start a company to get rich, you are just bad at math because the odds of you getting rich starting a company are horrible and it is really really bad.” Most people for most jobs would do much better off by just working a 9-5 job then starting a company because the percentages of companies that fail is huge. That’s not a good reason to start a company. A good reason to start a company is because you want a product to exist. You believe that this thing you want to build needs to exist in the world for you.

The biggest mistake he see people making is when they build products for somebody else without really understanding the other person. So the best thing you can do to increase your odds of success is to scratch your own itch, is to build a product that you want to see in the world, that gives you the kind of unique insights that no one else is going to be able to have. Facebook, Google, Instagram, all of these companies were founded by people who fundamentally wanted their product to exist for them and then if people loved it great!.

So if you do it for that reason, you can’t lose. You can’t fail. But if you build it only for the outcome, you are overwhelmingly your odds say you are going to fail.

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