November 5th, 2014 Startup Grind Hosts Nir Eyal, Author of Hooked

Nir Eyal, an entrepreneur, designer and author, participated in a StartupGrind fireside chat to talk about his new book Hooked: How To Build Habit-Forming Products on November 5, 2014 at Pivotal Labs.

Did you know that 1 out of 3 Americans would rather give up sex than their smart phone? Technology has quickly become a pervasive – and intimate – part of our lives. If you're a designer or an entrepreneur, then you probably are dying to know how technology becomes habit-forming. And if you're just a consumer, knowing why we get hooked is the first step in breaking unhealthy attachments to tech.

Cue Nir Eyal, entrepreneur, designer and author of Hooked, which was recently released as a physical book. Eyal has a background in gaming and advertising, which both involve some form of mind control. He had his own startup and he has consulted plenty of others.

“A lot of companies were using these [habit-forming] tactics and yet they didn’t really understand why these tactics work,” said Eyal. “They do it without understanding the deeper psychology on how and why these things change users’ behavior.”

That, in combination with his nagging question of how entrepreneurs should decide what to build, inspired him to write his book. Entrepreneurs and designers can build anything. Eyal wanted to explore what they should work on.

Companies want to create products that customers won’t just love, but won’t be able to put down. These types of addictive technologies like our phones, email and apps have a hook so compelling, that we keep using them without anyone prompting us to come back. There are four parts to the hook, Eyal said.

1. The trigger is something that tells the user what to do and cues the next action. It can be external or internal. Most of these internal triggers are negative - our pain points that we look to solve. We form habits with technologies that lift us out of these negative states, like loneliness or boredom.

2. The action is the simple behavior done in anticipation of a reward. Examples are scrolling, searching or hitting the play button. The formula, created by B.J. Fogg, for predicting the likelihood of these singular actions is behavior = motivation + ability + trigger.

3. The reward: We like variability; the uncertainty makes returning to the technology exciting. An example is the newsfeed, it’s always different.

4. The investment: The product should have a return on the investment because users put something into it in anticipation of a future benefit. Investments increase the likelihood of passing through the hook. Example – if you send a message on WhatsApp, you’ll get one back. Habit-forming technology should improve or appreciate rather than depreciate over time. Another type of investment is building a reputation or a following, like on Task Rabbit, Ebay or AirBnB. It’s hard to leave that platform once you have value on it.

Eyal also believes that companies should use the art of the hook to make products that are good for us.

“We could help people have happier, more productive, better lives,” said Eyal. “That’s my mission, to help entrepreneurs that build products that improve customers’ lives. I want to help them fail less.”

At the same time he’s teaching the hook, Eyal calls himself an advocate for breaking hooks. You can use the information to break habits and build good ones, he said.

In the future, being able to control our habits will be a competitive advantage, said Eyal. He also thinks in a few years wearable technology, like Google Glass and smart watches will be the next big thing.

“In five years we’ll look back at the way we don’t except they’ll be big today in the same way that just six years ago even when the Apple Apps store existed, we didn’t even see how important it is,” said Eyal.

And today, for some people, access to those apps even trumps sex.