AMA: Nir Eyal

AMA: Nir Eyal

The Nir Eyal AMA is happening on November 6th 2019 at 10:00AM PST (1:00PM EST)

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 NirAndFar.com, Nir’s writing has been featured inThe Harvard Business ReviewTechCrunch, and Psychology Today.

Nir is also an active investor in habit-forming technologies. Some of his past investments include: Refresh.io (acquired by LinkedIn), Worklife (acquired by Cisco), Eventbrite, Product HuntMarco PoloPresence Learning7 Cups, Pana, Kahoot!, Byte FoodsAnchor.fm, and Symphony Commerce

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

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Nir Eyal – Transcript

AMA with Nir Eyal

November 6th, 2019

Hi! I’m Nir Eyal, author of Indistractable and Hooked. In addition to blogging at NirAndFar.com, my writing has been featured in The Harvard Business Review, TechCrunch, and Psychology Today.
I am also an active investor in habit-forming technologies. Some of my past investments include Eventbrite (NYSE:EB), Refresh.io (acquired by LinkedIn), Worklife (acquired by Cisco), Product Hunt, Marco Polo, Presence Learning, 7 Cups, Pana, Kahoot!, Byte Foods, FocusMate, and Anchor.fm (acquired by Spotify).
Ask me anything!

Hi, Indistractable came out at the exact moment I needed it. What is the biggest thing you’ve learned since the book’s been published that you wish you could include now?

So glad you found the book helpful! I don’t know if I learned anything new per se since the book just came out but I’ve come up with a new way of describing the different attitude people take. I think people fall into 2 unhealthy categories when they encounter distraction. The first group is the “blamers”, who think their actions occur because of something being done to them. They might say “My iphone distracted me” or something similar. Then there are the “shamers” who think something is wrong with them, that they are dysfunctional in some way. A shamer might say “I got distracted because maybe I’m not good enough, I’m lazy, or there’s something wrong with me.” That’s not a helpful strategy either. A healthier approach is to be a “claimer,” who knows that although they didn’t invent the thing that is distracting them (email, Facebook, the iphone) and it’s not their fault it exists, it’s their responsibility to do something about it.

Hi, We have an app (TruePublic) which gets a very-very great first-time buy-in with the first-time sessions going over an hour, but the majority never returns for the second time. What would you suggest to raise the retention of these users, who have obviously “clicked” at first?

That’s a hard thing to explain in a Slack channel but it’s the backbone of my book Hooked: How to Build Habit Forming Products. I’ve attached a workbook to get you started on your way to answering this question. Good luck!

Hi Nir, “Hooked” was a key driver in some key product decisions for my mobile app because there was such a strong draw of people asking “what’s new inside the app?” (that’s without Notifications) it definitely drove habits to launching the app every day (out of it I have crazy engagement and retention rates). Thank you!Has your perspective changed on these habit forming strategies/technologies now that you are releasing Indistractable?

That’s wonderful to hear! Congrats on the success of your product and I’m so glad you found Hooked helpful. To answer your question, I can’t say my perspective has really changed on the usefulness of habit-forming technologies although I can appreciate that this is a subtle point for people to understand. I still am a champion for using habit-forming technologies to build healthy habits, while also teaching people how to break bad habits. It’s my knowledge of how to do one that let’s me help people do the other. Thanks again!

What do you feel is the best way to keep an organization focused on a shared marketing vision, rather than chasing the next new shiny object?

Setting a vision and keeping it alive is really the job of management. It requires repetition to the extreme. It’s your job to make the case and stay the course. Of course, business is as much of an art as a science so you must also stay open to acknowledging that people might be objecting to your marketing vision because it’s wrong.

hi! you sure have done a lot! What has been your most rewarding venture so far, and what has been your biggest disappointment? Would you do it again (the disappointing one)

Hi I try not to think about disappointments. Sure, plenty of things in life could have gone better, but everything in sum added up to the life I have today. So I really have no regrets. Thank you for your question.

What would you say is the first step in helping a new product manager determine if their product idea is “habit-forming?”

Not to be terse, but get a hold of Hooked. I spent 3 years writing the formula for how to make a product habit-forming and I think you’d find it very helpful.

Could you tell me how do you find companies to invest in or if you use any platforms to invest? How much is the average investment?

I look for companies that are GEMs (see this article I wrote to explain more: https://www.nirandfar.com/successful-tech-products/) I only invest in companies that use my Hooked Model to drive repeat engagement. I don’t use any platforms and my deals are typically sourced from other investors and friends.

Habit-forming and digital don’t always mix well, and often result in negative outcomes (social media, online gambling, group think, etc). Do you apply the same investment approach towards non-tech businesses that focus on recurring revenue?

I only invest in companies that have some tech angle but they don’t have to necessarily be apps or websites. I invested in https://bytefoods.co/ which is helping people form healthy eating habits.

I’ve had a question brewing in the back of my mind for awhile, and I’m glad I can ask you directly. I mean this question with the best of intentions and curiosity: Do you feel like some people took ideas from Hooked, applied them in less-than-conscientious ways, and have cause harm to the general popluation? And was Indistractable partially an attempt to help swing the pendulum back toward healthy human computer interactions?

That’s usually people’s first question. To put it simply, Hooked is for building good habits and Indistractable is for breaking bad habits. I personally don’t know of any companies used that my book, Hooked, for ill. The problem most companies have is not that they’re addicting anyone, it’s that no one cares about their product. I think almost no one is getting addicted to enterprise software! Hooked is an attempt to steal the secrets of the social media companies and gaming companies to make all sorts of healthy habits possible through thoughtfully built technology. Indistractable is a guide to getting rid of the things that take us off track by showing you exactly how to live free of distraction. Makes sense? Let me know what you think.

That does make sense, and thank for you addressing it. I suspect you might slightly underestimate the reach and impact of your book… because I often overhear people citing your concepts and techniques and misappropriating them toward ‘addicting users to my product.’

Hmm, I wonder if they’re using the term correctly. People often say they want to “addict” people when they really mean they want them to be highly “engaged”. Addiction involves harm and a pathology.

Hi, I’m wondering if you’ve noticed any interesting or emerging habits/behaviours with regard to audio/podcast consumption?

Yes! I love the audio/podcasting space. One of my angel investments, Anchor.fm, recently sold to Spotify. It was a great exit for the team and investors. I think there is still plenty of opportunity to change habits using auditory interfaces. Whenever there is a new interface, the habits “deck of cards” gets reshuffled and there is suddenly new opportunities for market entrants to beat incumbents.

Is there an ethics issues with making people addicted to products, apps and sites?

As I wrote in Hooked, we’d never want to intentionally addict people. Remember that addictions are not the same thing as habits however.

So I know that addiction is when the behavior controls you. And the opposite is controlling the behavior. But how much do you think it is control, how much is luck and how much is illusion?

What do you mean by “luck” and “illusion”? I’m not sure how that relates to addiction.

What are the top 3-4 health related technologies you use in your daily life?

In addition to my iPhone of course, I love my Oura ring and Withings watch.

Have you found that these products are better at forming healthy habits? Any specific examples stand out to you? Anything you would advice them to explore to go further down that path?

Yes, I think my Oura ring has greatly improved my sleep and more importantly my perception of the quality of my sleep. I also really like the Fitbod app.

is it an issue to target people who are more likely to get addicted?

Yes, I think targeting people with a disposition to addiction is unethical. Hence, this is why I won’t work with the gambling, tobacco, or alcohol industries. See more here: https://www.nirandfar.com/tooaddictive/

How long did it take you from “I want to write a book” to publishing your first book?

It took me about 2 years of blogging and then another year of book writing to finish Hooked. Indistractable took about 5 years. I kept getting distracted the first 2 years until I learned the methods.

Hi Nir! Thanks for the time! I loved Hooked and am excited to read your new book soon. Also loved your response re: addiction vs. habits.I work with Moonrise – Chicago-based social enterprise that came out of Am Fam Ventures – it was started as a way to help people living pay check to pay check find on demand hourly work.I’m curious if you’ve seen any great habit forming companies in this space – hourly staffing? I’m always looking to learn from others.

Thanks, I think Upwork would be an obvious example. They certainly create a very sticky product. I’m guessing you already know all about them but it’s worth thinking about how seamless and easy their product is to use versus others.

 

Hey everyone! Just want to clear up the definition of a word many people are using in their questions. That word is “addiction.” Hooked is not about building addictive products, it’s about building “habit-forming” products. Addictions are always harmful to the user and are a pathology. Liking to do something a lot is not an addiction. Very few people have the pathology of addiction so let’s please not trivialize the disorder out of respect for people who struggle with it. We also don’t want to perpetuate a belief that somehow everyone is addicted. That’s not true and not helpful. As product makers, we’d never want to intentionally addict people, as I say in Hooked. Habits, on the other hand are great, and can be used to help people improve their lives in healthy ways. For more on the science of addiction and why we should stop believing in the “addictive product myth”, please see this article: https://www.nirandfar.com/addiction/

Hi all! This was fun! I have to run now but I’ll check in a little latter an try and answer more questions. Thanks again!!