How To… Create An App That’ll Hook People In

Developing an app or product that people fall in love with isn't as hard as you might think

Hook Line & Sinker thumbnailThis article originally ran in Issue 25 of Collective Hub

Nothing throws up a warning sign quite like a brand-new ‘solution’ that has no obvious competitors. Well, so says Nir Eyal, self-described behavioural design specialist, who hears from companies and founders every other month who claim to have discovered the Next Big Thing in their industry.

“My first question to them is always: What’s the existing solution that people would be replacing with your idea?” says Nir. “They’ll often reply, ‘That’s the best part – there’s never been a solution for this problem before!’ In my view, that’s a huge red flag.”

Helping customers change their existing habits is one, but convincing a user to create new habits altogether? That’s incredibly difficult, if not downright impossible to achieve. You’re essentially asking people to scratch an itch they don’t even know they have.

So, lesson one: Supplement a current solution with your own better, improved fix.

Nir – an angel investor and founder of two tech companies has learned, applied and mastered the techniques required to motivate and manipulate users. His experiences prompted him to write Hooked, a guide to building habit forming technology.

“When I look at companies I’m considering investing in as an angel investor, I review three key areas: growth, engagement and monetisation. It’s the ‘GEM’ framework,” says Nir.

“I look for a start-up to have two of these three, with a plan for the third. No start-up has all three, because if they do then they’re not a start-up, they’re a validated business.”

Nir has pinpointed a four-step process for creating a habit-forming resource and says it can be integrated into just about any app, but it can’t breathe life into an idea that exists purely to line its founders’ pockets.

“Trying to create an app because you want to make a lot of money is a really dumb reason to do it,” he says. “You should build a product because it needs to exist in the world, not because you want to get rich.” A far more successful path to success, is to find something you want to say, build or share – something that you believe improves people’s lives and that you yourself want to use – and focus on bringing that idea to fruition.

Odds are, there’s a good chance your untapped needs will resonate with others. Certain human wants and needs never go out of style.

“Loneliness, boredom, acceptance, communication – these are fundamental human experiences,” he says.

One such example is the iPad. “Before the iPad, my mum had never touched technology. She’d never had a computer, never sent an email. But the old habit that her iPad replaced was the telephone, as the world of email was broken open to her.”

Apple are experts at this very strategy – taking an existing product or solution, and crafting a superior model.

“Apple have never created a new product category in [their] history,” says Nir. “What they do is, they allow someone else to lead the charge, to make mistakes and to get arrows in their back. Then they figure out how they can make those products ‘eerily familiar’ and make them feel like you’ve used them before.”

It’s a far more effective strategy for creating a successful product, particularly when you consider, “one of the truisms of human interaction is that people are not all that good at change,” says psychologist Lindsay Spencer-Matthews, aka the Great Change Maker.

“People are habit-bound,” he explains. “We’re ultimately creatures of habit, not creatures of diversity.”

The comfort zone is not a place that entrepreneurs and founders like to be. Indeed, they often thrive outside of their comfort zone, where they’re pushed and pulled to their limit. But appealing to your target market’s comfort zone is one way to make them a repeat customer – one who embraces your product as part of their regular routine. And the best part is, you don’t even have to nail your idea first-go.

“Today, for the first time in history, you can simply try,” says Nir. “It used to take hundreds of thousands to set up the infrastructure to launch a product or business or service, and now you can launch for as little as a few hundred dollars. All it takes is the stamina and the will to give it a go. In that sense, you can’t lose.”


If you’re trying to build the next big app, you need user engagement:

How does the loop initiate? This may be through external triggers (e.g. email notification, sign-up) or through successive loops, where a particular thought or action or emotion sends the user back to your product.

Once the user is aware they need to use your product (through the trigger), what’s the simplest action they can perform to get some kind of reward? (E.g. a Facebook ‘like’).

How are users rewarded for their business, usage or interaction? It could be social validation or approval (such as sharing with friends), collection of material resources (adding photos to a collection) or personal gratification (processing all emails in your inbox).
Lastly, the user needs to put something back in to increase the chance of repeating the loop. This could be content, user entered data, reputation (for instance a five-star review) or a new learned skill. The investment sets up the trigger for the next cycle of the loop.


Loved this article and now all noted down in my notebook. Heard Lisa the other day, so looked up this website. I saw one of the Collective magazines at the News agency but wasn’t sure what it was about. Will definitely by buying an issue.


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