You want someone to use your product, then get in their face and force them to. I’ve made this argument before. One of the biggest challenges for any startup is engagement – acquiring users is hard, keeping them is usually much harder. And even when users say they love your product or think it adds value, it doesn’t always translate into significant usage and engagement. Why is that?
Generally people are enthusiastic and interested in trying new things, but they’re also lazy, comfortable, scared of change, and unmotivated. You can increase motivation by charging people – generally people will stay more engaged (at least for a bit longer) when they’ve increased their level of commitment. But for a lot of web startups charging out of the gate is unlikely.
Try interrupting users.
It’s something we’ve been talking about a lot at Year One Labs with our startups. How do you interrupt the daily activities of users in such a way that you become useful (and grow into a necessity) right at the very moment when the users actually need you?
Put another way: Your web application is going to require either a change of behavior or the creation of an entirely new behavior. Both are hard to do, and it’s foolhardy to assume people will change their behaviors easily. That kills a lot of startups. So how can you interrupt a user during a chain of behaviors they’re comfortable executing to slot yourself into that chain at the right place and right time?
There are some feedback loops that are effective. Social pressure is one. The more I see people using a certain product and/or talking about a certain product (this includes media, close friends, acquaintances, and others) the more likely I’ll try something a few more times at least. Email is another potential way of trying to increase engagement. But if you go deeper than that and inject yourself right into what people are already doing and interrupt them … it won’t really feel like an interruption, and it won’t feel like a bother … it will feel like you’re creating value at the exact moment when they need it, and you’re embedding yourself into users’ existing behaviors. Suddenly the change required, the leap of faith a person has to make in order to get value and stay engaged is greatly reduced.
Drill down into the use cases you think are right for your application. Write those down. Understand (or at least hypothesize) who is the right user who fits the use cases you’ve defined. Think: personas. Then figure out what those people are doing right now in and around the use cases you’ve defined. How are they solving or semi-solving the problems you’ve identified? What are they doing immediately before and after your relevant use cases? As you explore these ideas you may find opportunities to integrate with other applications and piggyback on their traction. You may find “sneaky” tactics for injecting yourself into people’s routines, which can greatly clarify your value proposition and minimize the demands you’re making on users.