Tiny, New, Addictive Behaviors (or How to Build an Awesome Minimum Viable Product)

Early on, once you’ve identified a problem genuinely worth solving, you need to build a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) and put it into the hands of early adopters.

In Lean Analytics, we call this the Stickiness Stage. I recently wrote that most startups fail at this point–they simply don’t get the traction they need (in terms of regular usage, engagement and retention) to keep going. Sometimes they move ahead anyway and hope they can acquire (customers) their way out of the problem…it doesn’t work.

Thinking about this further (and having been asked numerous times about what makes a good MVP and how do you know if you’re ready to move forward), I said to someone recently:

“What you’re trying to do is create a tiny, new, addictive behavior. It’s something small and ‘simple’ that you want people to do, which they get value out of it (when they do it), and so do you.”

I put ‘simple’ in quotes, because doing this isn’t easy, but it’s helpful to think about the MVP and product development in this way.

Repetitive usage is key (at least for most startups/products).

That may be daily or weekly. If usage is spread out much more than that it’s going to be hard to keep people’s attention. To get someone to do something over and over, you want to keep the ask small; you don’t want to overburden or overwhelm them, because they’ll give up.

The behavior you’re trying to get people to do is new.

They haven’t done it with you before, although they may have done similar things in other products. If that’s the case it may be easier to get them to do what you want them to. If it’s totally new, that’s a harder climb. No matter what, you’re asking them to do something new with you, which is another reason to keep the ask small.

People need to get hooked on the behavior, which means getting hooked on the result.

The core value you provide has to be awesome. It can be tiny, but it has to be awesome. Instagram filters were awesome. (One might argue they are less awesome now because they’ve been copied, but they created an emotional response that drove people to post more photos, which is what Instagram needed to succeed.) Tweeting and getting retweeted is awesome. Seeing a song identified in Shazam is awesome.

You want to go after the most basic of emotions possible. Dave McClure says it very well: people want to be made, paid, laid or unafraid. You need to appeal to people’s desire for reputation/popularity, money, sex or security. You might want to take a look at the seven deadly sins too (just in case you forgot ’em!) The tiny, addictive, new behavior doesn’t have to be negative, that’s not the point, but it has to speak to people, emotionally, at the most basic of levels.

This tiny, addictive, new behavior forms some kind of loop.

User A does A then B then C and boom–they’re rewarded. And part of that reward drives them to start all over. It also builds value for you, and possibly for other users as well. So User A does A then B then C, gets rewarded and sets User B in motion (possibly doing the same loop, getting rewarded and engaging User C…and so on…)

Getting retweeted is an example of one user’s tiny behavior driving another user to take a tiny action, which creates value for everyone. User A tweets then User B retweets. User A feels awesome, and so does User B. With Twitter there’s an even earlier example of this sort of thing happening around following and being followed back. Simple, tiny and super addictive.

Remember: The tiny, addictive, new behavior creates amazing value (early on it’s only in short bursts, which like a drug, drives people to do it over and over) and results in creating value for you as well. Eventually these tiny behaviors start to build upon themselves creating more and more value for everyone involved.

You have to find that one tiny, addictive, new behavior and make that the core of your MVP.

Nothing else really matters. If you can’t find that tiny, addictive, new behavior that drives frequent usage (and in turn drives virality and easier user acquisition going forward) you’re going to struggle mightily to succeed.

NOTE: This post is part of Startup Edition, which is an awesome collaboration of bloggers writing on a host of startup-related topics. I encourage you to check it out and sign up for updates. Past topics included pricing, founder mistakes, getting your first customer and more.

  • http://www.markevans.ca/ Mark Evans

    Great post, Ben. I describe the user experience as “delight” – regardless of whether the task is big or small. One of the keys to creating addictive or delightful experiences is clear messaging and a UX that is simple and intuitive to create a seamless process.


  • Things to do when your bored

    Very well written post..

  • http://www.instigatorblog.com/ Benjamin Yoskovitz

    “Delight” is a great word, and I’ve used it in the past for describing the type of experience you need to provide with customers, absolutely.

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  • Scott Pielsticker

    Great post Ben. At ContactMonkey our first product was an electronic business card. It was nice but not addictive. We’ve now pivoted our entire service around our new focus to Make Email Suck Less. Our users get addicted to finding out what happened to their sent email. Was it opened? On an iPhone or using Outlook? In Toronto or San Fran? Was it forwarded around? Getting our users addicted to our service has helped to propel our company forward.

  • http://www.instigatorblog.com/ Benjamin Yoskovitz

    Very cool Scott – glad the pivot is working out for you.

  • Harpreet Kaur

    Thank you so much for your great article, I Appreciate it :-) Thank you for the things that What to do when bored

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  • Justin

    Hi Ben,

    Your talk on MVP iteration is definitely strong. But isn’t it worth talking about customer development within this iteration process? Actually, this video completely came to mind when I was reading this http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2RBsXQYRUUM It’s tips on pulling quality stories from customer interviews. What do you think about it? Fee free to share it around if you think it’s relevant to your readers!

    I really look forward to reading more from you Ben!

    All the best,

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