AMA with Nir Eyal on How to build habit-forming products and fight distractions

Nir Eyal
May 17, 2018

I am Nir Eyal. I am fascinated with the intersection of psychology, technology, and business. I call it “behavioral design.” The topic encompasses user experience, behavioral economics, and a dash of neuroscience. My passion is helping companies build better products.

Iʼm the author of Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products and have taught at the Stanford Graduate School of Business and Design School. Iʼve sold two technology companies since 2003 and now help teams design more engaging products.

In this AMA I would like to focus on how to build habit-forming products and fight distractions.

Nearly 80% of smartphone owners reach out to their device within 15 minutes from waking up. On average, people check their phones between 40 and 150 times a day. We are all clearly hooked. But how do some companies manage to control peopleʼs minds? What makes some products habit forming and others not? Forming habits is imperative for the survival of many products and the more distractions we have around, the harder it is for companies to create and maintain loyal user base. Many businesses are just waking up to this reality while others are already cashing in.

I will try my best to answer all questions, do check my blog for some great content and follow me on Twitter to stay up to date with what Iʼm up to.

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Conversation (170)

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Hi Nir,

This question may be a little different, but what to you believe is the best path you took to ultimately becoming a bestselling author?

Jul 15, 9:22PM EDT0

Nir, what are some up and coming products in your opinion that have nailed bringing their users back again and again without spending in marketing? What can we learn from them?

Jul 15, 8:55PM EDT0

Nir hi,

We are introducing the worlds first Smart (Pension, Superannuation, 401K) Default, into Australia. It is the next generation Target Date (US) / Life-stage (Aust) / Life-cycle (UK) product (QDIA, MySuper, Auto-enroll) that trustees/fiduciaries use to invest those monies they receive from individuals (members) who have not given any investment direction.

This is a significant international issue (impending retirement funding shortfalls in most developed economies) that can be largely solved by using big data and fintech to automatically place those individuals (15 million or half the workforce in Aust. - circa A$635bn) into an investment option/style that more efficiently matches their projected retirement balance and time to retirement - rather than just age/year of birth or putting everyone in the same investment (the predominate solution in Aust.)

So three questions.

What are your views on how to most easily change using behavioral economics an industry's bad habits - one with entrenched with large corporates?

Can disengaged individuals/members be used effectively in some way to change their trustee/fiduciaries actions?

Is the AMA suitable for complex discussions like this and across multiple juridictions and various lingoes? I am considering writing my first AMA on this topic.


Jul 13, 2:38AM EDT0

I want my product a baby hair taming cream to be something Moms use every morning, like brushing their child's teeth, or changing a diaper. How do I go about creating a brand NEW daily habit? 

Jul 12, 2:26PM EDT0

Good Day Nir Eyal, habit forming activities aka addictions can be monetary very profitable, see FaceBook, just to use an example. How do you make sure that getting the end-user addicted to a product, is not back firing by turning out to have  negative impact on the end-user, changing the end-users' life to become no longer worth living, because of loneliness and depressions? Or is this no part of the idea to create profit.     helmut s. 

Jul 10, 7:06PM EDT0

What trends do you think are going to be prevalent in mobile technologies in the near future?

Jul 9, 2:31PM EDT0

Hi Nir,

Thanks for doing this AMA.

I sell exam prep courses for construction inspectors. We help them pass certification exams.

When students actually go through our courses, we’ve seen great passing rates. However, we sometimes get students that stop going through their course.

What can I do to encourage my students to keep coming back to site to finish their course?

Jul 6, 12:46PM EDT3


You stated "As far as the salesperson is concerned, it behooves you to find ways to keep your product top of mind rather than the competition's product. My point was you could do that by changing their existing habits."

No offense, but that's nothing different than anyone else would have said.  Is there any substance anywhere to any of this? Any actionable solutions?  I mean, if someone hasn't bought a faucet yet with new capability, you can't quite change their habit.  You can only try to show them how others have benefitted.  But that's marketing 101.  Where is the substance behind building habit forming products?  The examples in your book are similar.  Yes, iphones are habit forming.  But that's because they solve a need better than other solutions.   I don't understand what you are promoting, even after reading your book, unfortunately, and how it is truly different.   Can you help?

Jul 5, 5:28PM EDT0

Respectfully, what's different is the Hooked Model! While other marketing approaches tell you to build a better solution, I'm telling you to build a better habit.

Do you know the sales person's new trigger, action, reward, and investment for making a habit out of promoting your faucet instead of someone else's? That's not just Marketing 101, that's building a habit.

Let's take the conversation offline so I can help you get into the nuts and bolts. Feel free to book some free consulting time with me here:

Jul 6, 9:07AM EDT0

Hello Nir,

You asked "Are you hearing from your customers that they forget to use the faucets? I'd be very surprised if once the product is installed in someone's home, it doesn't become a habit for almost everyone. Seems very habit-forming to me. Is it not?"

The product is not yet available.  That said, our production pilot has gone well, and one comment was made that "You don't know that you're missing out if you don't have one in your routine, but you'll certainly miss it once you is it is part of your routine and you go somewhere that doesn't have it."

So I guess that yes, that's a great sign it is habit forming.  

What do you see the hook model doing for salepeople?  I mean, it's obvious anyone selling anything is going to promote their own product over a competitor.  What else were you thinking?

Jul 2, 7:05PM EDT0

As far as the salesperson is concerned, it behooves you to find ways to keep your product top of mind rather than the competition's product. My point was you could do that by changing their existing habits.

Jul 5, 5:16PM EDT0

What would be the best way to build habit-forming services?

Jul 2, 3:09PM EDT0

How do you think  behavioral science would affect the instructor customizing personal development services for their customers?

Jun 30, 11:24AM EDT0

Can you tell me a bit more? I'm not sure I understand the question.

Jul 5, 5:17PM EDT0

How often doyou reach for your device?

Jun 30, 10:24AM EDT0

Not often during the time I've scheduled for focused work time.

Jul 2, 6:27PM EDT0

Hello Nir, 

In your book, you give an analogy of a tiny irritant in an oyster and how it becomes a pearl.   I wonder, however, if tiny irritants can be overlooked because we do not associate solving them with "painkillers".  Thoughts?

I'll give you an example.  I have reinvented the bathroom faucet.  How?  Through the elegant combination of a water fountain and water faucet (  I did it because I got tired of sticking my head under the faucet to rinse after brushing.  Is this solution a painkiller, or, solving an irritant?   However, as you point out, even irritants become pearls!

That said, since reinventing the faucet, I have learned of many other uses, such as: 

  1. SImply getting a drink
  2. Works great as a home eyewash station
  3. Ladies can use it to rinse makeup remover without splashing
  4. It works great to facilitate taking pills or vitamins without the need for a glass
  5. Men can use it to rinse shaving cream
  6. etc., etc.

I have even been told by one place that sells faucets that they sell taller downspouts for older people who like to rinse their hair under them, and this would be a better solution. 

All of that said, I bought your book to help learn how to ensure our faucets are habit forming, as I truly believe they add value to everyday routines.  I can also add that when using it as a water fountain, water is saved, as the flow rate is reduced from 1.2gpm to .5gpm.  And Larry Page of Google, when evaluating new products, has a "toothbrush test" - will a product be used as often as a toothbrush?  I'll offer that you'll use our solution MORE than that.  

So all of that said, what are your thoughts on ensuring this is a habit-forming product?

Jun 27, 7:10AM EDT0

Are you hearing from your customers that they forget to use the faucets? I'd be very surprised if once the product is installed in someone's home, it doesn't become a habit for almost everyone. Seems very habit-forming to me. Is it not?

The challenge you have isn't forming a habit with the product, it's selling it the first time. That, however, is not a problem with a consumer habit since purchase is a behavior that only happens once, not habitually.

You may want to, however, consider how you can use the Hooked Model to change the salesperson's habit to recommend your product over your competition's (assuming that's your business model).

Jul 2, 6:27PM EDT0

How do successful companies create products people can't put down? 

Last edited @ Jun 26, 8:58AM EDT.
Jun 26, 8:56AM EDT0

Build a product with the Hooked Model:

Jun 26, 3:27PM EDT1

How do we foresee, as potential stakeholders, the success of a habit-forming innovation in the early stage?

Jun 22, 7:09PM EDT0
Jun 26, 3:26PM EDT0

I can understand how the instant gratification of the internet can be addicting, and moreso when our  phones, tablets, etc are on our person (or within reach) almost 24/7. But do you think some of these addiction behaviors are worse for mobile device users, rather than home PC users, or equal?  

Jun 21, 9:26PM EDT1

The fact that personal technology has simultaneously become more persuasive and pervasive, makes it more potentially habit-forming.

Jun 21, 9:51PM EDT0
What company first discovered the power of behavioral insights to change people’s actions?
Jun 20, 9:59PM EDT1

I think it's as old as business itself. Anytime a merchant built a reputation or a brand, they were leveraging a behavioral insight. However, in modern business, I'm not sure if he was the first, but Edward Bernays would be a good place to start.

Jun 21, 9:21PM EDT1
Are you okay with knowing that companies are using these techniques to reshape people’s brains? Why?
Jun 20, 9:53PM EDT1

Literally, everything we do reshapes the brain. The question is whether the way it is reshaped is for the better or worse. 

Jun 21, 9:22PM EDT1
For such a techie person like you, what kind of kind of specs do you have on your computer?
Jun 17, 9:19PM EDT0

Nothing special, just a Macbook

Jun 21, 9:23PM EDT1
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