On building a sustainable business

I try lots of different web services. (You probably do too.) The key difference in making it from the “tried it once, didn’t try it again” or the “hmmm. didn’t get it” to the moment where you decide, “yes, this solves a problem that I have, and yes, I’m willing to pay for it” is that somehow the new thing becomes a habit. Building a sustainable business means creating more habits, or at the very least convincing someone that your solution to the habit is better than the other guy’s (or gal’s) solution that they could choose.

BJ Fogg, a behavioral expert, talks in the following video about the three things that make up a habit: motivation (why would your prospective user want to do what you want them to do), ability (can the user do what you want them to do), and trigger (is there an internal or external signal that starts the action).

Here’s Fogg describing what he means in the context of asking internet users to follow a behavior:

So building a sustainable business means not only understanding your users and getting the thing (or things) that make them successful, it’s also meeting them where they are at and delivering an overall experience that helps them create a habit, complete that habit, and prompt them to re-enter the cycle. (Oh yeah, and ideally you need them to pay for the privilege.)

Many successful businesses reach the stage of building a successful habit and aren’t able to monetize the user directly because they weren’t focused on understanding why the user (or you or I) might want to try the service in the first place … and then unlock actual value that they would trade for money. Sounds simple, right (and of course, if it were really simple more businesses would be doing it.) At its core building a sustainable business requires you to examine what the user wants, what utility (or joy) they might get out of your product or service, and focus on achieving that as an everyday task. Building features is cool; building user habits builds a successful, sustainable business.


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