Customer Development, Customer Strategy, Marketing Strategy

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.

Customer Development, Productivity

Tiny Habits Build into Great Behaviors

I signed up this week for the TinyHabits program from BJ Fogg at Stanford. The program – a way of training yourself to take small steps that will build into specific behaviors – intrigues me because it mirrors a few practices I’ve done over the past two years that have made a huge difference in my life. Keeping a daily and weekly log, trying to answer all of my email promptly, and always asking people how I can help them are three small habits I’ve followed that have delivered big benefits.

What did I do? (Keeping a daily log)

I can’t take too much credit for this one – it’s T.A. McCann who introduced me to it – but simply keeping a list of the major things that you do each day and who you did it for can give you great insight into how you’re spending your time. I don’t get much value from logging every tiny thing that I do – but I try to capture any activity that takes more than 30 minutes of time. Keeping this log (in Evernote) gives me access to what I’m doing today, what I did last week, and keeps that list with me wherever I go. It’s also a great place to plan – just ask yourself 3 things: “what did I do?”, “what am I doing next?”, and  “where do I need help?”

How can I answer all of my email as fastly and efficiently as I can?

There are plenty of ways to manage email and to be productive, and I don’t claim to have reinvented the wheel on dealing with email. The key thing is to spend less time finding the emails that need action, and then to act on them with deliberate speed. I use a modified GTD approach to manage my email load, identifying each piece of mail to file, forget/delete, or to act upon it immediately. And if there is a quick item that I can send as the action and it will take less than a minute or two, I do it now. Added to this is a quick sweep in the morning and evening of any emails that are lingering in my inbox (yes, I know this is ferboten for some, but I use my inbox (and Gmail’s priority inbox) to let me know how I’m doing.) I never make it inbox zero, but on most good days I’ve maintained the email equilibrium and don’t have more than I had at the beginning of the day. Also, consider using the excellent email filtering tool Sanebox to make it easier to go through all of the bacn that would otherwise clog your inbox.

How can I help you?

This habit has produced the most divergent and interesting answers and opportunities. Simply asking “how can I help you” yields nothing … and everything. It’s really cool to just ask people a question and to see how they respond – it opens up opportunities to really help people. So just make a habit of the question that works for you, ask it to the people in your life, and see how it changes things. Good luck!