A conversation with Nir Eyal about Behavior Engineering and why the last cookie in the jar is so tempting

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Some debates end in a draw. There’s no right answer, and there’s no definitive winner. Is entrepreneurship a function of nature or nurture? This topic has become a popular debate these days, and in all fairness, it’s a draw. There’s no right answer. For those individuals who pursue the entrepreneurial journey, there will always be success stories and tales of failure. The ‘naturally gifted’ probably win or lose just as often as the most studious. Having a high failure tolerance is likely a key differentiator. Ultimately the best outcome, win or lose, is the actual learning experience.

Vancouver’s Launch Academy is the quintessential learning experience. Since it’s founding as a non-profit in April 2012, it’s grown into a 9,000 square foot Gastown hub of startup energy. Approximately 70 companies and over 120 entrepreneurs are choosing to take advantage of the mentoring, networking, and learning opportunities provided. Being an early stage startup is all about embracing uncertainty, because success sure isn’t guaranteed.

Every startup is facing the same huge challenge of building a great, engaging and sellable product. Launch Academy understands how important the science of user engagement is. On the eve of the Grow Conference, Launch Academy brought in Nir Eyal, author of  “Hooked”, for a 3-hour presentation.

Prior to making the trip to Vancouver, we interview Eyal and he graciously shared valuable insights. Even with a couple successful exits to his name, it turns out he’s not asked very often to share his viewpoints on the speaking and workshop circuit. Eyal responded by stating that he “loves it” and that there’s the “feeling of a sense of relief when finding the answers to so many previous head banging experiences… It’s special seeing the light bulbs going on with every talk I give, and that it reminds me of my own revelations from working through every product challenge from my own startups.”

The Hooked workshop really focuses on understanding how to build products more efficiently. Eyal “wants to make the build, measure, learn loop more efficient. I want to help businesses Increase the odds of building the right things sooner… there are things we can observe about the customer by asking them what they want, but there are so many things we can’t observe. To understand the unseen we need to turn to psychology. We need to look inside the mind of the customer, and understand the things they may not be able to tell us.”

Eyal is an avid reader and points out that “while they’ve been around about 20 years, it’s only been fairly recently that we’re seeing behavior engineering and consumer psychology to be making serious inroads within the business community.” Ask yourself why do people pay more for last cookie in the jar? What’s the role of cognitive bias? Eval asks these types of questions everyday and sees that “we are now coming to a better realization of why these things work, and how to effectively implement such techniques ideally for good.”

It was interesting asking him to gaze into the future and share his thoughts about what we might be happening a year from now. Specifically noting that answers are one thing, but it’s being able to ask the right questions that often make the difference. So Nir left me pondering these questions; how can we connect healthy behaviour with a reward in real time? What will we see in terms of rapid or instant feedback in relation to the growing and quantified self movement of wearable technologies?

For a guy who’s all about behaviour, it’s a fitting end to a thoughtful conversation. If you’re looking for lessons about user engagement Nir Eyal is well worth following (@nireyal).

(Image Credit)

John Gray

John Gray

John jumped into the start-up world in early 2009. He was co-founder of Mentionmapp, a visual analytics company that was acquired in October 2011. John is Launch Academy's Program Facilitator, and is leading their Lean Entrepreneur Program. He's a freelance writer, focusing on keeping the humanity in our conversations about technology. John has a B.Ap.Sc. in Communications and a B.A. in English, both from Simon Fraser University.

  • mcelroy

    Wish I’d been in Van for his session. Heard good things.

  • Jackie Murchison

    Thanks for the great post, John! I heard really good things about the session.

  • Collin Stewart

    This was one of the best workshops I’ve ever attended. It’s events like these that make LA a truly special place. Great write up John!

  • Jerry Tian

    Wish I had attended. Anyone took notes?