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These are the 5 design principles I applied to build a sticky product that 800k people use every week.
More than 800,000 people use our Yellowfin product every week. We’ve achieved this by making user adoption and stickiness a core part of our product development.
We think about stickiness constantly and have a central goal to continuously improve our user adoption rates. It’s taken us years to understand the drivers of these behaviors. The lessons we’ve learned along the way can be distilled into five key components:
1. You must allow people to tell you that your baby is ugly
There’s not a software developer on the planet that doesn’t dream of building a sticky product.
But unless you’re incredibly lucky it’s not going to happen in your first iteration. It can take a long time to build a sticky product because you need many iterations before you really start to understand your users. What are the use cases? Who will get the most value from your product?
If you’re planning to build a product, you need to talk to your customers and understand how they personally experience it. You must be continuously open to feedback and allow someone to tell you that your baby is ugly – without becoming defensive.
If you’re truly open to harsh criticism then you can make it your mission to improve the product you’re building. It’s brutal but you’ve got to be prepared to rework your product, change it, and even throw whole components out on a month-by-month basis.
2. Collaboration drives user stickiness
Collaboration is critical if you want people to return to your product. If you look at any great consumer application today you’ll see that collaboration is baked into the core of the product. Whether it’s Instagram, Snapchat, or LinkedIn, messaging is a key tool that keeps bringing people back into the application.
Analytics is no different. If someone is looking at content and they find an error or an insight, they need to tell someone to drive change. We help them share that information with their colleagues. This also helps build our user adoption rate.
There are some simple parts of the platform that enhance collaboration. The broadcast functionality is an example. It gives our customers the ability to send alerts, so if their sales drop by 20% they can send an email to the sales team to let them know. This is a core differentiator in the market but it’s super simple and adds tremendous value.
It’s interesting to note that when we first started emphasizing collaboration some industry analysts questioned why. There are plenty of collaboration tools targeted at the enterprise, so they argued that we were never going to be able to take them on. But the point was never to build a better messaging tool. For us the point was to use collaboration to build a better analytics experience – one that actually drives organizational change.
3. Open up the invitation
If collaboration is core to stickiness, then it follows that you need to make it easy to add and invite new users to the product. It’s not that exciting to collaborate with just one or two other people, so you need to make it very easy to invite additional users into the platform.
Think about how easy it is to connect people to each other on Facebook and LinkedIn. Both platforms suggest people you should be connected to. Slack also makes it super simple for organizations by allowing anyone to register (I.e. In our case if you sign in with a @yellowfin.bi email address then you’re in). We use a lot of the same principles to encourage broader collaboration around analytics.
The more people who are collaborating on your product, the more the product is integrated to the way the organization does business. For Yellowfin, we’ve found that customers with less than 25 users can be difficult to retain and grow. That’s the tipping point where we know collaboration brings people back frequently enough to make the product sticky within the organization.
4. User interface (UI) matters more than any feature set
While collaboration and features are important, I think user interface is the most important thing in creating a sticky product. An excellent example is messaging platforms. What makes Slack better than all the other products out there? It does the same things as everyone else, but it has a demonstrably better UI. People find it easy to use.
You don’t need a multitude of features, you just need an interface that people want to engage with, is easy to use, and that helps people get what they need out of the product. That’s when you achieve end-user adoption.
5. Make sure there’s an unexpected reward to keep people coming back regularly
To make your product sticky you also need to give people a reason to keep coming back to your product. If every time they log on something has changed, then they have a reason to keep coming back. What makes Facebook so addictive is that your news feed continuously changes, so it becomes habitual to check it.
It’s the same for analytics. If you have analytics that only update once a month the chances of them becoming habitual are tiny. Sticky analytics require real time data. If I can login and see how my sales are tracking and whether I’m going to hit my forecast, then I’m going to keep logging in every day. It becomes a new adventure, you want to see what your numbers are going to look like, and your reward is that you can see them now.
Stickiness boils down to the overall user experience. You win if you create an experience that people love to use every day. Growing adoption and engagement is inevitable when you give users what they need and let them share that experience.