Book Notes: Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products

Book Notes: Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products

Book Notes: Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products

I recently finished reading Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products ( and it had some insights that apply to product management. The book’s main purpose is to describe a framework that can be applied to product development to get users “hooked” on the product. After a user is hooked, their engagement with the product increases to deliver on the objective of the product, whether it be monthly active users or revenue.

The hooked model consists of 4 steps:

Step 1: Trigger Behavior

Step 2: Perform Action

Step 3: Variable Reward for Action

Step 4: Investment

Hooked Model

Students of psychology might find the steps similar to the operant conditioning model made famous by B.F. Skinner.

1. Trigger: Initiation of the loop may be through external triggers (such as ad, push notification, email, etc.) but through successive loops the user eventually creates internal triggers where a particular thought or emotion will send them back to the product. Think what made you first download Instagram or Facebook. It may have been an ad or someone mentioning it. This is an external trigger. As time goes on, you continue to go back to the app to fulfill an internal need to either post about your own experience or the experience of others.

2. Action: Once the user is on-boarded to your product, what it the simplest action they can perform to get some kind of reward? In the case of Instagram it’s double clicking a friends picture to show that you like it.

3. Variable reward: How are they rewarded for this behavior? This could be social validation (e.g. “my liked my photo!”), create a collection of material resources (e.g. add a photo to a collection). The “variable” component is important. Like a slot machine or any form of gambling, rewards should not always be predictable, encouraging users to repeat the cycle.

4. Investment: Lastly, the user needs to put some value back into the product that would cause them to restart the loop. Expanding on teh case of Instagram, this investment would be the list of friends they added and their collection of photos. The investment ensures that they will continue to use the app since their data is already in the app. In business this is known as switching costs. If a new Instagram competitor is introduced tomorrow with slightly better features, it would be tough for users to adopt the new competitive product since they would have to move their photo collection and friends list over or lose them completely.

When I think back to products that I’ve developed in the past or products that I use, I can see how each step is engrained int he product. It also explains why I frequently use some products and not others. As I develop new products, I’ll use this framework as a checklist to verify that I created a reason for the customer to use the product, a simple action that leads to a set of variable rewards, and a way for the user to invest in the product so that they continually return. How do you think this applies to your product development process?


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