Getting stickiness right | Thinking Product

My hypothesis is that great products have 3 characteristics.

1. Nail job-to-be-done: They are a great solution to a problem users care about

2. Delight to use: They are well designed

3. Sticky: Makes the customer/user want to come back

I wrote about nailing the job-to-be-done and delight to use characteristics in the last 2 weeks. Today, we’ll explore stickiness.

When I think of stickiness, the question I ask is – “Why will the user want to use the product again?” I’ve generally seen 3 ways apps do this –

  1. Feeds – Come back to see what is new. This works well with apps with network effects. E.g. Facebook or LinkedIn
  2. Notifications – If the notifications are high value (e.g. reminders that the user wants), the user will come back. E.g. Calendar or Mail
  3. A niche high value use case – Providing a use case that core users absolutely love. E.g. Waze

While examples of apps that use feeds and notifications are common, let’s spend a couple of minutes discussing Waze. Waze is a mapping app owned by Google. It was founded in Israel and acquired for over a billion dollars in 2013. Waze isn’t perfect (which product is?). I find its user interface occasionally confusing and it’s GPS capabilities aren’t the best. Google Maps does a better job with both.

But, there are a couple of things about Waze that make it special. First, Waze has built a reputation to help you find the best route using its data on which routes have more traffic. As an added bonus, Waze will also tell you if a store or restaurant is closed as you plan to head over. Both of this means you’d like to start your journey with Waze just to see what the app recommends.

Second, the use case that made Waze really popular among its users is the fact that the community notifies you if a police car or speed radar detector is coming up. As you might imagine, the police community hate this feature but the users love it. Not everyone cares about this feature but, for the ones who do, this feature is invaluable.

Venture Capitalist Fred Wilson has a post about building peer-to-peer apps with niche, high value use cases and he spoke about this feature as a great example of that. From the post –

“If you want to bootstrap a peer to peer network, you can’t start with the mainstream use case. You need to start with the highest value use case, even if it is a much smaller niche. Not everyone likes to drive 80mph in a 65mph zone. But the ones who do will take extra measures to avoid getting pulled over. They report the speed traps to everyone else in real time. Which is what the first users of Waze did.”

Oh, and the police notification works only if you are actively using the app (you need to type a destination). Switching the app on alone doesn’t help. Smart.

Waze example aside, it is really hard to build sticky products – especially mobile apps. The first version of most products aren’t generally good enough to ensure users come back every day. The most reliable way to ensure stickiness is to build a network driven feed. But, there are only so many network driven products that can thrive in the age of Facebook, Twitter, Snap, Pinterest and LinkedIn.

Building stickiness via notifications is easier said than done as notifications blindness can set in and play havoc with your plans.

That’s why going the niche, high value use case route matters for the rest of us. It is our dominant strategy on our journey to stickiness.


Over the past 3 weeks, I’ve written about the 3 aspects of great products – nailing job-to-be-done (Why does the user buy? What does the user fire/replace?), great design (Does the user know what it takes to win? How easy is it?), and stickiness (do you rely on network effects, notifications or a niche high value use case?). Most good products have one of these, great ones typically combine two and the rare exceptional product combines all three.

The next step will be to talk about how all this gets operationalized into a strategy for growth, onboarding and ongoing usage. More to follow.