If you’ve been online recently, you’ve heard about Nir Eyal’s new book, Hooked.

You’ve heard about it because it’s freaking awesome. It’s one the best business books to come out in 2014–and possibly the single most useful.

I’m not going to summarize his ideas here, instead, I’ve connected a few of the ideas in his book and used them in a slightly different way. Hooked is a quick read and there’s no fluff. You’ll read it in a day and be applying ideas to your business by the second chapter.

image of a book about habit forming products

Here’s What We’re Covering:

Getting Business Ideas

Evan Williams, the co-founder of Twitter, offers up this straight-forward formula for creating a new product or business:

Take a human desire, preferably one that has been around for a really long time…Identify that desire and use modern technology to take out steps.

This alone will take you a long way towards seeing opportunities all around you. Every complaint or annoyance is a sign that something could be done better. You could be the person that helps ease that pain.

Paul Graham has a simple formula that we can use to discover business ideas as well:

“Instead of asking ‘what problems should I solve?’ ask ‘what problem do I wish someone else would solve for me?’”

Nir also reports on another fascinating way that we can go about discovering business opportunities.

As Erika Hall, author of Just Enough Research writes, “When the research focuses on what people actually do (watch cat videos) rather than what they wish they did (produce cinema-quality home movies) it actually expands possibilities.” Looking for discrepancies exposes opportunities. Why do people really send text messages? Why do they take photos? Ask yourself what pain these habits solve and what the user might be feeling right before one of these actions.

What would your users want to achieve by using your solution? Where and when will they use it? What emotions influence their use and will trigger them to action?

First you figure out what people wish they did and compare it to what they actually do. Can you figure out why that gap exists? Maybe they aren’t motivated to make the change. Maybe they aren’t able to make it. Maybe they don’t think they’re able. There are a million reasons. Your opportunity lies in removing them.

This is the basis of every self-help. I pay money for a Tony Robbins course in the hope that he knows how help me shift my actions from where they are to where they want to be.

Nir continues to discuss how we can go about digging up these details:

Jack Dorsey, cofounder of Twitter and Square, shared how his companies answer these important questions: “[If] you want to build a product that is relevant to folks, you need to put yourself in their shoes and you need to write a story from their side. So, we spend a lot of time writing what’s called user narratives.”

Dorsey goes on to describe how he tries to truly understand his user: “He is in the middle of Chicago and they go to a coffee store… This is the experience they’re going to have. It reads like a play. It’s really, really beautiful. If you do that story well, then all of the prioritization, all of the product, all of the design and all the coordination that you need to do with these products just falls out naturally because you can edit the story from all levels of the organization, engineers to operations to support to designers to the business side of the house.”

Dorsey believes a clear description of users—their desires, emotions, the context with which they use the product—is paramount to building the right solution. In addition to Dorsey’s user narratives, tools like customer development, usability studies, and empathy maps are examples of methods for learning about potential users.

Get to the core emotion driving the user by asking “Why”.

One method is to try asking the question “Why?”as many times as it takes to get to an emotion. Usually, this will happen by the fifth why. This is a technique adapted from the Toyota Production System, described by Taiichi Ohno as the “5 Whys Method.” Ohno wrote that it was “the basis of Toyota’s scientific approach…by repeating “why?” five times, the nature of the problem as well as its solution becomes clear. 

Motivate Yourself & Others (To Use Your Product)

Ironically, reading about human behavior through the lens of product design gave me a clearer picture of my own behavior than other books designed to do specifically that. This is thanks partly due to the fact that some goals are best achieved by not aiming at them. Happiness, fulfillment, and self-knowledge tend to fall in the category. It’s also thanks to Nir just being a master at weaving together disparate knowledge and reframing it in useful ways.

He spends time throughout the book looking at the work of famed behavior scientist B.J. Fogg. What follows is a powerful set of laws of human behavior.

Three Ingredients Required to Initiate Any and All Behaviors

[B.J.] Fogg posits that there are three ingredients required to initiate any and all behaviors: (1) the user must have sufficient motivation; (2) the user must have the ability to complete the desired action; and (3) a trigger must be present to activate the behavior.

Let’s frame this for the wantrepreneur. Why have you not yet started your business? Let’s take a look at how Fogg’s model can help you understand. (Notice that I have changed “the user” to “You”–we all operate similarly.)

  1. You must have significant motivationThis on it’s own can almost make the other ingredients automatic. Nietzsche was more poetic about it: “He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.” Indeed. Tony Robbins makes sure people have a “why” for their goals because he has seen so many smart people fail because they didn’t care enough and plenty of dumb people succeed because they cared with all their hearts. If you don’t feel that you “must” start your business then you won’t. If you haven’t given yourself a significant enough reason why you need to become an entrepreneur, then you won’t. If you truly believe that this is something you have to do, then you will.
  2. You must have the ability to complete the desired action. If you can’t become and entrepreneur, then obviously you won’t. Now, with the barrier to entry at nearly zero, this isn’t the case for you. The corollary to this rule is more interesting: if you don’t believe you can complete the behavior, you won’t. If you don’t think you can, why not? That’s a trick question. You don’t know until you take action. Try the thing to discover your actual limitations and find out what you need to learn. It also helps to shift the narrative in your head. Find a story of a person who started where you’re at and became successful.
  3. A trigger must be present to activate the behavior. There are two types of triggers: internal and external. Nir dedicates many pages dealing with them but all we need understand here is that internal triggers are your emotions (usually negative) and external triggers are things outside of you (like a notification on an app). A wantrepreneur should set triggers for himself that will force him to actually start building a business. This could be something like a note over his computer that says, “Are you building or dreaming?” or it could be having his significant other call him out for doing infinite “research” that never ends in any progress.

Let’s Take a Look at Motivation

Fogg states that all humans are motivated to seek pleasure and avoid pain; to seek hope and avoid fear; and finally, to seek social acceptance and avoid rejection.

Let’s take a look at each in turn. Again, from the viewpoint of the wantrepreneur.

  1. Seek pleasure and avoid pain. Wantrepreneurs have associated pain to actually starting a business and pleasure to thinking about starting businesses. If he starts a business he might fail, then he’ll have to admit that he’s not as good as he thinks. Before you start a business you can stay delusional, you can believe you are capable of anything. (This is a cognitive bias called the Dunning-Kruger effect that states “unskilled individuals tend to suffer from illusory superiority … while highly skilled individuals tend to rate their ability lower than is accurate.”) It’s painful to admit our own limitations. It’s much more fun to think about all the success you’ll have. Of course, this only lasts so long. At some point you’ll look up and realize you haven’t done anything and then you might switch your pain/pleasure associations.
  2. Seek hope and avoid fear. It’s easy to have hope in planning because that’s basically all you’re doing. Thinking about stuff and hoping it happens. We avoid doing the scary stuff… like actually risking failure, rejection, and loss. The wantrepreneur needs to associate action to hope and learn to fear inaction. To do this you’ve got to take the perspective of the future you. The one who’ll be pissed off and more than a little sad that you didn’t do the thing you wanted to.
  3. Seek social acceptance and avoid rejection. The wantrepreneur is usually surrounded by other wantrepreneurs. People comfortable where they are. Maybe they think that if they try and fail they won’t have any friends to go back to. Maybe they think that their friends will stop talking to them if they start their business. Maybe they think that people will look at them and believe they have no right to start a business. Maybe. Probably. It’s pretty obvious what needs to be done about that one.

6 Elements of Simplicity

Sometimes we’re sufficiently motivated to do something and feel like we are able to do it… but then we don’t. Fogg describes the barriers that may be standing in our way.

Fogg describes six “elements of simplicity”—the factors that influence a task’s difficulty. These are:

  • Time—how long it takes to complete an action.
  • Money—the fiscal cost of taking an action.
  • Physical effort—the amount of labor involved in taking the action.
  • Brain cycles—the level of mental effort and focus required to take an action.
  • Social deviance—how accepted the behavior is by others.
  • Non-routine—according to Fogg, “How much the action matches or disrupts existing routines.”

To increase the likelihood that a behavior will occur, Fogg instructs designers to focus on simplicity as a function of the user’s scarcest resource at that moment. In other words: Identify what the user is missing. What is making it difficult for the user to accomplish the desired action?

Again, Nir has framed this to help us think about building products. They apps you use every day probably have low requirements for each of these elements. Let’s look at email:

  • It take almost no time to open up your email client and start typing.
  • Each email you send is totally free.
  • Clicking your finger isn’t very difficult.
  • It takes virtually zero brain cycles to open up the client because it’s such an ingrained action.
  • Everyone emails so it’s totally socially acceptable. Actually, not doing it makes you an eccentric.
  • It’s totally routine. It doesn’t disrupt your routine at all, it is your routine.

Let’s look at this from our wantrepreneur’s point of view. Each one of these presents a decision: is the wantrepreneur motivated enough to overcome the barrier?

  • Time. The wantrepreneur says he just doesn’t have the time. Yet he’ll spend hours pouring over books and blog posts about entrepreneurship. The Fix: Get rid of the BS (listicles, TV, hang out with idiots) you normally do and use that time to build.
  • Money. The wantrepreneur says he needs funding. He ignores the thousands of successful businesses that are bootstrapped every year. The Fix: Start building what you can. Figure out what you can do with no money.
  • Physical effort. The wantrepreneur doesn’t want to put the work in. It’s easier and safer (for now) to consume than create. The Fix: Realize that action creates energy.
  • Brain Cycles. The wantrepreneur doesn’t have enough mental energy for another project. His other job is too demanding. The Fixes: Get a crappier job where you don’t have to think all day OR reduce the amount of mental energy needed for your business by getting help and a plan AND/OR force yourself to care more, people who really give a crap have seemingly endless mental energy.
  • Social Deviance. The wantrepreneur is scared of being rejected from society. Scared of becoming an outsider and losing his friends. The Fix: Find a community, make new friends.
  • Non-routine. The wantrepreneur has wantrepeneur habits. The entrepreneur has entrepreneur habits. It’s freaking hard to change your routine. The good news is that once you do, it’s easy to stick with it. The Fix: Start small. Do one small thing, but do it every day. Add one small thing every other week. It’s not one immediate transformation, it’s a slow consistent process.

It’s scary how ubiquitous these rules are. The same levers you pull to nudge behavior in others are the levers you have to use on yourself. The sales tactics you use on others are the ones that work on you.


According to famed Silicon Valley investor Paul Graham, we haven’t had time to develop societal “antibodies to addictive new things.” Graham places responsibility on the user:

“Unless we want to be canaries in the coal mine of each new addiction—the people whose sad example becomes a lesson to future generations—we’ll have to figure out for ourselves what to avoid and how.”

Participating in the future means that we are going to have to exist in an increasingly addictive world. The same technology that multiplies our productivity can also hijack our lives.

The best way to not get hooked on things you don’t want to be hooked on is to be aware of them. Nir suggests the following ways to build your awareness of hooks:

  • Be aware of your behaviors and emotions for the next week as you use everyday products. Ask yourself:
  • What triggered me to use these products? Was I prompted externally or through internal means?
  • Am I using these products as intended?
  • How might these products improve their onboarding funnels, reengage users through additional external triggers, or encourage users to invest in their services?

We can use technology to push ourselves to be better humans. We can make technology to help humans be better.

Wrapping This Up…

If you don’t have a business idea then pick a formula from the first section and figure out 10 possible business ideas. If you leave them in the comments I’ll brainstorm with you.

If you do have a business idea but haven’t started building it then use the motivation section to pinpoint the thing that has stopped you from taking action. Again, if you leave this in the comment I’ll brainstorm ways to overcome the barrier with you.

Either way, go get Hooked! 

Whatever you do, remember: The Force is with you!


Avatar for Kyle Eschenroeder
Kyle Eschenroeder

Thanks for taking the time to read this! Let me know what you think - the good, the bad, the ugly - in the comments below.

I'm an entrepreneur (more in the StartupBros About Page) in St. Petersburg, FL

33 comments add your comment

  1. Dear Kyle,
    I read through your educative blog and its so inspirational. I’m an entrepreneur with an initiative of empowering women in South Sudan. i was a banker for seven straight years and on my private business, i used to empower women in South Sudan to become financially stable by providing them with finances. Many of you know South Sudan just got her independence from Sudan in 2011, South Sudan still a virgin market that has not been utilized to the maximum. My company’s name is called AWAIB, ALL WOMEN ACTION INITIATIVE BANK
    Experts say women lack access to finance, partly because of illiteracy, remote locations, and lack of documentation, but also because of deep-rooted patriarchal attitudes which mean men still control family budgets. Women who wish to start small businesses often do not have the technical and financial expertise or face discrimination at local banks when they try to get loans and other services.
    The setting up of All Women Action Initiative Bank is a small step towards the economic empowerment of our women. I have done it before, and I strongly believe that this initiative through your support will be an opening to a sustainable economic growth in South Sudan.
    I am also sure that it will particularly benefit women from the less privileged sections of our society. The fact that it will be run largely by women will serve as an example that given the opportunity, women are capable of taking on challenging tasks.

  2. Joshua. Have you made any progress ? You can reach me at harinathv@me(dot)com

  3. Hi Kyle
    I,ve been reading posts on starting but dis is the best. I,ve been battling with the idea of quitting and starting a business but I don,t have the motivation and I am not sure of succeeding.
    Ideas i,ve been toying with are:
    Trading in stocks
    Resuming forex trading
    Procurements for large corporations
    Public speaking
    A means to help people get energy 24hrs a day. And more later

  4. Just read this 2 weeks ago, what a coincidence! These days, we need all the leg-up we can get to compete in a crowded marketplace and Hooked definitely provides that. I’ll be using the strategies when I create my first App in a few months. I love this site, btw.

  5. I used to read the book of Rich Dad and Poor Dad series, but after happened to find this blog, I am attached to it because it is so near and real to me and my situation.
    Thank you, the master!

  6. Kyle- Good post. Like Dave McLure of 500Startups says, ‘Find something that sucks and make it suck less’


  7. Hi Kyle,

    Here are couple of my ideas I am currently thinking of pursuing. Please let me know your thoughts and any advise if you have for me.

    1.) Alternate medicine forum – Analytic data presentation on best working remedy for each specific disease
    2.) Insurance service – Comparing insurance quotes for folks and helping them saving money
    3.) Wealth Mgmt with conservative options – giving people option to invest on their own with fixed income options and showing them risks for each of them.

    these are just few of them and have more ideas I keep on speculating as well. The issue I am facing is I am not able to convince myself 100% on any one and just jump on to it. Please advise how I can make that determination.


  8. Putting this on my list.

    Funny, I literally just wrote you that you should do some book recommendations, then I go here and find this. Haha.

  9. I sure will!!!

    I’ll Def keep you updated on the success. Oh and do you do group deals on your import training? For instance if my business partner and I want to sign up…

  10. I’ve been reading articles and books, watching videos and listening to podcasts for over a year now. Thing is, I have taken SOME action, but I’m not sure what to do. I am a drummer. I love drums, playing drums, watching/listening to other drummers play. So, I decided to start a drum company. I don’t have a wood lathe or the money to buy one, so I figured out how to make drum shells without a lathe. Any tool I needed that I couldn’t afford, I either YouTubed a solution or created my own. I build stave drums, which requires much less glue than commercial ply drums, thus improving resonance and sound quality. But, that being said, I still get stuck. I watched an article with Noah Kagan where he asked a wantrepreneur what problem they were solving and it hit me. I’m not solving a problem, there are plenty of drum shops out there, plenty of guys building amazing, beautiful drums that sound amazing. There are ridiculous amounts of custom drum builders. I have no idea how to set myself apart and I’ve racked my brain. So, my question is…what if you’ve found your idea, taken action, then realize you’re one of a million who’s good at what they do? I don’t want to sell random stuff just to make money, I want to enjoy what I do and make money along the way. Any advice is appreciated. (Sorry for such a long post.)

    • Hey Matt,

      If you want to do the drum thing, then you’ve got to differentiate yourself. Being one of a million others doesn’t mean your dead in the water. Do you have any idea how many other blogs about entrepreneurship there are!?

      If you link to your product site I’d be happy to give you an idea.

      But keep in mind Paul Graham’s advice from the article: “Instead of asking ‘what problems should I solve?’ ask ‘what problem do I wish someone else would solve for me?’”

      Notice that this shifts the focus to solving a problem that others are less eager to solve–and therefore doing something less people are willing to do. (ie something with easier profits.)

  11. Gaaaah! Get out of my brain!! You’re describing all my issues and I thank you for that. I recently stopped freelancing for an ad agency and decided that type of work doesn’t inspire me anymore, and I’ve been stuck brooding for 2 months… too afraid to start or approach anything new and i cant seem to pick a subject to go on. Like you said, I’ve got no inspiration or motivation. I’m still writing that book you pushed me to write though. Your articles help always. Thanks again!

    • Writing that book is probably enough! Have you considered just going hardcore into that for now?

  12. Thanks for the cool article bro. Fantastic and you should pay yourself for atlast making 2 of us to open up to share our thoughts.

    5 ideas that are keeping me awake and utterly confused to fit myself into the main stream work force are –

    1. BillManager app
    2. GreenSparthan (similar to Joshua’s plan of Led Retrofitting)
    3. Recycler
    4. Crop monitor bees
    5. A cargo management system
    I look forward to hearing from you. Thanks once again for providing me a platform for my inner voice
    To speak up.

    • It’s great to hear from you Harinath 🙂

      I know a guy doing LED Retrofitting and he’s doing fairly well. It’s a simple enough business to get in to.

      I’d need more details to help brainstorm on these but the BillManager app sounds really interesting

  13. Thanks for the post…
    Alright 10 ideas
    1 teach stock trading basics
    2 write a book
    3 start a cleaning business
    4 sale baby products
    5 Drone business
    6 Led retrofitting business
    7 bluetooth exclusive products
    8 trade stocks for a living
    9 exotic car rental business
    10. Never work a reg job and sale random things.

    Haha thanks for the time hope you can brainstorm with me on some of these and no I’m not joking these are real thoughts of mine and some have proven profitable


    • Drone business and led retrofitting ideas are Cool. I don’t mind joining hands with you on these two counts. Let’s get rolling. Ping me if you are looking to bounce ideas and gather steam.

        • I’d prefer to keep them in the comments (and will get to them much quicker) but you can email bros at startupbros dot com anytime 😉

    • Sweet Josh–which one is most exciting to you right now?

        • For trading, here are most of my thoughts: startupbros.com/make-lose-2000000-day-trading-system-story/

          Drones are awesome, do you want to resell them? Teach people to pilot them?

          It’s really about getting specific. There are a ton of ways to succeed with any of those things.

          • I would resale the drones but also have a service of some sort with them.

            Oh yeah and Def read that piece on trading. I trade stocks now and have for awhile…love it…because it’s most about risk management, taking gains quick and cutting loses. Anyways I’ll stop blabbing…

            That is my biggest issue, “getting specific” with my business but you are def helping with the clarity!!!…

          • Nice glad your like to talk trading as well!!!

            I def read the piece on importing a couple time and sat through like 3 of the webinars…veryyy helpful and thats what set me up for selling more stuff through alibaba. oh and def saw the drones on there and have been researching that. Just want to find the right angle with it.

            I hear you though! that one thing and hone in on that…makes since but def harder to do than it sounds lol

  14. Hi Kyle,
    Thanks again for an interesting and inspiring blog post. I don’t have 10 business ideas but I am interested in accelerating/ improving the idea to achievement process for entrepreneurs. I’ll certainly look up the 5 whys. Thanks!

  15. Totally fangirling, and I feel ridiculous saying that – BUT, I am in the middle of troubleshooting one of my products and this post just gave me so many clear insights about how to get this done! I appreciate the readability of this post too – keep up the fantastic work.

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