This is something that kept my head busy thinking for quite a while now. Especially these last few weeks, as it happened at least three or four times. A few early stage startups were asking me about the number of downloads they would need to reach critical mass and be attractive for an investor.
It’s actually impossible to say what number of downloads or free users you need on your platform to reach critical mass or be attractive for an investor. It varies from industry to industry and company to company.
If anyone out there has any numbers, feel free to forward them...
But even more importantly, the number of downloads or registered users on your platform is the wrong metric to look at anyways (more on this later).
Let's briefly take a look at an example. The example that everybody refers to. Let's take a look at Facebook. When they raised their first round in the year of 2005 they already had 500k+ users on their platform. Maybe they had more, maybe they had less. I don’t remember and it doesn’t really matter that much.
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But what matters here is that this was about 10 years ago, so I would assume that it’s a hell lot of more users or downloads you would need to have today...
Anyways. What I want to focus on right here and right now is something else. I want to focus on a metric which is a lot more important than the simple metric of app downloads or users on your fancy new platform or your cool new social media network.
The one metric that you should actually look at is the one that tells you how many people REALLY love your app, you product or your service. It's not about how many one night stands you had (e.g. app downloads). It's more about how many people fell in love with you (or your app actually).
But how can one actually measure the degree of love for a product?
The metric we should focus on is called retention. It tells you how many of your users keep using your product. Hence, it tells you whether or not people love your product (usage vs. no usage). In a next step we need to figure out how much they love our product.
This can be done by measuring how often they use our app per minute, per hour, per day and so on. If someone uses our app let’s say ten times a day, that might be a first indicator that this user loves our product quite a lot.
She comes back for more over and over again.
She might actually have built a habit of using our product. And that’s exactly where we need to get in the early phases of our product. It's not about the damn downloads! It's about measuring how much people love our products!
And once we got there it doesn’t really matter anymore whether or not we have 100 or 1 million users. Everything that counts is to have a significant sample that confirms a big enough retention and usage of the service.
Hence, all we need is a high percentage of people that really love our product and use it over and over again. People that can't live without our product anymore.
But how the hell do we get people to use our product all the time and make them want to come back over and over again? How do we get them to love our products?
We need a hook. We need a hook that makes them want to come back over and over again. This can be feature, a reward mechanism or something else completely. All it needs to do is to make people want to come back.
It needs to make them fall in love with our product.
The usage of your product has to become a habit.
They need to build up some kind of addiction. People need to integrate it into their daily routine. They need to form a habit of using it. And if they don't use it, they need to feel like something is missing in their life.
Just like it has become a habit to use Facebook to communicate with your friends. It built on the human habit and need of communicating with other people and made it a lot more convenient.
It's now a habit for more than a billion people worldwide to use Facebook as primary communication medium.
The same holds true for e-mail and sms. They built on the human need to communicate with other humans. All they did is to offer a new and easier way of doing so.
More recent examples include Tinder, which is solely built on the human need of other’s approval and validation and turned it into a habit and in some cases even an addiction...
Summing up, what all of this means is that it really doesn’t matter whether or not you have one hundred or one million users or app downloads. That's not what you should focus on.
Instead, you should focus on finding your hook, the underlying habit or need that you're trying to serve. And once you found it you need to make sure that your users can easily build a habit around your product so they can conveniently use it over and over again.
So go out, focus on finding your hook and enable your users to build a habit around using your product. Forget about the number of users or app downloads in your early stages...
If you want to know more about how to find your hook and how to build habit forming products, you might want to take a look at Nir Eyal’s book “Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products”. I highly recommend reading it...