How To Create A Sticky Product That Ensures Repeat Users


Hanmei Wu is the CEO and Co-Founder of Empowerly, a college counseling service and online platform that connects students with counselors.

Sticky products are the lifeblood of any successful startup and, by definition, they generate repeat users and encourage them to tell others about said product. Products that are “sticky” have clear value to your users—either it saves them time, makes their lives better or they simply enjoy the experience of using your product.

This piece will focus on how to build a truly sticky product—one that users will continually return to because of the benefits, rewards and satisfaction that comes from using it.

What is a sticky product?

A great sticky product is a painkiller, not a vitamin. Products that provide inherent value, satisfy customers and give users an experience they want to repeat are all elements of sticky products that consumers continue to use. If you build sticky products the right way, with solving the customer’s pain points as your main north star, you’ll spend less time trying to keep users on the platform (as they will want to use it) and more time on improving your product experience to truly delight your users.

The best sticky products:

• Provide value to users as quickly as possible;

• Solve the problem, not serve as a band-aid solution;

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• Create a “hook” that brings users back to your product;

• Eliminate barriers to using your product;

• Educate users on how to achieve ideal outcomes using your product;

• Are simple and easy to use; and,

• Are based on regular user communication via surveys, interviews and focus groups.

How do I know if I’m building a sticky product that users actually want to use?

Understanding your product-market fit is the first step in identifying if the product you are building is one that users actually want. The easiest way to determine this is by talking to your customers early and often. Getting to know your early adopters and potential customers is key to evaluating if your solutions are the best way to solve their problems.

There’s no need to overthink how you start chatting with customers. The most important thing is that you do so as soon as possible. Here are some existing frameworks to help ensure you’re asking the right questions of your customers:

1. Customer interviews: These are one-to-one discussions with your users that are typically short, informal and focused on three to five questions.

2. Focus groups: Focus groups include multiple customers in one meeting and take the shape of an open-ended discussion led by one to two big questions.

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3. Surveys: These are the easiest communication medium to share with customers and can be embedded in your product or sent to customers via communication channels.

What if you don’t have customers to talk to in the early stage? Your next best option is to chat with subject matter experts in your industry. It is important that your team members always think like your customers, even before you’ve had a chance to build a minimal viable product. Establishing an advisory board of professionals you can tap into for these early conversations will help your team validate your current assumptions about building a product that will solve the customer’s needs.

Why do data and community matter when building sticky products?

Data is one of the single most important resources a company or startup can leverage to build and maintain a sticky product, especially if your team is not the immediate user of the product. Data can also help you evaluate valuable metrics such as customer retention, churn rate, conversations from your marketing efforts and user engagement. Understanding why users leave or why they keep coming back is critical to building products people love. When you’re building the plane while flying it (a position startups and companies often find themselves in), data can serve as reassurance to guide your product development to the right path.

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Additionally, data can help you identify your happy customers. Happy customers are the catalyst to building strong communities that champion your product. Word of mouth is still the strongest referral source for any product. Using data to find your happy customers can help influence not just product development, but marketing and communications strategies as well. You must continue to foster this community through channels including your website, social media and media coverage. The same things that kept your current customers happy are the benefits that will attract new customers to your product. Your community of early users will also be the first group you should tap into for the early conversations mentioned above.

Building a sticky product is one challenge; retaining users who continually use your platform is where sticky products go from OK to great. The key to building products people want to use is to keep the user top of mind through every stage of development and iteration.

By continually providing value, you create something that not only solves your customers’ problems but also keeps them coming back for more and sharing it with their friends and colleagues.


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