What I Learned About User Acquisition From Bungy Jumping

On a hot sunny day in February 2005 I was standing on the ledge of a gondola hanged by cables above the Nevis valley. My legs were attached to a very long bungy cord most of which was already dangling in the deep void below me. This was, at the time, the world’s second highest land based bungy setup.

As this being my first bungy jump, I spent the days before the jump trying to imagine the experience of falling and then being stopped by a cord. I had strong feeling that I’m prepared and I know how it will go down.

Back to the ledge. I was scared to death, but I jumped. Immediately after my brain was able to make sense of the world again, which was probably a few hours later, I realized that my prediction of the experience was completely wrong.

Now I know that all I was able to do before the jump is to dig up previous experiences from my life and mix them together to predict the jump. The result was completely false. While falling, my sensory input sent me and explosion of new and unknown data to which my brain just didn’t know how to react. These were new entries to the book of experience. I never had the chance to imagine how the jump would be the same as I can’t imagine how would life be as a fish.

So what my first bungy jump has to do with startups? If the product we are working on is innovative enough, there is a good chance that this will be a new experience for our users. Ok, not dramatic as a bungy jump, but nevertheless something new. People will instinctively try to predict the experience in their minds before deciding wether to go for it or not. Did you try to imagine how the Airbnb or Uber experience will be before you tried it for the first time? You probably did.

When developing strategies of user acquisition it is crucial in my opinion to keep in mind that the user tries to make a prediction based on the visual and textual clues in the app, website or marketing material mixing it with her own previous life experiences. The former we can control.