What I learned from 80,000 habits

I started learning to program two years ago. I released my first app, Habit Streaks, shortly afterward. It was a simple habit tracker where 45,000 people created over 80,000 habits with it. The following is what I learned and how it led me to build my third app, Tribes.

Waking up early and going out for a jog. Isn’t that how we all wish our days started? 🏃

After analyzing the data, I found that all users created similar habits. In fact, almost all habits fell under few categories. Each category representing our fundamental needs for a fulfilling life: work, health, relationships and spiritual growth. It’s fascinating because having users from all over the world each with unique backgrounds, we all come back to the same needs. We are not that different after all.

Real people 👨‍👩‍👧‍👦

It’s easy to forget that real people are behind the interactions of an app. As an app developer, I spent most of my time behind a screen coding away for hours on end. It’s a paradox that technology gives you: incredible leverage to reach thousands of people but at the same time feel like you are not connecting with anyone. Over 45,000 people downloaded my app yet at times I asked myself if these were even real people. Bots maybe? 🤔

Because of this, I did all I could to connect with my customers. Inside the app I had a live chat where I held conversations with hundreds of people individually. From the regular user trying to figure out how to use the app to people telling me how the app had helped them overcome a heartbreak. I went event further by asking people through surveys if it was ok to call them. Surprisingly, many of them opted in! I sometimes undermine how genuinely friendly people are. I called people all over the world who told me all about themselves, how the app had helped them and how I could improve it. Talking to real people and understanding what they were going through allowed me to go beyond the metrics to realize the following…

It’s Hard 👊

The truth is that most of us who attempt to create a new habit will fail. After watching all the motivational videos in the world, reading all the self-help books possible and taking all action to prepare and even start your new life with new habits, it takes an incredible amount of self-discipline and effort to stick to it. Even when knowing the impact creating better habits can have in the long-run, I still fail to do so.

I couldn’t let it go at that though. The way I see it, 45,000 people gave me 80,000 opportunities to help them lead better lives. It didn’t matter if it was through my app or through their notebooks, the reality was that there was tons of them and they were looking for a solution.

Credit to Steve Vernon for the image

The idea of Habit Streaks started because my roommate and I wanted to create new habits while studying abroad in China. I put up a calendar on the wall and we agreed that every time we completed our habits we would put an X over the date. A few months in and we had become superhuman. Or at least that is how it felt. We were reading an hour everyday, we wouldn’t miss a day in the gym and were generally happier and more content with our lives. So I went ahead and built an app with streaks, calendars and reminders to imitate what we had done in real life.

Screenshots of Habit Streaks

I thought that it was these features that made us stick to our habits. In reality, it was the accountability between us two that made us take action. In hindsight, it’s obvious that it was the accountability that pushed us but it was an eye opener when my roommate made me realize this.

Scared that I wasn’t technically apt to code the social features into the app myself, I hired developers in India to build it. With my savings wiped out and a half-assed implementation of the feature I wanted, I made a video to introduce my idea to the world. Below is the video we made highlighting the new feature. It never got released because by the end of the filming I knew that I myself wouldn’t use it. I drank my own kool-aid and ignored my gut feeling that this was not a good product. Accountability wasn’t supposed to be a feature but rather the core aspect of the app.

Habit Streaks App Video. If you’re not embarrassed by your past work, there is a problem 🙈

Meet Tribes

With this app I tried to build something my friends and I would use. I figured if it works for me, it will work for others too. The idea is simple. Create a Tribe, invite your friends and stay active within your Tribe. You do so by completing your habits and by bombarding each other with motivation (push notifications) 📲.

There is something about being aware that your friends got their stuff done that makes it more likely for you to take action as well. Like when you have gym partner, if he or she calls you to go, there is a good chance you’re going to go.

I’ve tested the app with friends and family for 2 months now. It has shown solid results with everyone who tried it. The fact that they are still using it says a lot. When I showed them Habit Streaks, everyone stopped using it within a few days.

I believe that Tribes will help more people than Habit Streaks ever could. And hopefully I’ll write what I learn from 1 million habits in the future 😁

Tribes Intro Video

Want to follow up on how it goes? 100 downloads? 10,000 downloads? Did people find it useful? I’ll be publishing everything on my Twitter account: espitia7