Software as a Habit

Do you remember Larry Page’s toothbrush test? I’ve recently spent time thinking about products that go even beyond that. Software that, by using it daily, creates a real life behaviour or habit that actually improves your life.

I first realised software having that effect when I started tracking my runs with RunKeeper. Sure, the app also serves as a stop watch and tells you information like your pace and calories burnt. However, I primarily used it to motivate myself to run more often. Just by visualising, keeping count and aggregating all my runs, I pushed myself to run longer and more regularly. Simple, but it worked. That’s just one (subjective) example of course, let’s look at a few more that I have since come across:

  • Lifesum is a ‘personal coach to reach and maintain your weight goals’ by tracking what you eat and how often you work out.
  • Sleepcycle tracks how long and deep you sleep and wakes you when you are in the lightest sleep phase.
  • Freelytics gives you individual weekly training plans and adjusts dynamically on your feedback and performance.

Now I would think that eating well, sleeping enough and exercising regularly are habits that (almost) everybody would agree are part of living a ‘healthy’ life. Yet so few of us have the willpower to actually commit to these habits. I think this is exactly where technology can be a ‘digital crutch’, which reminds us of these benefits and reduces the friction of these behaviours. My guess is that the emergence of wearable technology and idea of ‘Quantified Self’ are only going to accelerate that.

Here are a few more that go beyond exercise and nutrition:

  • Glow allows women to track fertility cycles to avoid pregnancy or trying to increase the chances to conceive.
  • mySugr reminds people with diabetes to measure their glucose levels and effectively creates a blood sugar history that can be communicated to doctors. They also do a great job in gamifying the process for children.
  • DuoLingo lets you learn a(ny) language for free by offering bite-sized, daily exercises and challenges that you can complete on your phone.

I give you these examples, because I don’t think the opportunity stops with ‘living healthy’. In fact, I think that there is still massive potential beyond that. Think about other behaviours that are generally good for you, but hard to commit to: Learning new things, saving money, staying in touch with friends, getting medical checks, reducing alcohol or tobacco consumption … If you catch yourself saying ‘Oh (wo)man, I should (not) have done X’ repeatedly, there is a good chance you will find an opportunity.

And there’s more: I also believe that software can have the same effect on behaviours in professional life. At Point Nine we have invested in at least two businesses that I would classify as ‘Software as a Habit’:

  • 15Five improves your team’s communication by sending out weekly reports that ask employees a few simple questions and allows team leads to respond directly to any needs or feedback.
  • Contactually helps you to stay in touch with (and thus top of mind of) people that are important to your business by synching with your address book and sending you automated follow-up reminders.

Regular communication with employees and keeping important relationships intact — you can see the parallels to the apps above — are behaviours that most of us are striving for anyways. But software can give us a systematic, almost automated way to commit to these habits by delivering a clear call-to-action. Just as with consumer apps, I believe that there are many more habits in business life that software could support or help forming. If you are aware of some, I would be curious to hear about them. And if you are building one yourself, feel free to get in touch with us. ☺

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