Richard Reis
Jul 18 · 3 min read
By Richard Reis

Recently, I started building an app, Gurgeh. Every week I learn something new (this is a common feeling among founders). So I decided to share my weekly lessons in the hopes that (1) I don’t forget them and (2) they help you on your own journey.

Today’s topic has been on my mind a lot lately.

So let’s get straight to it.

What is the “ring of fire?”

I first heard about this in an Adam D’Angelo (co-founder of Quora) talk. It’s a really useful concept.

Basically, the idea is that getting new users is cool, but retaining old users is (arguably) more important.

Let’s do a thought experiment.

Imagine you have an app out there (let’s say it’s a mobile game).

Imagine your users like it when they first download it. But after playing 2–3 times, they find it repetitive and never open it again.

Uh oh… Your app isn’t retaining them.

Now, imagine Kim Kardashian downloads your app and enjoys her first experience so much she decides to tweet about it to her 60 million followers.

Overnight, 1 million people download your app! This is amazing!

You tell your friends about it, Tech Crunch writes about you, and you call your mom to tell her the good news. Wow, all that hard work paid off.


Remember your original problem? After using your app 2–3 times, your users (including Kim) never open it again.

You’re back to square one because you couldn’t retain your old users.

That’s the ring of fire.

It sucks. And happens all the time (think about Groupon or Pokemon Go).

Sidenote: The opposite of this is Facebook, where total usage is growing faster than number of users (!!). This is insane (and also what I’m currently working on with Gurgeh).

Here’s the analogy in Adam D’Angelo’s own words:

“Imagine there’s a big field of dead grass and someone lights a match in the middle. You’re going to get a fire and the fire is going to grow and grow. But then, in the middle of the fire, you’re going to start to run out of fuel and it’s going to burn out. So you get this ring and the ring is going to get bigger and bigger, and in the center you’re going to burn out more and more of the fuel. […] So the fire will get bigger […], but eventually you’re going to run out of the whole field and the fire’s going to stop.” — Adam D’Angelo

He even did a funny gif to illustrate this idea.

Notice how each frame has more fire than the last one? It looks great for a moment, right? But it isn’t.

At the end of the day, all that’s left is an empty field.

So remember, retention > growth.

And that’s it for today!

See you next week.

Be well.


Thanks for reading! 😊 If you enjoyed it, test how many times can you hit 👏 in 5 seconds. It’s great cardio for your fingers AND will help other people see the story.

The Mission

A network of business & tech podcasts designed to accelerate learning. Selected as “Best of 2018” by Apple.

Richard Reis

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"I write this not for the many, but for you; each of us is enough of an audience for the other." - Epicurus

The Mission

A network of business & tech podcasts designed to accelerate learning. Selected as “Best of 2018” by Apple.

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