You Can't Refill a Leaky Bucket Forever

This is part of a series of reflections inspired by my Reforge Growth course. I'm part of a cohort of marketers learning how to develop a systematic approach to solving growth challenges. Find the whole series here.

It's a common misconception that the foundation of growing a company is acquiring new users. And that's a really important part: The more users the have, the more you can grow. Acquisition is satisfying. We can clearly see the numbers going up and up and up. 

But to really build sustainable growth, you need to keep users, not just add them. Otherwise, you'll be scrambling to refill a leaky bucket of customers leaving to try the next big thing. Even if you acquire users like crazy, if they don't stay, you'll lose in the long term.



To build the ideal retention curve (above), you need to start with usage behavior. How are people using your product? What's natural to them? You must balance the urge to constantly ping your users in the name of retention (or your marketing team).  

After mapping out their natural usage, then you can see where it makes sense to nurture your users—in email or push notifications, for example—so that they begin to form a habit from your product, rather than occasional usage. As Nir Eyal argues in Hooked, building habit into your product is essential to get your users to come back again and again.

To change behavior, products must ensure the user feels in control. People must want to use the service, not feel they have to.
— Nir Eyal, Hooked

Building retention loops into your product is essential to create a habit and encourage them to come back, as long as the foundation of your product is already awesome.

The key is to layer multiple retention loops (or hooks) that make the product so essential to their daily or weekly life that rather than need your encouragement to use it, users come back naturally. The idea of switching to something else should be painful.

The more you can retain your users over time, the stronger brand you build—and in turn, the stronger acquisition loops you can build. After all, would you invite someone to use something that you don't already know and love?

Including retention loops from onboarding and beyond can ensure that you're not spinning in a hamster wheel of acquiring user after user without going anywhere. To build true, sustainable growth, think about what makes your product worth staying for, not just worth trying.

 Find the whole series here.