App is a post-it or a duct-tape. What’s your case?

Compilation of post-its on a frigde and a duct tape next to some paper packages

Hey 👋, nice to see you here! In this post we’ll be checking a stickiness analogy for web applications. The claim is, apps are either post-it, or duct-tape in regards to how sticky they are to the people using them.

There will be no TL:DR; this time, as we will be explaining a thought process that leads to the above analogy.

App stickiness: entering the thought process

A week ago I was swiping my mobile apps and found a Sudoku app I’ve installed on 2020. I used to solve sudokus daily for a year and a half but then my interest dropped. This morning was the first time — literally — that I noticed this Sudoku app.

Quick jump, a day before finding the Sudoku app, we were talking with my partner on the growth of our side project Team O’clock. Lately we’ve noticed some more incoming traction and we commented on the actions we’ve done the last 2–3 months (yay!). Our app has some traction and a specific stickiness to it, teams come and teams go. We work on our onboarding and emails along with features improvement.

Another hop, now talking about my main work at Transifex. Transifex is a translation management system, companies add to their development workflow to reach global audiences. We’re talking with big companies that have diverse workflows. Workflow automations need investment of time — both on our side and on partner’s side.

Thinking all the above I had a revelation; there are two kind of apps in terms of stickiness:

  • The post-it apps, which are very easy to adopt and to start using but you’re OK if you stop using after a while. It’s like a shiny post-it that you joyfully stick to your desk with an awesome note on. After a while you might add another post-it on top, or the post-it will fall off.
  • The duct-tape apps, that need some effort on your side to start using. If you consider stop using it, you will need to do some more effort to remove all signs of that app. Like duct tape, when you scratch it off you do it carefully so that parts don’t stick in. After removing the duct tape you need extra work to clean-up the remaining stickiness.
A post-it reading “The Day is yours spend it wisely!”

‘Post-it’ and ‘Duct-tape’ examples

Let’s start from the examples already shared:

  • The Sudoku app belongs to the post-it category. You can easily install a game app in your phone and stick to it for a while. You don’t have any reason to keep using it, or something drawing you back out of necessity. Also, deleting the app it’s directly on your hand.
  • The Team O’clock web app also belongs to the post-it category. Teams and people, use it and try it out. Teams might even build habits around the app, but that’s the investment on their side. They can easily switch to a competitor with no re-precautions other than a slight discomfort on how another app will work.
  • The Transifex web app and services belong to the duct-tape category. Teams educated on using the app. New automations informing other services in your stack (talking directly to your GitHub repos, or building scripts over API). Switching away from Transifex will create a big discomfort and extra work. Scripts are replaced, teams need to be re-educated and adjust their workflow to the competitor app. This process will take time!

With that base let’s see some more Post-it examples:

  • Skype, Viber, Messenger. The biggest discomfort on switching to another app is basically your chat history and friends. Also, who remembers the ICQ messenger?
  • Hotjar, VWO, UserTesting, Figma, Sketch. These apps work in-parallel, or on the side of your main work. Switching away from any of these is just a decision.
  • 15Five, 7Geese, Asana, Trello, Jira, Confluence, Google Drive. If you have basic usage of these apps then it’s a matter of decision and the people discomfort during the transition period.
  • Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, Linkedin. Again, it’s mostly were the buzz is. Clubhouse is a striking case on socials ups and downs.

Moving to the duct-tape examples things are more obvious:

  • Salesforce, Hubspot, Chargebee, Stripe, Mixpanel. People build workflows on top of these apps. People integrate these apps with their own app writing code! I recall switching to Chargebee from Stripe a few years back. We still find code parts where Stripe is present! The same with Mixpanel and Fullstory — way back again.
  • GitHub, Bitbucket, NewRelic, Zapier, Slack, MS Teams. Heavy investment on automations that affect workflows! Removing one of these apps has a domino effect to a multitude of processes. Not to mention again custom code and triggers added to your own services codebase!

Digging a bit deeper

At a glance, you can easily see that the duct-tape category are all B2B apps. Services serving other services, not people.

Slack and MS Teams are weird cases. They refer to people and internal communication, like Jira, Trello, Asana. My sense is that they belong to duct-tapes only due to their integration marketplaces and the humongous adoption that these integrations have. The marketplace offers so many options that people rely on these integrations to do their work. An accurate analogy would be that Slack or MS Teams are post-it apps staying on spot with lots of duct-tapes added around them.

So is it bad or good belonging in any of the two categories?

My sense is that it’s neither good nor bad having a post-it or a duct-tape app. It means a lot regarding where your focus should be!

As a post-it app, you will struggle with acquisition, churn and retention! People can always find a new shiny post-it on a shape or colour of their liking. You will need to constantly improve your onboarding and keep inviting people back to your app with new offerings! For example, the Sudoku app had 3 or 4 new Sudoku playing modes since last time I visited! With Team O’clock, we keep improving our onboarding experience.

As a duct-tape app, you will struggle with workflows coverage! Since people make an investment they will want to make the most out of it! This means options to integrate and connect with more of their internal and third-party tools! Ofc, onboarding is still an issue! But this time requires more involvement and effort from your company! People will need more guidance as the process is more sophisticated with many moving parts.

Where does my app belong?

If you work on a web app check out this analogy on your own! The stickiness perspective is not how much effort and time it takes YOU to work on acquisition, churn, or integrations. Try to think instead “How easy is for people in my app to stop using?What’s their discomfort will be?”.

From your side, work will always be a duct-tape. Extra-sticky, cement-like, hard to clear previous mistakes, and slow to turnaround and see that light at the end of the tunnel.

If you liked this post or have a question drop a comment and a clap or two! Also checkout another analogy post for code building this time 🙂.

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Mike Giannakopoulos

Mike Giannakopoulos

Thinker, solver, experiences aficionado. Remotee worker, product Manager for hackthebox.eu. Always strive for self-improvement and balance.