Josh Pitzalis

Optimising for retention.

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Everything I Know About Gamification

Gamification is about using game elements and game design techniques in non-game contexts.

Game thinking is a great way to approach a problem because it starts with asking why people buy, use or do your thing in the first place? The process always begins by understanding THEIR motivation.

Game thinking also prevents you from calling people ‘users’. Apart from the fact that it makes me think of junkies, it also misrepresents who is in control. Having ‘users’ fools you into thinking people need your app. The truth is that they can always stop using your thing when it becomes shit. Calling them ‘players’ subtly highlights this fact and makes it clear that the onus is on you to figure out how to make your thing more compelling, interesting and fun.

Gamification is about motivating people.

If you need more qualified people, or if your prices are too high, then gamification won’t help...

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Measuring Retention

If you care about growth then you should care about retention.

Retention is the number of people who continue to use your product.

Without retention, all you have is a leaky bucket.

You can pour as much time and money into marketing as you like, but no retention means zero long-term users. The long-term growth of a product and the overall health of a business depends on how well you retain your users.

If you don’t show people the real value of your product early and often, it will die.

Even the best products lose the majority of their users in a few days. Amplitude wrote an amazing book called Mastering Retention and in it, they estimate 80% of new users stop using the average app three days after downloading it.

If you make retention your primary growth metric, you can change the trajectory of your company from one that loses users over time, to one that sustains true growth.


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Samuel Hulick wrote a fantastic book called The Elements of User Onboarding. This post is an outline of how I intend to apply the principles of the book to my current project.

The main lesson learned is that onboarding is not about teaching someone how to use your app; it’s about helping someone become a better person.

Hulick’s point is that to your user; your app is just a means to the better version of themselves that they signed up for. Nobody cares about your project. What they want is the improvement it affords them.

Understanding how people want to improve and what they think they are signing up for is key here. No amount of flashy marketing or fancy design will win over a clear understanding of your audience and how they would like to improve.

Applying this to my current project, I am helping average freelancers make the jump to becoming PRO.

Your average freelancer lives...

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A criminally-undervalued aspect of product design is the act of simply acknowledging that someone has achieved something important or complex (or both).

Samuel Hulick, The Elements of User Onboarding

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Client Tree Helps Freelancers Book Clients Three Months In Advance

Client Tree, a project started by two friends in Goa (India), announced today their new tool to help freelancers battle the uncertainty of finding great clients and booking high-quality work is out of beta and ready for the public.

The new tool was built as a direct response to the growing number of people who now have a second or even third job in the gig economy. The term “gig economy” was popularized around the height of the 2008-2009 financial crisis, and refers to the dramatic change in the way people view and perform work. Being hyper-connected via social networks has increased communication and has opened new ways to make money online, picking up a “gig” (or a temporary work engagement) can be as easy as making plans for dinner.

The problem is that the vast majority of the new ‘gig-economy’ workforce has little to no experience running their own business, finding work or...

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Writing Copy

Given the amount of advertising we are exposed to on a daily basis, most people instinctively resist anything that feels like marketing.

When you have to sell something you can write copy in a way that addresses a specific sequence of concerns that people have when being sold to.

I’ve put together a list of questions I run through when I’m putting words together to sell stuff.

First Draft - Coherence

  • Do they know what the thing does and what it’s obvious benefit is?

An easy way to get your pen to paper is to call up a friend, or catch up over coffee, and tell them about the thing. No sales pitch, just tell them what it is and why you think it is interesting. By the end of it, they should know what the thing does and what it’s obvious benefit is.

Second Draft - Persuasion

  • Always start with a problem.

Our brains are fine-tuned to pick up on problems. If you want someone’s...

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Sell Your Thing

The Brain Audit is a fantastic little book that breaks a sale down into a specific sequence of concerns that need to address in any sale.

The Problem

You always start with a problem.

Our brains are fine-tuned to detect problems. A giant piece of cake the sidewalk might get you attention but a tiger would stop you dead in your tracks.

Everybody has problems. The person you are speaking to is likely juggling several problems all at once. If you are going to get them to pay attention to your problem then you are going to have to put a spotlight on it.

The only way to highlight your problem is to contextualise it. If you don’t contextualise a problem for someone then they can’t relate to it.

People are busy. Busy with their many problems. Unless your problem speaks to someone’s immediate context, they are not going to give a shit about it.

Let’s say your thing is allergy medication...

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Spin Selling

Neil Rackman and his colleagues spent 10 years analyzing sales transactions. They studied 116 factors that might play some part in sales performance and they researched how people sell effectively in 27 different countries. Their study, which cost over a million dollars in systematic research, constituted the largest ever investigation into sales.

They discovered that there is a major difference in selling lower and higher value items. The reason is that larger sales generally occur over a longer timeframe which means an on-going relationship between the salesperson and the client develops in a way that it wouldn’t necessarily develop in a smaller Sale. There is also often more than one person involved in a high-value purchasing decision and the amount of money involved means that the risk, both financial and social, is higher. All of these factors combined to change the way people...

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Building 21st Night

This post outlines my experience building a web-based tool that makes learning complicated information quick and effective. You add information to the system in the form of cards, and the app works out which cards you need to review on what days.

The Problem

Trevor Klee is a private tutor who specialises in helping students prepare for standardised tests, like the GMAT and MCAT. He sometimes uses a Google spreadsheet to compile links of relevant topics for his students. They use the spreadsheet to review the information and then assess their understanding after each link. Depending on their performance, they mark the link for review the next day, in 3 days or a week later. Here is what a spreadsheet looked like in practice.


The process is tedious, and Trevor wanted a simple application that took care of all the details.

There are existing apps for this, Anki being the most popular...

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3592 hours

Today I worked on the page that lets you edit individual flashcards in the spaced repetition memory app I am working on.

This is where I started.

The main thing to fix was the tag component in the top right corner. I turned it into a dropdown and populated it with all the existing tags in the category. That way people can see what tags have already been created and they don’t end up creating a bunch of similar tags that should probably all be the same thing.

Screenshot 2019-05-30 at 2.01.18 PM.png

On the answer tab, I started with this…

Screenshot 2019-05-30 at 5.22.01 PM.png

I needed to add tags to each of the inputs and rearrange the layout a bit.

Screenshot 2019-05-30 at 5.20.51 PM.png

Broke a bunch of tests in the process, so there was a lot of time spent fixing tests and regretting writing them. I suppose that’s much better than regretting not writing tests in the first place.

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