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What Every Startup Needs To Know About The Psychology Of Choice

Source | FastCompany : By BRIAN SCORDATO

There are two types of people in this world, or at least in my New York City neighborhood: Those who get bagels from David’s, and those who get bagels from Bagel Boss.

Both bagel shops sit on one side of First Avenue between 15th and 16th streets. They’re just about next door. So if you live within a six-block radius of that stretch of sidewalk, chances are you’ve got an opinion—in some circles, they’re the House Lanniser and House Stark of the local bagel world.

Bagel Boss (left) and David’s (far right), the House Stark and House Lannister of East Village bagels.Photo: Brian Scordato

You wouldn’t know it just by looking, though. The shops are nearly identical. Sure, you’ll hear people talk about David’s being fluffier or Bagel Boss tasting fresher, but I don’t buy it. There’s only one substantive difference: Bagel Boss is kosher. If you want a bacon, egg, and cheese ,  you’re going to David’s. Anything else, and you’re good at either spot.

I’ve even brought friends who prefer Bagel Boss some bagels from David’s, and they’ve never noticed the difference. Why the heck would I do that? Because I’m firmly House David’s—I wouldn’t be caught dead in Bagel Boss.

The reason all this matters is because I care—deeply—about a bagel place. And for anyone who makes stuff and sells it, that’s a pretty big deal.

Ask any entrepreneur and they’ll probably tell you it’s getting harder to forge meaningful relationships with customers, as choices for just about everything multiply. That makes the little anomalies—products that elicit real emotions—reallyimportant.

So let’s talk bagels and behavioral science.


A big part of an entrepreneur’s job is to notice things other people miss—to understand the motivations behind the series of decisions that lead a customer to take some sort of action, with that action hopefully being to buy your thing. Your understanding of how your users feel during that process is what differentiates your business. The better you know that differentiator, the better your product will be.

I get a toasted everything bagel with scallion cream cheese from David’s every Sunday. This delicious decision is far more complex than you’d think. Here’s my “bagel decision flow”:

  1. I wake up. It’s Sunday morning and I’m hungry.
  2. I live in New York — the breakfast world is my oyster.
  3. Nevertheless and without fail, I return to David’s, over and over.

Why? People think they want choices. They don’t. Choices increase anxiety. Choices also create opportunity cost. When I have too many choices, my breakfast becomes great only if it’s better than how good I perceive the place we didn’t go would’ve been. The last thing I need is brunch FOMO.

What’s more, choices, after a certain point, are demotivating—too many options, it turns out, can paralyze.

So when Sunday starts with an open-ended question like, “Where should we eat breakfast in NYC this morning?” my mind starts cranking away at how I can lower the stakes of that decision. It’s Sunday morning. I don’t want stakes.

Read On…

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