Maker Hunt’s AMA with Samuel Hulick from UserOnboarding

We’re starting the AMA w/ Samuel Hulick. You can read more about Samuel at:

And follow him at

He’s the author of The Elements of User Onboarding and runs, where he reviews the first-run experience of many popular web apps. If you have questions about user onboarding or UX in general, he’s the guy you want to ask

You can introduce yourself. The floor is yours.

Hi all! My name is Samuel Hulick. I’m the author of The Elements of User Onboarding and run the website, where I review the first-run experience of many popular web apps. If you have questions about user onboarding, UX in general, or my experiences in particular, I’m an open book. You might be surprised what I will answer.

Q. What are the most common mistakes you see companies make during the onboarding process? — Eric Willis

I covered that in lots of detail right here:

If you have any follow-up questions on any of them, please shoot! Otherwise, my answers remain the same.

Q. Which onboarding experiences do you like the best? — Jeff Regan

Duolingo’s onboarding is, from where I’m standing, the most impressive I’ve come across:

Slack’s is pretty rad in parts, as well:

But I always make a point of noting that, since I don’t have access to their conversion data and haven’t seen what the design teams have, that these are really much more subjective preferences than objective rulings.

Duolingo has 60 million users, which means they’re about as big as… Italy. I try not to rate onboarding experiences against each other, but this one is simply one of the very best. Enjoy!

Simply put, if Slack’s first-run experience was an Olympic medal, it would be gold. The level of detail, personality, and ingenuity is basically without parallel. Take notes on this one!

Q: How would you exactly define the term onboarding — when does it start and where does it end? does it even end? — Frank (@helmi)

I define onboarding as the process of increasing the likelihood that new users become successful when adopting your product. insofar as your product exists to provide value to its user, an onboarding opportunity exists anytime an opportunity to deliver more value exists.

Q. How do you judge if a onboarding experience is successful/good? What tools do you use to measure success for your own products? — Jeff Regan

I judge an onboarding experience by how reliably it delivers the most value to the most signups. that will be different for every company, but an example would be, if you’re TurboTax, measuring “dollars saved” in tax returns, as well as speed-to-delivery. that’s what someone’s “hiring” TurboTax to do for them.

Q. What are some of the best ways you “celebrate success with the user” during the onboarding process? — Eric Willis

There are so many ways! from something as small as an inline validation message saying “congrats!” or “good job!” to something as grand as Shopify’s rocket launch page:

(slide 64)

Essentially, being able to identify progress and punctuating the moment with a pat on the back whenever it happens.

When you think ecommerce, you think Shopify. That couldn’t have happened without an amazing onboarding experience, and I can honestly say this is one of the best I’ve reviewed to date!

Q. I have to admit, I’m really surprised about this answer — well at least a little bit. So you think it’s part of the onboarding process how well the product fits the user? So onboarding doesn’t only look at how good to get new users on board but also at the product itself in regards to the niche/target audience? — Frank (@helmi)

Here’s a story that might help:

Essentially, people are signing up for your product because they’re trying to accomplish something. onboarding is the process of assisting them in that. if you “onboard” someone by railroading them through activating features and they never get anything out of it, then I would not consider that being actually onboarded.

Q. Is there a startup that currently just nails the onboarding process in your opinion? If yes, what is it that they’re doing well? — Eric Willis

I’m really, really impressed with what Duolingo’s doing:

What I see them doing well is blending their “onboarding” experience into their “natural product” experience to the point that you can’t really tell the two apart. that’s really the ideal that I shoot for: get people up to speed without them realizing they’re being taught stuff.

Q. I’ve been going through your review slides endlessly — great job and service (and I agree with your definition about good onboarding you just gave). Question now: how do I get you to review our onboarding as we are not like Slack or Snapchat yet? Would love your feedback! — Paolo Perazzo

I’m so glad to hear it’s been helpful for you! the list for new products to review is super, super long right now. however, you may be interested in this:

Q. You’ve said that you shouldn’t really focus on the onboarding process until you’ve hit product/market fit. However, have you seen cases where the onboarding process was the major problem? — Eric Willis

It’s not so much that I’d hold off until you’ve hit product/market fit as it is that you should hold off until you have a very solid idea of what it is that people should even be doing in the first place. rather than investing in formalizing an automated onboarding experience from the getgo, I highly encourage people to instead “be” the onboarding experience so they can get that immediate feedback. once it becomes boringly obvious what people should do, THEN invest in the automated-interface-y kind of onboarding. and in general, B2B companies can afford to throw human resources at the problem a lot longer than B2C companies can, because the LTV for any given signup is so much higher.

Q. What is the most overlooked or underappreciated aspect of user onboarding? — Eric Willis

The first thing that comes to mind is using warm, inviting copy. it doesn’t take an extreme amount of engineering time to change copy like “you have no project” to “Looks like you’re new here — welcome! Here’s where your projects live. You can make your first one by clicking “New Project” in the top-left!”

Q. You are doing a great work with your different products around user onboarding (training, books, slides, etc). Any chance you could share some high level info about which ones work best for you? — ernesto_jimenez

I’m happy to share whatever. Are you specifically defining “best” as “most lucrative”?

I would say most lucrative is a factor, I would be curious to about whether you have recurring customers who purchase from you more than once, in which case I would guess there would be a “best gateway product” ☺

The teardowns are free, but they’re super useful for building up my email list, which is really the most important part of the whole UserOnboard effort. the book is the best way for someone new to dip their toe in the water, and from a financial standpoint I can say that book sales have replaced my previous salary. beyond that, I offer consulting and also speak, which combined are also roughly “old-salary” level.

Q. What do you think about life-cycle emails? Are those important for onboarding? — Eric Willis

VERY important! I have a saying that user onboarding isn’t about “setting them up” as much as it is about “getting them back”. even the most amazing first-run experience in the world can’t be counted upon people building up an ongoing relationship with your product. lifecycle emails go to where the user is — their inbox — and pulls them back into your product over time. I wrote much more about it here:

Q. Are there some “must haves” that every onboarding experience needs to have? — Eric Willis

Q. What are the most important principles for onboarding on a mobile app? — Eric Willis

I’d be very skeptical of anyone claiming to have a “silver bullet” design pattern for user onboarding. If there is, I haven’t seen it yet. Every product is so different, just as every user base is so different. getting the latter up to speed with the former is going to require a lot of empathy and understanding, which a standardized design approach wouldn’t really cover. Either way, I think it’s fascinating and hope to discover some core UI components as I keep digging!

Q. Re-book sales. I’ve talked with some people who find the most expensive package is the least sold but the one that brings the most revenue. Is it true for you too? — ernesto_jimenez

Yes, mostly. one package is 5x the price of the other, and they both bring in roughly equal revenue. the “1x, 2.2x, 5x” concept espoused here seems to hold true:

Thanks for doing this AMA with us. Thanks so much!

It was such a pleasure to be here — thank you for having me!

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