What is Merlin Onboarding? (alternatively: what I’ve been working on this month)

As those of you that have been following my blog & social media: a month ago I left Google to try my hand at creating my own startup. I’ve been talking about my struggles, successes and learning’s here but have yet to actually talk about the idea so here it is: Merlin Onboarding

Problem Statement

Starting at a company is often as badly organised as baggage claims at an airport.

People start new jobs everyday and when they do they have to learn a new set of tools, processes & best practices. In fact the average time in a job (4.4 years) is expected to halve by the end of the decade. Companies try to help their new hires out by setting up training’s for their staff, sending them to help centers & using Learning Management Software (LMS’s) to try to do this at scale. However most people learn how to do things from the person next to them. This means that people’s onboarding is:

  • Inconsistent (you learn how your colleague does it not how the company should do it — I’ve seen great people fail at their job because their buddy didn’t know what they were doing)
  • Costly (the productivity of the person teaching you is reduced by your constant questions)
  • Limiting (you don’t want to ask people all the time so you often try and figure things out yourself which often means you do things completely wrong)

Thus Onboarding should be seen as a key are to improve for any company (big and small).

Current solutions

If you’ve started at a new company recently, I’m sure you’ve felt like the above!

As mentioned above people use Learning Management Software to reduce these issues, however these too have a lot of issues:

  • You have to go to the help center (if you can remember the link), search and then switch tabs while you try to complete the task (meaning most of the time people hate using them and often don’t even try)
  • Requires training teams to update (LMS’s are often hard to use and licenses for trainers are expensive)
  • Often out of date (due to the reason above meaning training teams are overrun with requests)
  • Expensive (so are normally only brought in for Enterprises that can afford them)

Our Solution:

Let me know what you think of the logo in the comments below!

Merlin is a browser add-on (i.e. Chrome Extension though we support Firefox, Safari & Edge too), which guides new staff through each of the tasks they are trying to achieve. By being in the browser, we have the context of the page you are on so we can show you the relevant training's (for instance if you’re in Salesforce we could show you how to create a new lead exactly how the company wants it done).

We have a super easy UI that makes it really easy to understand, here’s a quick screenshot of it running in GMail as well as a list of features:

  • Record a new task by just performing the task once and it’ll watch how you did it to share with your team.
  • Create To Do tasks for onboarders so you can ensure they do all their tasks (like filling out their W2’s or updating their address)
  • Have tasks appear automatically when a user starts a process for the first time (or every time)
  • Analytics to show which tasks people are needing help with the most (so you can update your first day training's)
  • Easy ways to share best practices on pages by either guiding users through or just giving helpful hints.
  • Super quick search which learns the more you use it.

Why am I doing it?

Well it was pretty easy to see the problem. Having worked at Google for 9 years and be through about 8 re-orgs, and about 7 different jobs I saw this being a key issue in my day to day. I was either constantly bugging people or more likely wasting time trying to figure out how to do things myself.

About 2/3 of my time at Google was working in business automation and scaling initiatives. There I built a large number of Browser extensions (including a quality assurance tool which is still used to do all Rich Media ads at Google), and realised the power for business to use them is huge. I also built web applications and found the onboarding for these tools often wasted meeting time up or came with alot of questions, especially as different teams use them very differently.

Using an extension you can automate, guide, learn and report on almost any business task. I’ve been fortunate to have been building them since before they were public so using that experience I have a pretty good understanding of how to build them correctly and get them to work on any page.

Onboarding it’s self is one area where LMS’s really don’t try to innovate, nor do they really make sense so it seems a pretty solid place to try and improve the market.

Whats the plan now?

Doesn’t this guy look like Ira Glass?!

Well I’m finalizing the Beta product over the next few weeks, and hope to have a version for a small group of companies before September (if you’d like to be involved contact me quick!). After that Beta, I hope to be finalizing a public V1 launch for December & will be raising money (starting early VC conversations now) to hire a head of sales & junior developer (anyone interested in either please get in touch) to make that happen in time.

We’re likely to focus on the offshoring market as a first step as it has high turn over & large issues of quality, that I think Merlin will be able to easily solve in that market. If you’re in that market then definitely get in touch.


What do you think of the idea? Would you use it at your work? Let me know what you think in the comments above or get in contact using social media (@cdouglasosborn)

I’ll still be posting my weekly update on Sunday so look out for that!

Charles Douglas-Osborn

Founder of MerlinOnboarding & StartupPilots