The Best Damn Onboarding Flow I’ve Ever Seen*

*Probably. This is just my first impression. But so far, so awesome

Samuel Hulick
6 min readSep 12, 2013

Today I saw a tweet come through my timeline where a company said they were:

  1. no longer taking credit cards up-front, and…
  2. no longer offering free trials

“Huh?” I thought. “How can you axe free trials without getting paid before it’s used? And if you’re not getting paid, how is it not a trial?”

With these burning questions in mind, I went off in search of answers. And boy am I glad I did, because I wound up coming across a shining example of how to effectively onboard a new user.

Buckle up, ladies and gentlemen, because I’m about to take you up into some rarified air.

First, Mostly-Regular Air

It starts out familiarly enough, with a terse & appealing landing page:

What is Planscope? Project management software. Ok. Why should I use them? Well, it looks like it’s appealing to end-users and also easy to operate. Fair enough, ok on that as well.

I’m not going to give them my credit card based off of those two statements alone, but here comes genius tactic number one…

Genius Tactic #1:
Remove as much friction as possible, especially for getting started.

They aren’t asking me to provide a credit card to use it! The form only asks for my email address and a password, and the big, green button literally says “Try Planscope Now”, which is exactly what I want to do.

There aren’t even any patronizing “are you sure you typed that right?” duplicate fields.

Sure I’ll give you my email address,” I think. (And then do.)

Oh hey, this already brings me to genius tactic number two…

Genius Tactic #2:
Get their email address. Email addresses are gold.

They got my email address like that*.

(* Imagine I just snapped my fingers.)

I’m usually highly reluctant to give out my email address, but in this case it’s so refreshing to not have to enter a credit card and endure the inevitable “we’re totally worth it, and you can totally quit for, like, free” appeals that it’s actually a relief to “only” have to enter my email address.

Now they have the address of someone who has indicated an explicit desire to check out their product. Should their onboarding process fall short, they will always have the opportunity to revitalize the relationship by bringing value to my inbox in the future.

I cannot stress enough how much this is gold. And by setting the right context around their “ask”, they’re getting gold for very, very cheap.

Ok, so I entered my email address and created a password…

… and now I get this cool little intro. The first thing I notice is a signature. A nice, personal touch. I’m eager to get started, so my attention is drawn to the big blue “let’s get started” button.

I skim the copy and get the general gist that this is going to be a walkthrough and that it’s going to be helpful and will also respect my time. Great! In! Let’s do this.


I’m presented with a six-step slideshow highlighting some of the app’s core UI elements. Some of the slides are even interactive, like this one:

Hey, look at that! I can grab the bottom bar and group it up with the top ones. I’m already learning how to use this thing!

Genius Tactic #3:
Score early wins any which way you can.

I realize that these “early wins” are extremely small ones, but you just can’t overstate the importance of stacking the deck so that the first impressions your app creates are positive ones.

Think about how much time went into getting someone to even think “ok, I’ll check this out” and how much road still needs to be traveled before they think “ok, I’ll buy this.” This is a chasm you need to spare no effort in helping them cross.

While the quick wins you ideally want to design for involve users realizing that they’re getting real-world value out of the app, that doesn’t mean a positive jolt from exercising control over a new interface is chopped liver, either. A win is a win.

Here’s another interactive slide, demonstrating how to track time:

I had no problem entering “1:30" as instructed, but spent a while feeling dumb as I tried to figure out what to click to submit it. I tried clicking the “today” button even though it looked like a calendar, since it was where a normal submit button would be.

That didn’t work, so I tried clicking on the clock. That didn’t work, either. Eventually, I put the cursor back in the text field and hit the “return” key, which did the trick.

Genius Tactic #4:
Everything’s an opportunity to experiment. Find ideal testing grounds.

These screens are showing core UI elements, showcased on their own and outside the noise of their normal surroundings. They’re almost like microscope slides for specific, critical interactions.

If they ever wanted to measure the usability of the “add time” interaction, for example, this is the place to do it — if it’s breaking down somewhere, an isolated environment like this will have a significantly higher signal/noise ratio for baring that out, as compared to trying to tease that info out in the hustle and bustle of the “real” app.

I’m not sure if they’re actually using it this way or not, but either way it can always be your genius tactic!

Putting It All Together

A couple screens later and I’m out of the walkthrough and dropped into the actual app.

I’m already several steps ahead of where an average demo would start off, which typically feels like being dropped into thick jungle with nothing but a knife in my teeth.

I still need to piece together the big picture of how everything interrelates, but my familiarity with “role players” like the task rows and time tracker buttons makes the experience of arriving at that “aha moment” both easier and richer.

Once I’ve kicked the tires to my liking, I can try adding another project, which finally presents me with this:

Genius Tactic #5:
Time your “asks” correctly. More momentum = bigger actions.

They saved the “money ask” until there had already been a ton of little wins logged and lots of momentum behind the use of the product.

Just like the email address at the beginning, the key to getting people to give you what you want is to identify its proper time and context.

Wrapping It Up

There are a couple parts I’m curious about, such as whether making it last indefinitely (and therefore removing some urgency to buy) was ultimately beneficial, but those questions are either just splitting hairs or simply a difference of opinion.

I’m also not sure what you’d call this model. It feels too limited to be “freemium” but too robust to be an “interactive demo” — maybe a hybrid? Whatever it is, I like it quite a lot.

At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what it’s called, because what’s so impressive about this onboarding experience isn’t its novelty but the fact that it’s really, really well-considered from beginning to end.

After all, empathy for the user, simplicity and attention to detail work in any setting.

I hope you enjoyed the article!You can follow me on Twitter at @SamuelHulick to find out whenever others just like it come out.I'm also writing a book on User Onboarding!



Samuel Hulick

I turn web experiences into better life experiences.