Using Modal Dialogs for app on-boarding is a bad idea.

I’m blogging about my learnings founding and growing Circuit, my Route Optimizing SaaS startup. I’m doing this partly so I can refer to them later, partly to promote Circuit, and partly so others can learn from my mistakes.

25% of users make it through the initial flow

Circuit has a pretty major issue. Only 25% of users that install Circuit actually “Get it”. The other 75% uninstall the app somewhere along the line, before deriving any value from it.

This is after I tried to remove early friction by removing the need to login too.

I don’t have any figures from other apps to compare this too, but 25% seems painfully low. Circuit does require a lot of steps to be completed before a user first gets value from it (something I’m actively looking to improve), but even so, only 25%?

Walking users through the UI

Circuit’s UI could arguably be described as “non-standard”, it’s definitely efficient to use once you understand it, but it’s unlikely that a new user would have interacted with a similar working UI before.

It’s entirely possible that users are getting “stuck” at various points throughout the app, unsure of what they were suppose to do next.

My solution was to deploy “Hint Dialogs” at the points where users most frequently dropped out of the funnel:

  • At first Install
  • After optimizing
  • After arriving at their first stop

I included a “Stop Hints” button on each dialog to allow users to easily opt-out of the on-boarding if they wanted.

Dialog based on-boarding

At this point I was actually pretty confident this would substantially increase the number of users making through the entire flow. From the limited number of users I had been able to watch interact with Circuit, many did seem to have some trouble working their way though.

Experiment Results

21.8% of users make it through the flow, with onboarding dialogs

The results of this experiment took me by surprise, although I’m sure some of you predicted this outcome.

Only 21.8% of users made it through the first usage flow when “helped” by the on boarding dialogs, 13.1% less than with no help. If you look closely at the two images, you can see that progression through the funnel dropped at every point I had deployed a dialog.

Whilst I’m sure at least some users were helped by the dialogs, the results speak for themselves. If indeed some users were helped, this means >13% of users who would have made it through the flow themselves were annoyed/disrupted by the dialogs enough to uninstall early.

Whether or not Circuit could benefit from some sort of on-boarding is uncertain, but using Modal Dialogs does not seem to be the correct approach.


  • Modal Dialogs aren’t a good way to onboard users, even if you provide a way to opt-out.

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