Startup Lesson #16: How to improve your onboarding (3/3)

Richard Reis
Sep 12, 2019 · 4 min read
By Richard Reis

Recently, I started building an app, Gurgee. Every week I learn something new (this is a common feeling among founders). So I decided to share my weekly lessons in the hopes that (1) I don’t forget them and (2) they help you on your own journey.

This is the final of a 3-part series on onboarding (you’ll find part 1 here and part 2 here).

“Every time I talk to a low-touch, self-service SaaS company experiencing massive drop-off immediately after sign-up, low Free Trial-to-Paid conversion rates, few customers staying past 90 days post-conversion, etc. it is always an onboarding issue.” — Lincoln Murphy

Onboarding Tip #3: Go straight to the Aha! moment

When your users “get” what your app is about (we call this the “aha! moment”).

To achieve this, you need to deliver a small amount of value as soon as they create an account.

“Why a small amount?”

Because you can’t deliver the full amount in one go. It has to be something that can be achieved in one sitting.

Here’s an example: Imagine you have a survey development app and a user has downloaded it. A common onboarding mistake would be to have her “create a survey.” What if she doesn’t have any survey ideas right now? Why make her go through the entire creation process? That’s how you’ll lose this user.

Instead, you should deliver the minimum amount of value that makes the user “get” your app. Provide a small taste of success, whatever that may be.

“Twitter saw a massive spike in signup retention once they stopped leading things off by encouraging people to search (no one came with a search in mind) or tweet (nobody was ready to tweet right away, either) in favor of following (everybody knew people they were interested in).
Once people followed others, their timelines filled up with content that not only demonstrated the value of Twitter, but provided new value upon every follow-up visit. This directly led to habitual use, and tweeting and searching followed in kind.” — Samuel Hullick

With Gurgee, every step of the onboarding process tells you that “as soon as you sign up, you will know exactly how much you need to retire.”

And that’s exactly what happens.

Of course, this isn’t the total value users can get from the app (the total value comes when we help users achieve their retirement amount).

But it’s at this step where the user has their “aha! moment,” the onboarding ends, and the real fun begins.

“It’s like we’ve set them up with a phenomenal first workout at our gym, and now it’s our job to make sure they keep coming back so they can finally attain that beach bod they’ve always wanted. […] In that way, you will almost be acting like their personal trainer — totally invested in their improvement.” — Samuel Hullick

Bonus Tips

  1. Make it quick. Each step in your workflow is a chance to lose a user. Don’t make it too long, get straight to the point.

This does not mean try to cram everything into one page! Case in point, this image from PayPal’s old onboarding process:


Notice how they’re trying to get both your profile data and address at the same time.

My head hurts just looking at that page.

If getting a user’s profile data and address is absolutely essential, you can break it down into two pages.

Coincidentally, PayPal did exactly that on their web version.


Notice how one page is dedicated to the profile data (left), and the other is for address data (right). This is far more pleasant for users/ easier on the eyes.

2. No FAQs. FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) pages are a lazy way of saying “we couldn’t make the app more intuitive”, and they get longer over time. Banish them from your project.

3. Performance is a feature. This quote taken from Jeff Atwood is a reminder that you could design a great onboarding process and still lose users because of a slow app (at Gurgee, we time how long our functions take to run and religiously try to lower that number).

4. Delay welcome emails. These are great, but what happens if you send them while your user is onboarding? They’ll get a notification, open your email (leaving your app), and run the risk of getting sucked into the vortex of their inbox. To prevent this tragedy, delay welcome emails by an hour.

And that’s it for today!

See you next week.

Be well.


Thanks for reading!😊If you enjoyed it, test how many times can you hit 👏 in 5 seconds. It’s great cardio for your fingers AND will help other people see the story.You can follow me on Twitter at @richardreeze to find out whenever others just like it come out.

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Richard Reis

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"I write this not for the many, but for you; each of us is enough of an audience for the other." - Epicurus

A network of business & tech podcasts designed to accelerate learning. Selected as “Best of 2018” by Apple.

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