A Growth Hacker’s Guide to Onboarding Your First 100 Users

Before your app can begin to improve your users’ lives, you have to figure out a way to remove the friction that stands between them and the value that your product delivers.

You will never be able to completely remove the friction of course, even the simplest onboarding process has its obstacles, but, for established products, a user will disregard these obstacles and sign up because they already know the product is going to improve their life.

With a product whose reputation is already well established, they will feel comfortable taking the time to provide all the information needed for them to be able to use it.

So how do you go about removing the friction that prevents a user from experiencing your app when you don’t have an established reputation?

How do you onboard your first 10 users?

Build a personal connection.

They don’t know it yet but your first ten users are in a very special and unique position.

Unlike the masses who will onboard in their droves at a later stage, these first few users will benefit from your personal, hands on attention.

With your first ten users, you build your reputation by personally handling any and all issues they encounter.

This involves extending a helping hand and providing as much support as they might need. You could schedule a phone call or video call and follow up over email.

Never again will any user of your product get as much one on one attention from you than in these early days.

Even with this personal attention, you will never be able to completely eliminate friction from the onboarding process.

With no goodwill or established reputation to fall back on, ideal practice would be to keep friction to a minimum when you’re starting out.

By contrast, companies with well established brands can afford to mitigate the friction by using their reputation.

They’ve built trust by creating relationships with thousands of customers which, in turn, allows them to ask new users to invest more effort until they begin receiving value.

As you develop your company’s reputation, you too will be able to mitigate the friction through different strategies like testimonials from your clients and the free content that you’ve shared.

It does get easier! Fear not though, there are ways you can acquire your first customers, even when you have no data for the onboarding strategy.

Here’s how …

1. Contact people you already know

Get in touch with your past clients or former coworkers. Use your network to find people who would benefit from your product.

Show them how it’s going to improve their lives by offering them a demo or a free trial.

This is the easiest path because you’ve already build a relationship with them. They already trust you and they won’t be as fazed by the idea of you asking them to try something new.

They will probably implement the product because they know you and like you so the challenge here is figuring out if they actually found it useful.

Are they contacting you to find out more about it, or are you the one always chasing them?

If they start using it without you having to hold their hand every step of the way then you know you’re on the right track.

This is the strategy that we’ve used to onboard our first 10 customers here at InnerTrends.

2. Do things that don’t scale

When it comes to onboarding your first ten users you will have to do things that don’t scale. Things like manually setting up their username and password and calling them to provide support.

You want to make it as easy as possible for these first ten users to use your app.

Imagine if you were MailChimp, in charge of onboarding your first ten users. You might find yourself creating that very first list for them, or talking them through exactly how to create a campaign.

Sure it’s not scalable but, for your first ten users, it doesn’t need to be.

Or what if you were Buffer? You might screen share with your first ten users, holding their hands as they click the right links to connect their social media accounts.

You might tell them what time to schedule tweets instead of letting your automated system do it for them. Again, this is not scalable but, for your first ten users, that’s irrelevant.

3. Hack your reputation

When all else fails it’s time to bring out the big guns and hack your reputation. Use your personal reputation, charm and charisma to attract people to your product.

Share your phone number and actively encourage people to call you with every and any question they might have about your product.

You don’t have to have the sales chops of Gary Vaynerchuk to make this work for you. In our high-tech, low-touch society, being available to people is an attractive quality.

Talking to people about your product, answering their questions and sharing your passion for what you have created will be infectious.

Your first onboarding experience should be pretty high touch. You should be doing a fair bit of hand holding still, for which we really like chat and feedback provoking emails.

It should also be something your customer-facing team can iterate on easily and should be treated as a bit of a science experiment.

I would dedicate the whole team to user onboarding from a support standpoint. A lot of great SaaS influencers would agree. Then of course you need a DRI who can implement and iterate and measure success.

For that I think one customer-facing product person should be able to handle it, especially if you’re using a user onboarding software like Appcues. –

ty magnin appcuesTy Magnin,

Keeper of the Cues Log at Appcues

Working with your first ten users in a very hands on way will help you map the shortest path a user has to go through in order to reach the point where he can begin using your product and receive the value it promises.

This in turn will help you decide how complex your user onboarding process needs to be and the things you need in place so you can begin to acquire your next users.

How do you onboard your next 100 users?

Clearly the way you onboard your next 100 users is going to have to be different to the personalised attention you gave your first ten. As your user base increases, doing things manually will quickly become a time suck.

Instead, the goal here is to take all that you’ve learned from onboarding your first 10 users and use that knowledge to build a self-service system.

Don’t invest a lot of resources developing the system past a minimum viable product. It’s purpose is to be a basic UI that your customers can progress through.

You can build its UI using the things you’ve learned during the previous steps. Other changes can be implemented later, when you get more data.

Equally helpful is to look at how your top competitors onboard their users.

Do this after you’ve identified how many steps your users take in the onboarding process and then look to see if your competition are eliminating the steps that are not absolutely necessary.

Pick it apart and see how many steps they require the user to go through before they begin delivering the value they’re promising.

Remember of course that this is for inspiration purposes only. Don’t duplicate their user onboarding strategy. For all you know they may have thrown it together without much thought!

You might also notice that they are using tutorials, tooltips and other onboarding tools to guide their users during the process.

While these can be great, we usually suggest keeping these to a minimum, especially in the early days, because without the data from actual users, you don’t yet know what help your new users need.

Adding these tools in the wrong place will increase fiction and, in the case of where you prepare documents for problems that don’t even exist, be a complete waste of your time!

It will become very clear from your first user testing sessions exactly where and what kind of guidance your users need and you’ll be in a better position to add tutorials or wizards based on data instead of intuition.

With these tools in place, keep on eye on the data to see if they are actually helping the user by cutting down the time between steps.

Track the data and see how people poke around your product and if you’re really interested in implementing onboarding software, be sure to check out this list on Quora.

Here at InnerTrends we’ve already onboarded our first 10 users, mostly with manual methods that don’t scale.

One thing we learned from those first 10 users is that it can take a long time for the user to get the promised value from InnerTrends. Tracking needs to be implemented and it takes times for the data to be gathered.

While it was acceptable for the first 10 users to wait a week or more before he could start playing with InnerTrends, we couldn’t afford such wait times for the next 100 users so we decided to focus on users that already have the data that InnerTrends uses.

However, this data is stored in other tools which is why we decided to integrate tools like Mixpanel into InnerTrends. A user can simply log in, adds his Mixpanel API and gain access to our reports in just a few hours.

This in turns allows us to iterate much faster and onboard the next 100 users in weeks instead of months.

By integrating with platforms that companies already use, InnerTrends is able to fetch the data from it right away and the user is able to begin using the product quickly and easily.

Start-ups should be concerned with any and all friction that causes their users to pause during the on-boarding process. UI/UX teams designing sites do so with the intention of creating highly intuitive functions and the fact of the matter is that no one really knows how intuitive their on-boarding process is until new users are flowing through the pipeline.

From our experience, we’ve found that personally reaching out to users who’ve recently created trial accounts, but have failed to convert into paid customers to be a highly effective method in ascertaining the friction their users are encountering and in collecting relevant data to remedy the site.

With regard to the resources we’d dedicate, this depends on the volume of users the start-up is currently dealing with. If the start-up is brand new and they’re dealing with a trickle of new signups, then dedicating a part-time resource should be sufficient.

If the start-up is contending with thousands of trial users per month, then a small team of 3-5 Agents should be dedicated to this type of personalized approach.

In the early months, start-ups should be collecting as much data as possible from their user in order to remove friction as early as possible.

This sort of outreach compliments a companies marketing automation campaign with the intention of creating new content that can address the immediate concerns of their users.

adam-sussman-sourcedemand

Adam Sussman,

Managing Director at SourceDemand

Take your onboarding a step further by implementing user level tracking tools like InspectLet and Intercom.

Inspectlet allows you to record the whole interaction a user has with your website.

Intercom enables you to take control of the interaction and speak directly to the visitor. They can be very powerful if they’re used correctly.

How to optimize your user onboarding strategy

After collecting feedback from your users and implementing the self-service system, you will probably find yourself with a list of problems that you need to address.

No matter how big the list, be thankful for it. A list of problems means that people are using your app. That’s a good thing!

The best way to approach this list is to prioritize. Which problem is the quickest to solve and will have the biggest impact?

Focus on those issues that you can easily implement a fix for, but be careful not to fall into the trap of dedicating a lot of resources to fix very specific problems.

The user onboarding process will never be perfect, but it can always be optimized.

Rather than investing a huge amount of time fixing one step in your onboarding process, consider replacing or removing it altogether and don’t be afraid to test.

You need to get data before you can decide what is going to work in the long run.

Once you begin collecting data, optimizing the onboarding process should become easier. If the tracking is set up correctly you will be able to collect enough information to start making data-driven decisions and reiterate your user onboarding strategy.

Onboarding optimization is a never ending process, there will always be room for improvement.

Minor tweaks can lead to huge improvements and, over time, by onboarding your first ten users, you’ll collect the data you need to help you decide which tweaks and adjustments to make.

But, it all starts with those very first ten users. Don’t be afraid to treat them like the special customers that they are.

When you find yourself hand-holding your users, wondering if it is ever going to end, remember that this process is not forever and just because it isn’t scalable doesn’t mean that you can’t learn priceless lessons from these first users. Treasure them.

Author: Claudiu Murariu

InnerTrends' founder and lead analyst Claudiu Murariu is also the author of DataDiary, a weekly newsletter about and for companies that use data in their business decision making process. You can follow him on Twitter @cllaudiu.