How LINE Saved Its IPO by Simplifying Its User Onboarding Experience

5 minute read

It’s no secret that LINE is the messaging app to watch this year. Two weeks ago, the Japanese messaging app achieved a tremendously successful IPO, the biggest of 2016, amidst tons of buzz from the tech industry.

Prior to going public, some expressed concerned that LINE already peaked, as monthly active users growth has slowed to a crawl over the past few years:

line monthly active users churn problem graph

It seemed obvious to me that in order for LINE to succeed in the public market, it must be actively addressing customer retention in their product somehow. So I decided to dig a little bit deeper.

Comparing screenshots of LINE from 2014 with LINE today, I found that LINE has made few drastic updates to its core messaging service, but instead has focused on its user onboarding experience.

Given the continuing debates of whether or not LINE is worth its valuation, who knows what its IPO would have looked like if it hadn’t improved its user onboarding? 

Here are 4 noteworthy improvements in LINE’s onboarding flow. 

1. Demonstrate Value Before Asking for Something


line opt in to push notifications old prompt


line welcome message


line opt into push new

When users download LINE and open it for the first time, they’re greeted with a 5-step onboarding flow, as indicated by the progress bars. In the old design, users are hit with a push notification immediately, when all they know is that LINE provides “free messaging.”

In the new design, users aren’t asked about push notifications until they’ve fully completed the onboarding flow, created an account, and arrived at their dashboard.

Why This Is Important

First impressions matter. In the old design, most of the sample chat screen is covered up by an ask. What incentive would someone have to committing to push notifications before experiencing the value of the app?

Users are more likely to agree to push notifications if they’ve already created an account. They’ve said yes to a few more things at this point, understand what LINE is all about, and are more brought in.

Getting rid of the notification ask makes the onboarding flow look so much cleaner. While seemingly minor, seeing the full iPhone image and the type bar also makes it more obvious that stickers are embedded within the chat and that you can use them as you would text. Making the progress bars clearer also encourages users to actually complete it.

2. Eliminate Email Registration


LINE eliminate user onboarding step 1


LINE eliminate user onboarding step 2


After: No Email Registration Steps

LINE previously asked users to register with an email and password before they reach the dashboard and take any meaningful actions. This is completely eliminated in the new user onboarding process. 

In addition to the email registration, LINE users have to confirm their phone numbers, which hasn’t changed in the new design (there’s no way around that with a phone-based messaging app).

Why This Is Important

To register their emails, users would have to enter in their information, exit out of LINE to check their email, and come back into the app to enter in the verification code. What a pain. 

One of the goals of onboarding is to get users to the aha moment as soon as possible. Asking users to check their email AND text for verification means two opportunities for users to exit out of the app and get distracted, by two competing means of communications no less. 

While you can still connect your email account with LINE, it’s now neatly tucked away into settings. The purpose of email linking is to let users access their data across devices, which is a feature that mostly appeals to heavy users. It makes sense that this is in settings and not taking up two screens in the crucial onboarding process.

3. Nest Terms of Services Agreement into Registration


LINE registration step before IPO





Instead of having the terms of services and privacy policy on its own screen, with its own “agree to terms” button, LINE’s updated design embeds agreement within the verification of phone number step.

Why This Is Important

If you can convey the same message in fewer words and less screens, do it. In the old onboarding flow, LINE tacks on lengthy forms and scary-sounding confirmations before users get any value from the app. Just like with email registration, users can always access the terms of services and privacy policy through the hyperlinks or in the settings. Since most people aren’t going to read the terms anyways, these wordy screen only delays the user’s journey to Aha!

LINE’s new designs are more aligned with how users actually behave, without taking away information from the users who do want to find it. 

4. Make Meaningful Actions Effortless


bad user onboarding LINE app




effortless user onboarding LINE app IPO

After users verify their phone number, they are prompted to create a profile with a name and a picture. In the old flow, users create a profile and then move on to a separate screen to add friends. In the updated flow, both actions—creating a profile and adding friends—are done on one screen, under a single “register” button. Voila! The instant you register, you already have friends. 

Why This Is Important

LINE may have figured out that the most active users have more friends, or that adding a certain number of friends is a pivotal step to engagement. In any case, making it super easy for users to add friends is in LINE’s best interest.

The lengthy description of adding friends in the old design makes it seem really scary. Adding friends is a pretty basic part of any social app, and most users probably won’t need all the fine print. If they do, more details are embedded as links in the updated design and in settings.

Also, more than half of the screen in the old registration screen is wasted, empty space.

Keeping Core Features Constant

Fixing user onboarding doesn’t mean you have to revamp the entire product. LINE has managed to simplify their onboarding flow without detracting from their distinct brand of cuteness or their wide, and somewhat dizzying, range of offerings.

Their core chat interface remains clean and emphasizes stickers, one of the things that makes LINE special:

LINE stickers core feature

They also remain committed to the community of characters they’ve built with stores selling toys and merchandise, prompting Fast Company to call them a “strange mix of Disney-meets-Skype-meets Facebook.” When they IPO’ed, they had some of its characters ring the opening bell:

User Onboarding Is the First Step to Retention

Looking at the improvements in LINE’s user onboarding experience, it’s clear that LINE has put a lot of thought into how to best engage users from the start. 

User onboarding is one of the most crucial parts of retention, and LINE’s ability to hone in on it is a great predictor of their focus on growth and retention.

Whether or not LINE can continue to acquire users in new markets remains to be seen, but they’re definitely onto something when it comes to user engagement. Their improvements to user onboarding show that they’re thinking about engagement and retention in the right ways.

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