Minimum Viable User Onboarding


For a small startup with limited resources, optimizing your user onboarding experience can be a daunting task. In fact, I typically recommend early stage startups ignore onboarding and instead onboard new users manually.

On the flip side, consider Slack’s user onboarding. The talented folks behind it have probably dedicated thousands of hours to usability testingmapping their user journey and running experiments to build what they have today.

Early stage startups just don’t have that kind of time. And startup founders have 6,000 other things they could be doing.

So this is Minimum Viable User Onboarding. It’s a playbook for early stage startup folks who want to provide an engaging new user experience, but need a few shortcuts to get there. It’s broken down into 3 parts: - Setting up your first run experience - Re-engaging users with email or push notifications - Planning past the first session

Note that these three posts will very much focus on simple onboarding tactics for early startups that have more things to do than they have time. Product teams at mature companies should instead refer to the User Onboarding Academy to learn more about the fundamentals of user onboarding, why it is important, how to find your product’s WOW moment, and more.

Without further ado…

Setting up your first run experience

On a high level, your first run experience should do three things. It should motivate, teach and provide value to your users.

Build User Motivation

Do you ever sign up for a new online product then never end up using it? Of course! Everyone does.

The job of motivating new users shouldn’t stop at your marketing site. Your product makes something in their life easier, faster, cheaper, more fun, etc. As users get acclimated with your application, you still need to build on their motivation, so they know why your application is important.

Take this example, for instance…

modal window example
  1. Personalize the User Experience. As Dale Carnegie put it, “Remember that a person’s name is, to that person, the sweetest and most important sound in any language.” Using a new user’s first name is a simple, easy way to get things off to a good start.
  2. Reaffirm your product’s Value Proposition. Your product makes something in your user’s life easier, faster, cheaper, more fun, etc. Emphasize it.
  3. Showcase the People behind the Product. If you are just getting started, new users aren’t just betting on your product, they’re betting on you. This is a great opportunity to introduce yourself and cultivate a real, human relationship with your users.

Ensure Users Know How to Use the Product

No matter how motivated users are, they won’t get very far if they do not know how to use your product correctly. This is where you can use product tours to educate your users on how to work your app. Product tours are often made up of hotspots and tooltips that highlight important elements of your user interface. Here’s an example of a product tour:

Casengo user onboarding 1


Casengo user onboarding 3

Drive Users to take Meaningful Action

While it’s important to build motivation and ensure users don’t miss any important UI elements, modals and tooltips are never going to be your WOW moment—or your app’s first valuable moment obtained by your users. At some point, you have to get out of the way and let the user find that valuable moment in your product on their own.

Wistia, for instance, learned that users first come to their community to seek knowledge on a particular aspect of video marketing. So rather than emphasize today’s trending topics, Wistia uses hotspots to get users to search the community and thus find their answers and reach their WOW moment much faster.

Wistia Tooltip

Wait, that’s it?

Yup! For the first run experience of minimum viable onboarding you should just focus on 3 things: - Build user motivation - Ensure users know how to use the product - Drive users to take meaningful action

If you do these 3 things, however simple your onboarding flow may be, you will end up with something that is MUCH better than the blank states commonly seen in new products.

How should I build it?

I am biased, of course, but I highly recommend using a code-free user onboarding tool like Appcues. In just 5 minutes tinkering with Appcues, you can build a rough user onboarding experience like this:

Scrappy user onboarding

In 5 more minutes, you can style your content to look native to our app like this:

Stylized user onboarding in 30 minutes

And in 10 more you can install Appcues and publish your content to your production site. That’s 20 minutes and huzzah!

Now there are other ways to build some in-app experiences. Tons of open source solutions exist. The difference between these and Appcues is open source solutions require development work. They are harder to iterate on and harder to get data out of. Appcues eliminates these frictions.

So what’s next?

We’ve published a follow-up post on how you can re-engage users with email and push notification.

And then we’ll top your minimum viable user onboarding series with plans for after your users’ first session. Stay tuned.

Want to become a User Onboarding Master? Check out our free User Onboarding Academy!

Building @appcues, startup that will improve your user #onboarding | Learned @BucknellU & @HarvardHBS | Proud St. Louis native | Explorer | Made in the 80s

Try out Appcues