3 months ago, we pivoted to build the new generation of calendar apps, supporting distributed teams and remote workers.
The first month, we co-built the product with 20 users from our community. Then, we jumped into onboarding 30 users per week with a 20min call.
In this article, I'm giving our rationale behind manual onboardings as well as a few tactical tips.
Manual onboardings support activation in early stage products
Manual onboardings are costly. They make a lot of sense in big enterprises contracts but I argue that they are useful as well in early-stage pre-revenue companies. Here is why:
1/ First, onboarding someone is a great a way to get a ton of product feedback, which is what we're optimizing for at our stage.
Seeing your product being used by a new user is the fastest way to discover the confusing copy, unclear actions, what users struggle with, but also what’s working well.
2/ Then, kick-starting a relationship with the user helps at different levels
If users encounter a bug, if they churn, if they have feedback, they do have a face in mind that they can reach out to.
3/ Lastly, I want people to live an experience as soon as they decide to try out Hera
It starts with a manual onboardings which are a great way to explain and convey to the users your broader vision, and it continues with the Slack community.
Users are buying into your vision and what you will build, not only on the current product you have.
So far, manual onboardings have proven to be very efficient in maintaining activation* above 60% and 12-week retention above 30%.
*Users are defined as active if they’re still using Hera one week after their onboarding.
But manual onboardings should be reserved for qualified people
As previously said, manual onboardings are costly. To the extent possible you should onboard people you know will benefit from your product, have an early adopter mindset and the technical requirements.
In our case, we try to de risk as much as possible before the call.
We review the profiles of people who signed up on the waitlist and whitelist people working in high growth start ups, in collaborative roles, because we know they are our target audience.
We also ask beforehand if they're on Mac and Gsuite as these are the ecosystems we support today.
Basically, we try to onboard only people who will get value from Hera from Day 1.
I start each onboarding call by asking users which calendar app they are using and what issues do they have with it.
If I realize Hera is probably not a good fit for them, I suggest to stop the onboarding and explain why.
You shouldn't spend 20min with someone if you already know it's not a good fit.
Then, I want the onboarding to be a memorable experience for each user. Not every onboarding is the same. I try to adjust as much as possible the content and duration based on the person I'm talking to.
Sometimes an onboarding can take 10min if I'm with someone very used to this kind of products, sometimes it takes more time.
I also don't present the same features to everyone. If the user explains that their biggest pain relies in sharing availabilities, I will take more time on this feature, explain what we plan next for it, etc.
In the end, I want users to feel Hera is made to help them save time - features to feel that way probably won’t be the same for every user (could be Cmd+E shortcut to make Hera appear and disappear for someone, could be easily sharing availabilities for someone else) but the overall feeling should be the same.
Overall, I think it's absolutely essential to customize the onboarding to 1/ be relevant to each user and 2/ keep yourself energetic and enthusiastic.
5 tips to increase the value of these onboardings
Over the past 2 months, I ran 250 onboardings. Here’s what I recommend doing:
1/ You shouldn't do more than 8 onboardings per day, and ensure you have a 10min break between each one of them. This way, you keep your level of energy high and deliver high quality onboardings.
2/ Always know in advance who you're talking to. I always make some research on Linkedin, Twitter to make sure I know in advance their job, their location etc. It helps with this human touch and enables me to ask more personalized questions.
3/ If you had planned 20min call but you're done in 10min, that's great! At the end of the onboarding, the user should understand the value of the product and how to use it. If it's done in less than the expected time, don't try to overwhelm the user with other information. Your break will be longer and users will be happy to have more time for something else :)
4/ Declining an onboarding is not a failure. Once again, if you realize after a few minutes into the call that your product is not gonna be a good fit for that person, just explain why and cut the onboarding. Especially at an early stage, your product is not gonna bring value to everyone, and that's perfectly fine and understandable.
5/ If the person is more than 5min late, leave the meeting. You don't have time to wait in a Zoom. Of course people can have unexpected events, it's fine. Just ask to reschedule, but don't loose more than 5min.
I consider manual onboardings to be the most efficient way to get users on your product until it’s stable and mature
I see 4 phases until making your product available to the world while making sure each user gets the best experience possible.
Phase I (our current stage):
Your product is not mature yet - You want to make it available for a few users, little by little and get as much qualitative feedback as possible
At this stage, manual onboardings make a lot of sense and should be done by a founder.
Users should share their screen and the founder should guide them downloading the product and testing out key features.
Your product starts to be more stable and you have a significant users base.
At this stage, it makes sense to have one of the founders as well as another employee running the onboardings.
In our case, we'll probably move to this stage once we have c.300 people onboarded and active. It's crucial to track if activation & retention are still at high levels before moving to Phase III.
The product is mature and scaling starts to make sense.
At this phase, the founder is not running onboardings anymore. It's done by one or two employees. It's also time to try out A/B testing with a pool of users being manually onboarded and another one onboarding themselves on the product.
Users manually onboarded should become more and more autonomous in downloading the product etc. The "onboarder" is here to get feedback and answer questions.
Again, activation and retention should be very carefully tracked before moving to phase IV.
You worked on your self serve onboarding process and the pool of users getting access through it have almost the same activation & retention rate.
At this stage, your product is should be accessible with a self serve onboarding and the onboarding specialists can shift to a role more focused on Customer Success and Business Development.
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Thanks for reading! 👋