Go left — great acquisition and onboarding beats a great product

By David Adams, Product Development Lead

White arrow on green brick, pointing left Source: Nick Fewings via Unsplash

 

Last year, I was fortunate enough to attend a Design Sprint workshop run by their creator Jake Knapp. On Day one of the sprint, you create a map, where you outline the product journey and decide on which activity to focus.

To get things moving, the map starts with a high-level skeleton, using the actions: discover, learn, start. Framing the steps a user may take into broad categories. It’s helpful to get things moving and offers a framework for the team to work with. Once the map is drawn out, and the team is happy with it, you pick a target. This target will be the focus of the sprint. It could be a core product interaction, onboarding, acquisition etc. There was something Jake said when introducing this section that has stuck with me ever since. I’m paraphrasing, but he said if you are unsure where to focus, or you are stuck deciding between two areas – go left.

He went on to mention that from the hundreds of design sprints he’s run, he learnt that more often than not, the most important section is discover. Why? Because you only get one chance to make a first impression. If a customer doesn’t completely understand how your product will improve their life and how they can start using it straight away, you will almost certainly lose them. You can have the best product hiding behind your onboarding, if users don’t make it that far it may as well not exist.

Focus on the product?

More often than not, if the team know what they are doing and are in an environment which allows them to make the right calls, they will focus on creating a killer product. They listen carefully to their users and craft a solution that elegantly helps them fulfil their needs. This is great; it is essential for success.

But this isn’t the most important thing. At least, not in the early days when you are bringing a new product or significant feature to market. Without users, it doesn’t matter how great your product is. It isn’t going to solve their pains if you lose them on the homepage.

Likewise, if you have a fantastic feature that only 1% of your active users will find, 99% will gain nothing from its existence.

Your funnel is a basic equation

You need to focus on getting as many people through your acquisition/onboarding funnel as possible. Let’s assume your acquisition starts through your homepage. Say you get 1000 users to your landing page, and you get a 1% conversion to active users, congratulations, you have just acquired ten users. The more people you get through, the more opportunities you have to delight them. If you focus too heavily on the product and neglect the onboarding, sure, you may retain 70% of users. But 70% of 10 is 7. If instead, you built the most elegant, intuitive, onboarding process, you could do better with those 1000 visitors. If you got that conversion rate up to just 5%, you now have acquired 50 users. To retain the same number, you only need a retention rate of 14%. Get the conversion up to 10%, and you only need to retain 7%.

Before you start wondering, I don’t think the goal of building new products is to get seven users. But hopefully, you get the point. If you start moving these numbers, you can see a significant difference. The earlier in the funnel you effect, the greater magnitude of results. A 5% conversion with a 25% retention, beats a 1% conversion with 100% retention. Small improvements in conversion have a magnitude effect.

Keep the core, hold off on the filler

Your core is what’s important; it’s what will get users beyond your homepage. If the central problem your product is solving is important, they will put up with a less than 100% solution. Understanding their pains and are helping them to ease them matters. This won’t last for long; they will want more soon. In the early days, you are just trying to buy enough time to stay alive.

Until you have established a mechanism to acquire users at scale, you don’t need to handle them at scale. As long as the interface is polished, the low-frequency backend actions can be manual until they need to be. If nobody has signed up for a paid account, you don’t need a billing function yet. Embrace the wizard of Oz technique; it might just buy you enough time to flourish.

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