I am excited to share with you my experience of spending a good hour with the user onboarding guru, Samuel Hulick last week where I learnt from him a lot of concepts around user onboarding practices. And not just that, Samuel also shared about his thoughts on product management and most importantly he answered my question on how to become a serious practitioner of your craft. Here I present to you everything that Samuel shared with me on the podcast. 


About Samuel Hulick





Samuel Hulick is an expert on User Onboarding practices and has a website dedicated to the subject called useronboard.com. He has for the last several years conducted teardowns for many popular products online and published his observations on the website. He then published a book, Elements of User Onboarding on onboarding practices that became a best seller overnight.  


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If you hard pressed for time to listen to the podcast, here are the highlights of the interview:

Q. You may have explained this many a time, but what according to you is onboarding in plain terms and why is it so important?

Anytime someone is thinking about trying a new product, it is kind of like an expression of hope. They recognize that what they are doing something currently is not up to their standards and they are hoping that doing  it in a  different way using a different product will help them succeed in some way. Onboarding hence is essentially  process of increasing the likelihood that they are successful when they are trying your product and are maintaining and sustaining that success over time. And the reason its so important from product design perspective is that you are building features, putting out marketing to get the product on people’s radar and if someone doesn’t survive the first five minutes in your product, then a  lot of all that effort is going waste. So, it’s a question of aligning your entire software experience around helping people find that success.

Q. The first chapter of your book – ‘Crossing the Onboarding Chasm’ caught my attention. And this chasm is very similar to the one  you achieve before the product/market fit.  What according to you is the biggest problem/chasm products world over are facing in their onboarding experience? 

““It’s interesting that you compared it to product/market fit. In a lot of ways, a software is a “person/software” fit. An analogy that I like to use is, when you are undergoing an organ transplant, sometimes the body will accept, sometimes it would reject. Onboarding is you putting in all the effort and  hoping that somebody incorporate your software into their life, it will be a successful transplant. Just helping people find the value in your product, get to experience it firsthand as soon as possible so on and so forth is absolutely necessary. “

Q. Do you think an otherwise excellent product can still lose because of a bad onboarding experience? Do you have any examples?

“I guess it depends upon what your definition of lose is. If the product is really reliably delivering to people and the getting started process is really clunky, that’s not necessarily losing. If you are setting yourself with goals like Twitter, which is to grow at all cost, then obviously bad onboarding will  hold you back from accomplishing your goals. I would typically say that designing a product that people will highly value, will people crawl through broken glass to get to this? And onboarding is actually getting rid of the broken glass. “

Q.  What are the boundaries of user onboarding? Is it just the first early interaction with a product or does it extend beyond into every step of the entire customer journey? Now when I say customer journey, it goes from “Introduction to product, sign up process, first use of product, recurring use of product, purchase, ongoing use and then advanced use. What is the scope of onboarding in this entire customer journey?

“If you think of onboarding just as an intro tour to your product, that’s by definition is pretty limited. Anytime there is a gap between what someone is currently doing and what they are capable of doing, there is an onboarding opportunity. When there is a new feature, then there is an onboarding opportunity to get unto speed with that new feature.  Or may be there is a discovery issue and they don’t know about it that’s an onboarding opportunity. In reality, I would like to a step further back and look at the problem space as a whole. Somebody is signing up for your product and hoping that its going to serve them in some part of their life. If you look at their part of the life you are looking to improve upon, you don’t necessarily do that just through that product. May be you can provide some education material that people can read before they start using your product. May be you can help them in human services kind of way which is technology agnostic. The onboarding process is to help people become more capable and there are lot of different ways of approaching that.

Q. In your book you mentioned that your onboarding experience doesn’t start  or stay at YOURCOMPANY.COM. Where else can an onboarding begin for a SaaS product if not on the website? 

“One example people use a lot is, if people are doing a search for shoes, and there was an advertisement that came on the side that read “50% off on Adidas running shoes”. When you click on that link, it takes you to a homepage that doesn’t mention the 50% off thing, this is what in marketing terms called the lost the scent of information. You have to regain it by clicking around and filtering for information from the website. Instead if you had reached the relevant discount page directly from the advertisement link, that would have meant maintaining the scent of information.  “

Other Questions I asked in the podcast:

Q. Please share a bit about your story. How did you begin your career and how did you grow to become a world authority onboarding practices?

Q. Closely related to that is “maintaining the scent of the information” What did you mean by that?

Q.  You had mentioned before that you had taken a lot of inspiration for on boarding from video games. Why do you say that?

Q. You also mentioned sometime back that “you earn the engagement by making them better people, not simply by making a better product. What did you mean and how do you do that?

Q. This is a segment we call Case Study where our guests share the most challenging problem they solved in their career and how they solved it Or even if they failed what lessons were learnt. Do you have any lessons to be shared from your vast career?

Q. What are some of the products according to you that offer the best on boarding experience?

Q. What are some of the trends that you foresee happening in the areas of user on boarding?
Q. Please share with us the importance of building a brand and becoming an expert on a niche. This piece of advice is going to be extremely useful for our users.

Q. Since this podcast is targeted towards product managers and you must be working with product managers, what skills do you think are vital for product managers to have to be able to build great products?
Q. What are some of the books and resources that you would recommend product managers to read? 

Q.Your book Elements of User Onboarding has been stupendously successful. And I know by experience, that you had all the touchpoints of buying your book marvellously worked out. Please share with us what all does your book include.


“About the features in airconditioning and scuba equipment. The less you notice it, the better it is probably working”

“Your on boarding experience doesn’t start or stay at YOURCOMPANY.COM”

“Be the onboarding”

“Pick something that you are passionate about”

“Never mistake activity for achievement”