So, lately I was browsing around new start-ups’ websites looking at how they were approaching user acquisition (which is one of my obsessions) and it really surprised me how many companies keep following the usual beaten path of squeezing users to sign-up, vomiting words over words of copy when they could simply open a limited part of their platforms to anonymous use, to instantly seduce users with their great products.

Seriously, many start-ups have insanely well-crafted products and services but end up losing time and money asking for an email too early. Let’s face it, most of today’s early stage start-ups have plain bootstrap landing pages with little or no effort on the onboarding side.

The earlier, the better

I get it, if you are at an early stage the product is king, what you offer has to work, the time is never enough, but starting early to think about an open trial is essential, since it would require less development changes later. After all, (to be dramatic) there might not be any “later” if your onboarding sucks. To me, product and onboarding are like two faces of the same coin. I can’t seriously visualize a product without thinking about its user experience, and a successful new user’s first try, is the best example of good UX.

No more Sign-up buttons

Let’s replace that “Sign-up” with a simple and fresh “Try Now”, and let’s make the magic happen, there, in the first 30 seconds, as the user lands on your page and read your well-typed value proposition header. There, a shiny and glossy button invites the user to try the product with one click. no commitment, no form (if not functional to the first try), no question asked. Think about it, isn’t it happening already in the savvy offline world?

  • You want to buy a car - you are offered a test drive
  • You want a new mac - you can enter an Apple Store and try it first
  • A new pair of glasses? - come and try them on!
  • Shoes? - now way I would buy them without trying them on (unless I can change them later aka Zappos-style) I could go on, but I think you got the point.

Previews, demos, this is largely used online too, the point is to get rid of any friction, any barrier between a new visitor arrival on your site and the first product use.

The best solution?

Postponing any sign-up, getting them to start using the product few clicks far from the homepage. In a good onboarding process, details are requested as needed steps to effectively test out the product.

A good example of this comes from Duolingo.

Duolingo Homepage

Duolingo’s homepage is simple yet hugely efficient. Value proposition + “Get Started”

They invite you to try the product, No mention of “Sign-up” on the page. Brilliant.

In a matter of few clicks Duolingo let you start playing and learning a new language.

Duolingo Languages

Duolingo Welcome

Duolingo Start

Duolingo XP Goal

Only after what they call the “Tour”, there is a first approach to sign-up, on their Dashboard sidebar.

Duolingo Create Profile

Then, later on, when completed a real first game set, the website proactively prompts you to sign-up in order to save your progress.

Duolingo Save

Duolingo Sign Up

Another example?

RocketLawyer, a platform that helps you create legal documents automatically.

Rocket Lawyer Homepage

They ask you questions in order to generate the document, while showing you a preview of the final draft.

Rocket Lawyer Start

You can save at any time, and you’ll be prompted to sign-up in order to not lose your progress.

Rocket Lawyer Save

Rocket Lawyer Sign Up

Otherwise, when the document is completed, RocketLawyer asks you to sign-up. You don’t want to lose all that hard work, right?

Rocket Lawyer Sign Up 2

Exceptions confirm the rule

Now, it’s clear that not every company would be able to do this (can you imagine trying an Airbnb rental?). It heavily depends on the kind of product or service offered, but most of the time even a simple preview or demo is worth more than any copy or features tour.

Why is it so important?

One of the biggest issues when designing an onboarding process consists of motivating information requests (name, email, password, credit card details etc) to the eyes of users.The more convincing an onboarding process is, the more details it manages to obtain from users. Now, by letting users try your product, it is possible to slide in personal details requests giving convincing reasons (i.e. give me an email and password to save your progress). Product trials in the onboarding process offer an invaluable way to acquire users while giving value to them.