9 key lessons from Samuel Hullick, ‘The Elements of User onboarding’ | UXCam | Blog

9 key lessons from Samuel Hullick, ‘The Elements of User onboarding’

Your product is the mountain that your user needs to climb and you’re the sherpa to show how things are wonderful at the top, remove any roadblocks and get them there. Samuel Hullick, thought leader on user onboarding uses this analogy in his book “The Elements of User Onboarding showing you how to overcome those hurdles and help user become successful. In this post, we will summarize the key learnings from the book. All credits are to Samuel, all mistakes and important omissions are mine.First step to effective User Onboarding

The first step of building a great user onboarding is understanding what works.To do this,  take a successful user  (paying customers, evangelist) and retrace their steps backwards from success. Map out all the touch-points from the first interaction up until the point they become a successful user. Remember: making a user successful is not activating a  feature but instead making them successful in life.Samuel Hullick User OnboardingSource: Samuel Hullick book, The Elements of User Onboarding

When looking at these touch points we can categorize them into two categories: getting the user to take the first leap of fair to commit to the product and helping them be successful with the product. We will start with tips on how to convince user to take the first  leap of faith step and then move to optimizing the process to help them follow through to success repeatedly. Let’s start.

 Key lessons

  1. Envision the improvements comprehensively

Unlike Facebook, Google or Twitter, be comprehensive in articulating how your product will make user lives better. Companies like Twitter and Facebook can afford to have a minimal homepage without much information but for most, thoroughly explaining the benefits is crucial to help users envision the benefit. This helps lead them to taking the first commitment to your product (signup, request demo, etc)

  1. Spark the aha moment as early as possible

Your goal is to envision the improvement for the user and show how your product helps them get there by sparking the “aha-moment” as early as possible before they leave. For most products the “aha-moment” unfortunately comes in too late, leading to users clicking away from your site before it catches their interest and gives them that aha moment.

  1. Make an emotional connection through product personality

We as humans make decisions based on emotions and use rational analysis to back these decisions. Having a personality helps users to create emotional connection with it. MailChimp, Wufoo, Slack are few companies that have done an incredible job at this. For example, photos of faces on a website captures attentions and helps to form emotional connection, helping to influence feelings. Have a personality on not just the homepage but throughout the product leads to a more connected user.

Learn more about building product with emotional connection here.

  1. Help user rationalize their decisions:

After building an emotional connection, help users understand why the decision and commitment they are about to make to the product, is a rational decision. To do that, you would show why your product is as good as all other options out there and that it exceeds all other options in specific ways, making it the logical choice. Testimonials, endorsements from experts, social media followers, showcasing real world outcomes such as number of users and being credible and transparent via things like 100% moneyback guarantee, are some of the ways to convince the users.

  1. Watch the flow and clear any halted progress

Assess the Points of Friction for the user to make sure people are not getting slowed down or interrupted.Captchas or asking for a lot of information during sign up are some of the points of frictions that you want to avoid. Understand and optimize these points to ensure a better user experience.  Asking for email confirmation and slow sites are few reasons a user can drift away from the path.Shameless plug, you can use UXCam to see how users are using your app to understand where they are struggling and optimize those experiences. Now that users are motivated and you’ve got them to take the first step to success, you will need to optimize the process to help them follow through to success, repeatedly.

  1. Greet the user

When they come to the site, greet them like you would in normal life. Since it’s the first time, there won’t be much activity and the dashboard might look empty, also called “Blank states”. Handle them gracefully with an ultra-sensitive tone without blaming the users for it. Instead of saying “You have no friends”, use this opportunity to ask the user to invite people. Many companies use fake content but this is not helpful since it illustrates what the product is capable of, which should have been done a while ago. Another approach is “content-as-tutorial”, similar to how Basecamp does, where content doesn’t exist merely to be seen, but to actively instruct.

  1. Give users quick wins

Give wins as early as possible so users remembers this “peak” experience increasing the likelihood of coming back again for more. It is not about the user getting started with the interface but instead it’s about getting them to do something that’s a core essence of your offering,  making the user a little more successful and invested in your product. Find the shortest path to these “achievements” by  removing any unnecessary steps. Each step increases the risk of users losing interest and clicking away from the app/site. Also, remember not to mistake activity for achievement. For example “the achievement” is equivalent on Amazon to 1-click purchase or through the normal checkout process. Scrutinize the importance of  onboarding tutorials (wizards, showcases, tours, questionnaires) because while they serve to introduce the product, what the product is about should have been laid out before and the the product should be self-evident.

  1. Keeping the user on track to the successful journey

Maintain presence inside your product and use interpersonal motivators such inside the product too. Another effective way to keep the users on track is by making the journey to success a series of small easily achievable steps that are unobtrusive to the user. We as humans hate leaving things unfinished and we love achieving goals. While designing this touchpoint is an important concept to known as “Endowment effect”, the gist of which is that the closer people think they are to completing something, the more likely they are to actually see it through. Linkedin and Quora does a great job leveraging this idea. Once they are successful, acknowledge it and reward it

  1. Repeating the success

Repeated visits where users are seeing results completes a successful onboarding. The more instances of social accountability i.e. getting people to connect with others inside your app, the stronger the commitments becomes. Lifecycle email can be used to do things that the site cannot,  nudge people to complete steps and pull back the user into the site/app.


You don’t get a second chance for making a great first impression. What happens after the user happens across your product is the delicate opportunity to make or break a relationship. Every app brings a unique set of challenges. Using the tools and techniques learned above to measure, test and validate onboarding ideas. If you like this summary that has a lot of omission, here is the link to purchase the book. And here is the link to his tear-downs, which is as much informative as it is hilarious. I am in no way affiliated with Samuel Hullick, I just like the guy and his thoughts. When you are ready to test onboarding of your app, sign up for free to UXCam