what good onboarding looks like

Total SaaS investment has continued to rise in early 2020, with $2.5b in funding at the mid-Feb mark (up $1b YoY). Before you lean back in your chair and let out a yawn because it’s the same story every year, know this—it did so with half as many funding rounds

This means mega rounds, including Snowflake’s ~500m Series G and five others of 200m or more. Without them, it would be a very different picture that highlights early stage SaaS’s lower activity.


🚶 Your onboarding is what sets the stage for customer retention. Good onboarding leads to higher product usage, and as a result, more value derived by your customers. So what does a good onboarding process look like today? Userpilot examined how 1,000 different SaaS businesses onboarded their customers to check out 2020 trends (and offer their critique). We thought these tidbits were pretty interesting.   

  • 73% of B2C companies used freemium to get users in the door. Only 24% of B2B went with freemium, the other 76% electing to go with free trials. If you’re undecided on which model to use, this is a great decision framework (go to slide 43 for the summary).

  • Only 24% of products had an interactive walkthrough. Walkthroughs are one of our favorite ways to push key features, so the low percentage was a surprise. For those concerned that users might get annoyed by a forced tutorial, you can always make it optional with the ability to come back later!

  • A little more than half of products (56%) used a checklist, which is a slightly less direct way to guide users than a walkthrough. At the same time, they’re easier to ignore. Pick your poison.


👻 Taking shortcuts in software design and development can come back to haunt you, but there’s a reason so many founders knowingly incur technical debt. It’s often most efficient to launch a less refined product to test product market fit, as opposed to investing time to perfect something which may not be a winner to start with. The issue with technical debt (much like financial debt) is knowing how much you can actually manage. We like the idea of a “tech debt wall” where you visualize key issues with sticky notes. Everyone will notice as the wall grows, and at some point you will be forced to revisit areas which should probably be refactored. 

💾 If you’re going by stereotypes, development leaders are more likely to suggest knocking out technical debt than CEOs and founders. The latter are more profit focused, and naturally prefer to march on to the next feature. Inverita CEO Orest Hudziy interviewed a group of CTOs to see how they viewed the importance of deployment speed vs. the product’s quality, and actually got an interesting mix of answers. The group also shared their view on who should be held responsible for poor product quality stemming from an overly aggressive deadline. Each ultimately agreed that as leader of the technical team, the buck stops at them. 


⛈️ Good businesses get copied. So as much as we like to fantasize about having the perfect idea that will take the world by storm, most aren’t original. The ultimate decider of who wins and who loses comes down the execution of difficult tasks—anything easy will eventually be commoditized to the point where profits are slim. There are a set of “difficult” levers which can be pulled to gain a competitive advantage. Counter-positioning is most interesting because of our ability to personalize marketing at an incredible level. Businesses can test new verticals and personas which competitors have ignored without ever having to fully commit. Low risk, high reward.


🌳 Ken Watanabe wrote Problem Solving 101 to teach young children how to deal with the challenges of life, only to find that adults were a better audience for the book. You’re probably thinking “good for them, I’ll skip the children's book”, but how often do you go with your gut feeling instead of taking a methodical approach to problem solving? The decision trees and matrixes detailed in the book are an undeniably simple and effective way to get to the root of an issue and find solutions quickly.