Pie Mail 54 - Let's talk about onboarding

Hello everyone!

Hope you're having a great week! The highlight for me (and many others) this week has been rugby. The Black Ferns won the tournament over the weekend in an amazing game - I think even non-sports fans would have been on the edge of their seat. Check out the highlights.

In other news - this is the second newsletter in a row that is video game themed. I assure you this is purely a coincidence, this is not becoming a gaming newsletter! I hope you enjoy my ramblings, whether you're a gamer or not. Read on!

šŸ“ā€ā˜ ļø Let's talk about onboarding


I've been feeling really nostalgic for 90's video games lately.

Unrelated to this, I've also had some really poor experiences with some SaaS tools I've been trying to use.

These two things combined have me thinking a lot about onboarding. The link might not be obvious though, so, let me explain. (If you're not familiar with the term, onboarding is the process of having a new user get 'up and running' with your product.)

So let me take you back to the mid-90's. I was in my early teens, and for me, that meant video games. Every Friday night, I'd pop down to the local rental store, and pick out a game. That would be my entertainment for the weekend, glued to a screen trying to get the maximum enjoyment time out of my 48 hour rental. It was a joyful and simple time.

Almost. Video game rentals had a problem though.

Back then, games usually came with an instruction book that taught you how to play. In many cases, you really couldn't get very far without it.

But, with rentals often the instructions were missing or damaged. This was a real problem! More than once, I can recall spending the weekend in fury and frustration because I couldn't work out how to play my game. It was an emotional time.

Fortunately, these bad old days are behind us. Rental stores are a thing of the past, but so is, in many cases, the need for instructions. Games these days are really good at teaching you how to play as you go, through in game instructions or tutorials.

In other words, modern video games do onboarding really well.

As you start a game, you might get prompts like this:

The in-game instructions show you what to do, and how to get started.

A good onboarding experience is in no way limited to just games though! Good onboarding can be a key differentiator between the apps we're building, and our competitors.

Have you ever signed up for a tool and had no idea what to do next? Ended up having to read the documentation, watch tutorials or contact the support team? This seems to me like poor onboarding. It's a blocker to getting up and running.

What if a user can't find what they need in the documentation? What if the support team is slow to respond? Adding any extra time to the experience of getting started puts the customer at risk. They might switch to trying a different, easier tool, or give up altogether.

It's a great avenue for testing. Here are some questions that can help when thinking about onboarding:

  • How quickly can a user get up and running?
  • Where do they get stuck and need help?
  • Are the 'next steps' in an app obvious?
  • Does the product follow known conventions?
  • Is help documentation or support easy to find?

The benchmark, to me is that a user should be able to get started without any external intervention. A poor onboarding experience is a massive risk for a product, and is a really good focus area when testing new products!

Would love to hear any good or bad onboarding stories!

Completely off topic, because I'm feeling nostalgic about video rental stores, our local had a beautiful mural on the wall that was truly a sign of the times:

The mural is still there, but now adorns the wall of a cut-price furniture store. Magical.

šŸ–„ Neat stuff from around the internet

šŸ“– Read


šŸŽ§ Listen

  • 37Signals have made a bold move recently, by opting to move away from the cloud back to on-prem hosting. David Heinemeier Hansson and Eron Nicholson have an interesting chat about why.


šŸ“ŗ Watch


šŸŽ® Play

  • ā€‹CSS Diner - a great game to learn about CSS selectors. This is genuinely helpful if you're doing any UI test automation.
  • One of my co-workers tempted me to try Clash Royale and I am unfortunately hooked. I'll quit as soon as I level up my Barbarians, I swear.
  • Finally, check out this great tool for printing out your code and faxing it to Elon Musk.


šŸŽŸļø Events coming up

ā€‹From Start up to Scale up (Nov 15, Auckland)

I already mentioned this last time, but it's worth mentioning it again. Strongly recommend getting along to this one if you can. A group of Pushpay's leaders / former leaders on building and scaling software products.

ā€‹The Twelve Speakers of Christmas - Tech Waikato (Hamilton, 5, 7 and 12 December)

LIC Waikato are hosting twelve different speakers over three nights. Too much content to list out here, but, there's bound to be something for everyone. Check it out!

ā€‹AWS Re:Invent Recap (Auckland, 8 December)

AWS Auckland are hosting an event, presumably to recap some of the content from Re:Invent. There's not much detail yet, but it's bound to be worthwhile, so you can block out the calendar now.

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