Build World Class User Onboarding

Lessons learned from 10 years of using + building apps.

Back then

In 2007, the iPhone was first released. Along with it, the App Store was born.

2007 to 2010 also happened to be my high school years. Back then I would spend hours each day installing and trying news apps. The concept was revolutionary, and the potential for what apps could become was endless.

Some apps — UBER, Evernote or later Waze — required (and still do) the user to signup and create an account during the onboarding. Because of phone and internet speed, apps that required an internet connection during the signup were unbearably slow. If you had to use that same phone today to install your apps, you probably wouldn’t complete the onboarding.

On the other hand, others apps — Shazam, Google Map or later Citymapper — had a much more lightweight onboarding experience, allowing users to start using the app immediately. No account creation was needed, just a microphone or location request.

Most apps had good reasons for their onboarding experiences, and apps like Shazam were much easier to adopt because they didn’t require a user account or credit card. The user simply had to open the app and get started.

Apps that understood the power of onboarding and the need to simplicity were true pioneers.


Smartphones and apps have significantly improved, and the importance of UX is now well understood.

Interestingly enough, as is the case for most consumers, I am downloading few to zero apps a month. Thousands of apps are released every single day, and yet, I tend to stick to a few apps that I discovered back in the day and only rarely get hooked to new apps.

Our attention is limited and our home screens are cluttered. Speed at which apps deliver value and ease of use are more important than ever in order to capture our hearts.

User Onboarding

As Kevin Hale — Wufoo founder — explained at his class at YC: as humans we need to create a relationship with things we interact over and over again: cars we drive, tools we use, etc.

Above: love stories

As with any relationship, first impressions matter. And despite the now well-known importance of first impressions, certain companies still don’t give it enough attention.

As a matter of fact, for most applications, user onboarding is one of the few things that every single one of your users will experience.

Once someone has decided to try out your application, the onboarding is the very first impression they get and you will only get one chance to get them to the “Aha moment”. A poor onboarding experience can leave a bad first impression causing immediate user churn or can flat out prevent a user from even getting to the core part of the application.

This in turn creates more work for the rest of the organization: marketing and sales will have to work harder to generate more downloads and initial users while product and engineering will have to work harder to make the core application even more sticky so that users can look past their poor initial experience.

In times where competition for our attention and loyalty is tough, building strong connections from very beginning has became a must-have.

Great products make first impression memorable.

They build World Class User Onboarding.

Here is how they do it:


How my job interview went viral on Product Hunt

0-KRDCtFOAbAz0wq6pRewind back to May 2015. We closed down a B2B retail startup called We had found our “product-market fit”. Unfortunately our startup didn’t end up that successful and we decided to move on.

It was common to have discussions about what was the magic to make great product. We’d fudged our way through and somehow made something people wanted, but couldn’t reach organic growth.

Could I actually create virality?

This is when I took an interview with a Berlin based startup for a junior product management role.

After I passed the HR phone screening, this email arrived:

The case interview required me to recommend improvements to their referral program — a famous growth driver.

My case later transformed into a viral project which generated 40k+ page views.


This is how it all happened.


.   .   .  

Taking a case

At the time, I had no clue what were the best referral programs out there, and most importantly why.

I Googled the topic. The Internet had some good, but scattered resources.

I spent 2 hours gathering a collection of screenshots from 15 different tech companies. The result was messy, but helped me understand some recurring patterns.

Great referral programs patterns I noticed:

  • Fairness. Most people expect fair benefits for both invitee and invited.
  • Alignment. Program rewards are aligned with company values.
  • Accessibility. Referral feature accessibility inside the app is good.
  • Timing. Ask people to refer the product at the right moment is important.
  • Lifetime. Referrals decrease over time when people have less people to share with or less excitement to share. The feature may maximize this instant.

These clear learnings made me craft a 10-slides presentation I later presented on-site.


4 weeks later I had an offer from this great company, and decided to join 🎉


But the story doesn’t stop there…


Validating a problem

At this point I had discovered a problem. Whoever was looking for a neutral, detailed listing of the best B2C referral programs would have to follow the same process. They would lose time, like I did. An amount of time downloading and signing up to all these apps is required.

A few weeks after, I moved to my product position. I learned that building a new referral program was part of my team roadmap and realized that successful referral programs were a black box for many people in the product team.


This moment was the customer validation around the idea.


I knew I wanted to structure my learnings into an educational project. I thought maybe I could get a few hundreds people to read it.


The Mockup

One hour later I emerged with 2 mockups using Balsamiq:

  • A home page.
  • A company referral program flow page.

I’m no designer so there were no graphics, all flat assets and some navigation guidelines.

Left: Homepage / Right: A company referral program flow page

Prior, I had created a blog where I share executions — like this one — for startups employees. 💎


I decided to build web pages on it.


The traction

I was lucky enough to be reading the amazing book “Traction” which really opened my eyes on the fact that traction and product are of equal importance.

My early thoughts turn into sharing this project on Product Hunt (or PH). A collection of best referral program practices could appeal to the community.

A talk convinced me to get the subdomain A subdomain had less SEO power but added a touch of neutrality toward my blog — which could appeal to PH community.


I started building the pages.


The build

Another 4 hours were spent throwing together the website final version.

I put screenshots, KPIs and tactics notes together using WordPress flexible theme “Enfold” and editing CSS.

Built and deployed in 6 hours. This was the result.

Total 16 pages: 1 Homepage & 15 Specific company pages

5 things I made sure to include on the website:

    1. Top email opt-in bar, a fast way to deploy an email opt-in form across all pages.
    2. Back buttons to navigate easily.
    3. Responsive design to enhance mobile users experience.
    4. Social sharing bar. I created an image that would be displayed when people share the page on social medias. WordPress refers to it as featured image.


  1. Dedicated email address to connect with people.


I sent it for review to some knowledgeable friends and improved it. By the end of day one the “product” was ready.


I needed to launch on PH.


Finding the right hunter

There are plenty of ressources to find influential hunters — like this top 500 hunters list. But finding “famous” hunters means to pitch them first and wait to fit the project into their agenda.

On the other hand less influential hunters have less followers, which mean less people will be notified when your product is posted


A good trade-off was to find a less solicited top tier hunter with a good track record.


I messaged a friend user #560 on PH who accepted to post my project.


Preparing the publication

Prior to launching, I prepared the PH publication:

  • A Title. To find out the most upvoted projects on PH simply press “Space” then “Enter” in the search bar. I noticed most upvoted projects were short — 3 to 5 words — with at least one power word. I went for:

Best Referral Programs

  • A Subtitle. While the title conveys a concise message about your product, the subtitle should convey more clear information, arouse curiosity and push people to click. I used:

A curated directory of startup referral programs

  • A Cover Image. The cover is seen rather small on PH feed so having the fewer words possible is key. I use a gif maker and some complementary flat color range to capture people’s attention.
  • A Few Images. While the cover image is small, other assets will be visible once people are on the product page. I simply added some screenshots and the featured image:
Left: the feature image 🌈 

  • The Comment. I prepared a comment once the product would be posted to tell the community “the why” behind the project. Doing so and mentioning that you are willing to answer people questions will boost the engagement on the project page.


The Launch

The launch was Friday December 9th at 9:00AM — GMT + 0 for 2 reasons:

  • To be there at PH daily counter start and get early visibility.
  • To target the European community in the morning and leverage the US community who tend to upvote same projects by mimetism in the afternoon.

Friday 9:00AM — The product was live on PH.


Kickoff upvotes

On that Friday morning, I gently asked in a few Facebook and Slack tech groups to look at my PH project, and upvote if they liked it.

I made sure to follow PH best practices not to get penalized:

  • I shared PH homepage rather than my specific product page directly.
  • I reached out to people from various countries— IPs — simultaneously.

First upvotes started to flow.

The page reached its first 100 upvotes within 4 hours 🚀


And so did comments. Most were positive and showed people interest into the project:


I took the time to answer each comments.

The race was on.


The impact

After a fierce competition that day, Best Referral Programs ranked #2 on PH.

Source: Product Rank


The project received 100+ shares on Twitter.

The featured image conveyed clearly the project value 🎯

Because the project reached the top 5 that day, it was featured the next day in the “Weekend’s top hunt” newsletter, fostering its impact.


I did the math.


Driving high traffic

In total Best Referral program generated:

  • 10,499 unique visitors
  • 39,176 pages views
Live analytics on launch day, in other words.. vanity metrics 😛

The project received approx. 900 upvotes over time, that’s around 12 unique visitors per upvote.


544 people signed up for my blog newsletter using the top navigation bar email opt-in, that’s a 5% conversion rate.


Considering how wide the project spread — including on social medias — the conversion rate was above market average.


The unexpected

Now, they are a couple of things I did not expected from this project, among which 1 Affiliate program offer from a growth hacking product company. 1 Article mention as an influential founder to follow next to personalities like Ryan Hoover (Product Hunt) or Marc Köhlbrugge (BetaList). 50+ quality mentions and links to my blog (SEO backlinks!). 10+ requests to hunt people’s projects with my account. 20+ emails with additional referral programs to be added to the website.

Get the most out of it

Over the next two months these opportunities lead me to narrow down my blog positioning and kickoff its audience. Hadn’t I have been further and re-used this referral program case that I would have a missed that chance.

I was just looking back at the first point in the first paragraph:


Could I actually create virality?


I think I’ll call that a ‘yes’.

Your turn 🚀

Fast forward to June 2017 I am confident Growth Jam will deliver valuable insights to people looking for simple yet efficient product and marketing executions.

Your turn to get the most out of it. ⬇️

Join GrowthJam mailing list to learn game-changing executions.

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How we built a profitable business in 6 weeks without market knowledge


My phone rang, I had a notification. 


It validated all the work we had done for the past month. It was our eCommerce business’ first online sale, the result of four weeks of intense labor during which we hadn’t seen much daylight.

Yet, there we were. Someone had just spent his hard-earned money for our product,

Then other orders came in — more than we had anticipated.


In six weeks, we had built a profitable business from scratch. This is how we did it.


.   .   .  


We found the perfect market in 1 day

On day 1, we set strict rules for ourselves to validate fast:

  • Sell a product that was easy to get up and exciting.
  • Spend on marketing, not inventory. We didn’t want to freeze money without learning practical skills.
  • Build a service with minimum spending. That way, if it turned out to be a complete failure, we wouldn’t lose more than a few hundred Euros.

We narrowed down our search to drop shipping

Drop shipping is a retail fulfillment method where a store doesn’t keep the products it sells as inventory. Instead, it purchases the item from a third party and has it shipped directly to the customer.


It required zero inventory and a very small upfront cost.

We had the perfect fulfillment method. Now we needed a perfect niche.


Why you should focus your efforts on finding a niche

  • Niche marketing is less competitive.
  • Niche marketing is more affordable.
  • A niche audience is easier to target.

We had been reading advanced drop-shipping websites, and started looking for a niche using a 5 criteria method found there.


5 criteria to easily validate any niche with drop-shipping:

  1. Can you “niche down”? Which means be more specific in a product category.
  2. Is online demand for this product increasing? Check Google trend.
  3. Are there enough searches on Google for this product? Check Google planner.
  4. Is the product retail price between €300 and €1,000? Selling expensive products mean less work, less customer service and lower sales target. But if the product is too expensive customers expect high customer service.
  5. Are there a lot of small competitors? If the market is trusted by famous brands, then it will be difficult to get access to product distribution and look legit.

We noticed a product was buzzing all over the internet: self balancing scooters — also known as Hoverboards.

They met all of these criteria.


At the end of Day 1, we had validated our niche. We started looking for suppliers.


Find European-based suppliers

We needed European-based suppliers in order to:

  1. Have short delivery time for our customers (3–6 days).
  2. Ensure the boards wouldn’t be blocked at the customs office.
  3. Get Hoverboards with a European Certification (CE).

We sent 157 emails to targeted manufacturers and wholesalers found on Alibaba, asking them for partners inside Europe. We received 100 answers – 10 were interesting. We also reached out to personal contacts.



By the end of week 2, we had 4 suppliers willing to drop-ship for us. Now, we needed to discover who our customers would be.


We found our target customers


Who was buying Hoverboards?

As millennials, we asked social media. We searched Instagram (using hashtags such as #hoverboard and #selfbalancingscooter), and Twitter usingTopsy (since closed). To our surprise, adults weren’t customers – only influencers.

The market for Hoverboards was targeting very young people.



By the end of week 2 we knew our perfect target customers were kids. We needed a way to reach them.


We built the appropriate branding

We searched the internet to see what was already selling. Most companies were imitating each other, giving a fancy aspect to Hoverboards.


Google displays the highest quality content in its search engine, the companies behind this content need to be profitable — or at least relevant — to show up there. If these images were showing up in Google searches, it meant there was a community around Hoverboards.

We kept only one aspect of this communication: the urban aspect of using the Hoverboard on concrete and for short distance.

Then, we borrowed skateboarding codes and applied them to our brand to make it unique and differentiate ourselves from the competition.


Skateboarding is viewed as cool, and skateboarders share values such as persistence and insubordination — so could Hoverboard users. We had a set of values for our brand. Now we needed a name reflecting those values.


Here are things you should look at when coming up with a name:

  • It has to be easy to remember.
  • It must be written the way it sounds.
  • It has to have a .com domain available (you can use bust a name to check for availability).
  • All social accounts must be readily available (namecheckr does it for you)

After a while, I put together a list of names I liked and shared it. We immediately agreed on one name : UNKICK.



The logo took 1 hour to design. We opened Photoshop, typed Unkick using several fonts, and chose this one:



By the beginning of week 3 we had designed our brand. The last thing we needed was a shop.


We built an e-Shop

We chose a free theme on Shopify for 2 reasons:

  • We wanted to keep our costs as low as possible.
  • The theme would only be a basis for the website. We would complete it with code.

2 hours later, our website was live. There would be more tweaks down the line, but this was a good MVP.


A market, a product, a brand, and a store. We were all set.


By the end of week 3 our first product page was live.


Since most of the advertising we did sent visitors directly to this specific product page, our top priority was to have a high conversion rate on our product page.


We drove traffic to our website

Channel Acquisition is not about bringing many people to your website, it’s about bringing the right people: qualified traffic.

Depending on the business you’re launching, some acquisition channels will prove much more effective than others. You need to pick some, test them, and adjust accordingly.


We chose two main acquisition channels: Google Adwords and Instagram .

I know, original right ?


Well, we focused on what was already working. We didn’t try to reinvent the wheel.

Google Adwords has great advantages

  • Takes only a couple of hours to review your ad and display it
  • Gives you the certainty to get traffic (you pay per click)

Google Planner had told us that the search volume in Google search was high enough for this channel to be effective. During the first days, we always had 2 Adwords campaigns running simultaneously. Every day, we would check which had performed better, kill the other one, and replace it.



This strategy helped our website quickly outperform most other stores on Shopify. It’s a standard one if you are cash savvy — and it’s effective.



Giving Instagram a shot

In parallel to paid online acquisition we decided to grow our business through at least one free channel. Our main resource was time, not money.

We chose Instagram because:

  • It gives brands 25% more engagement than any other social platform out there.
  • Its average order value is among the highest compared to other social medias.

We grew the account fast, engaging with people as well as working with a couple of influencers — the account topped 5k followers in 4 weeks.



The fully detailed Instagram Growth Strategy is in our free eBook too!


By the end of week 3, we were ready to launch.


We failed our first launch

We launched on week 4. During this week, 360 different people visited the website (mostly from Adwords), but none of them bought anything.

We thought we had enough traffic for at least one sale. But we made zero, none, nada, niets, zip.



There was an issue, but we didn’t know where. Was it the product? The pricing? The website ? Maybe people didn’t want to buy this product after all.

At this stage, we were paying for acquisition on Google Adwords and were losing money. Yet, we had to keep going. Online advertising is about experimenting — and we were persistent.

We decided to ask eCommerce experts about our website. One of them told us:


Your website doesn’t feel safe enough. It doesn’t look like we can trust you to buy products worth hundreds of Euros.


He was right. We had become blind to our website’s flaws, and we needed the truth. This observation had a huge impact on what followed.



We finally made our first sale

We completely redesigned our website, switching our target market to France and translating everything to French. We capitalized on an unfair advantage we didn’t know we had: customer-service.

As a non exclusive reseller, weren’t not able to compete with big retailer on prices. But we had inventory inside Europe, a small volume and we were flexible. That gave us the competitive advantage to deliver faster than others online resellers (ie: Amazon !!) and offer a high level of service.



By the beginning of week 6, our new website for the French market was launched.


That’s when I got a notification.

1-RiPObGHc5fks9jjsuDF4PA (1)

I couldn’t believe it. We had made our first sale — finally.

But that wasn’t all. More sales were coming in — it was on!


We made $6,9k revenue in 9 days

Our figures during the first 9 days:


Our acquisition channels:

  • Generated a total of €6,986.00 in revenue.
  • Drove 3,232 unique visitors.
  • Made a total of 14 orders in 9 days of activity.


Google Adwords proved much more effective than Instagram.

As a drop-shipping business, we had a hard time building brand awareness with Instagram. People likely forgot our brand right after discovering it on their phone.

The conversion rate was still very low.But this was the validation we had been looking for since the beginning. Our second milestone was achieved.



From now on, the logical next step would have been to optimize our metrics

  • Decrease stock price thanks to bigger volume and new collaborations.
  • Decrease acquisition cost.
  • Diversify our product line.

We would also need to improve our payment security as this market was high-risk and we already had moved from Stripe to Braintree (a Stripe-like service own by Paypal).


But we made the decision to stop there

We shut down our website after 7 weeks:

  • Demand for our product was collapsing.
  • Big competitors were massively entering the market.
  • We had no personal interest in operating it in the long run and it was never designed to be more than a side project.



We considered this experiment a success. This side project generated a good stream of income and gave us a unique opportunity to learn new online skills.


Why it changed my life

I am not selling a dream. I didn’t become a millionaire founder.
But I learned something important: starting anything requires venturing into the unknown. I didn’t know whether this would succeed of fail, but hadn’t we tried, I still wouldn’t know.

Instead, I learned practical skills for the real world. For instance, I now help online businesses grow their Instagram account — only one aspect of all the things I learned.

I wanted to know if I had it in me to start a business, for real, and have an impact on people.

For weeks I didn’t think I could.

Then my phone rang.


Thank you for reading! If you want to get your own life-changing notification, get my free ebook THERE.