A Beginner's Life

On Onboarding

September 16, 2012 4 min read

Two things we are focused on doing well – growing our customer base, and growing our team. This requires a lot of on-boarding. We are in the midst of a change in how we on-board, so I wanted to take a minute to talk about where we’re coming from, and why I think we’re going in the right direction.

Early Days

If you build it, they will come (and figure it out for themselves)

Let’s start by talking some (fairly recent) history. A year and a half ago, I joined Wistia as the first non-engineer hire. My role was never clearly defined, and became parts marketing, sales, and support. As the team grew, there was constant wrangling as responsibilities (and passionate ones at that) were ripped away from veterans and given to new folks. The end result? With a new hire, the team as a whole would slow down, as we struggled to jel together.

From an app standpoint, things were comparably slow. New users could get access to the app in seconds (just enter their email) but getting started was completely up to them. This led to lots of support up front. High-touch on-boarding meant lots of “how do I upload?” questions that turned into long “how does video marketing strategy work?” conversations. While these were certainly productive, it was not scalable.

Takeaway: From your marketing site to your next hire, everything needs clarity of purpose to perform at it’s best.

The Turning Point

Scalable communication leads to more predictable growth

It became clear by late last year that we needed a change. Projects weren’t being picked up because it was unclear who should handle them, and there were too many cooks in the kitchen everywhere to get things done effectively. This led to tough conversations about individual responsibilities within the company, and resulted in new, clearer lines being drawn. These conversations were clearing up some organizational debt. By making responsibilities clear, they gave increased autonomy to each person and team within a better defined sandbox.

From marketing, to sales, to product – we saw speed and efficiency up across the board. Max took over the Sales inbox, and has done a great job managing incoming traffic. Adam is heading up new business, leading us to new frontiers. Clear missions for each team also made identifying needed roles and bringing on new folks easier.

We had also reached a breaking point in our business model – the learning curve for new customers was simply too high to scale effectively. We addressed this in several ways: first, we removed the phone number from the marketing website. This put pressure on our static resources (i.e. feature pages, blog posts, documentation), and released our sales and support team from spending time talking with new users in that ‘pre-use’ time, when the only useful feedback is what they expect to see.

Next, we took all the learnings we had from years of on-boarding conversations and put them into a ‘getting started’ video series, Project Randor. Putting these videos into the app meant new users could learn key functionality on their own time, and without depending on the sales and support team conversations. The videos also better solidified our mission and personality with new users. This led to increased happiness among customers, and increased sales.

Takeaway: Our scarcest resource at a small company is time. Automate away parts of the day that become redundant and marginally less valuable.
Bonus Takeaway: If your goal is customer acquisition, finding scalable ways to educate your customers is key to success. Educated users => Comfortable and Happy Customers => Sales Growth.

Where We Are Going

We have lots of growing left to do in 2012. To do it with the resources we have will require doubling-down on what has been working with regards to on-boarding, both from a product and team perspective.

From the team side, this means getting new folks up to speed faster. In my own world of support, that means abandoning the ‘they will figure it out’ attitude I have had for far too long, and start really investing my time in the success of new folks. Spending real time walking Nadav through support issues, and encouraging him to help create static resources for future support team members will pay huge dividends down the road.

From the product side, the next on-boarding step to tackle is ‘login number one’. Patrick McKenzie was attributed this quote from MicroConf 2012:

Script (your customer's) first 5 minutes like it's the invasion of Normandy.

And that’s what we intend to do. This will be a coordinated attack from a bunch of angles: experiments with new message types, increased on-boarding process upfront, and some hypothesis on why customers buy. Some, like new steps in the on-boarding process, are a major departure from our old “Get them into the app and get out of their way” approach. Maybe it will work, maybe it won’t. The key is, again, to find ways to automate the unproductive parts of our time away, AND give users and customers an even better experience. If we can do both, good things are coming in late 2012 and beyond.