Prepare to Engage: Onboarding Engagement


I have previously written how time-based trial periods are very ineffective at convincing me to prioritize using a new product. My alternative preference is a use-based engagement, where the user has a certain free usage of the product regardless of how long it takes the user to ramp into usage.

Use-Based: Braintree – First $50,000 Processed Free

A great example of this use-based method is Braintree, a Rockstar payment processing startup. Braintree allows new users to skip the transaction processing fee on the first $50,000 of payments. This type of program would excite the user to immediately implement the software into their PoS system. Additionally, at $50,000 (a decent revenue block for a small business) it would allow the business a meaningful use-based trial that doesn’t disadvantage smaller businesses that could not take advantage of all $50,000 in processing if it were a 14-day trial. In this way, it doesn’t immediately signal to smaller customers that they are less important to Braintree than companies who will process $50,000 in payments in a few hours.

Referral-Based: Dropbox – Refer Friends & Get Extra Free Storage

Many years ago when Dropbox initiated the refer a friend for 0.25 GB additional storage feature, this was the first eye-opening “growth hack” that I can personally recall having an effect on me. I wasn’t alone, as the deep integration of this referral program increased the Company’s signups by 60% and noticeably changed the Company’s growth trajectory.

Increasing engagement through referrals

Dropbox referral system

Action-Based: – Onboarding Actions Earn Cash (Bitcoin)

While it’s great to incentivize users to share your product with friends, I’d argue the best way to maintain long-lasting user engagement is through rewarded use-case actions.

The best example of this type of onboarding introduction I have seen was from (’s mission is to Replace your public email with an inbox that pays you. It’s a great idea that mixes privacy, access, and payment into a platform where you can connect with the network you need by letting them know you are serious about making a connection.’s onboarding process made an impact on me because it drew me into the product through small, incentivized tasks. Each task, such as filling a short survey, syncing to LinkedIn, or exploring the product earned me $0.25 in Bitcoin. Because is primarily a paid outreach platform, this is a fantastic way to seed a user’s account with enough money to send one or two $1 messages to test out the platform.

  • Remove barriers to use the product

Because users would normally have to link a funding source to the account before being able to send messages, it is easier for the Company to help the user get funds in their account another way.

  • Don’t devalue the product

By giving the user the option to perform small incentivized tasks during the onboarding process, the Company is not giving away something for nothing. It might be easier in the short term to simply give each user $2 in their account when they sign up, but I believe that benefits of the incentivized tasks process are well worth the costs.

  • Promote using the product

The goal of an onboarding process is to get the user to see value from your product as soon as possible. Helping the user understand how to use the product and giving them an easier way to begin using it is never a bad idea.

First Things First

I’ve heard a story from the relatively early days of Facebook (< 1m users) that of all predictive engagement metrics, including in-app time, number of posts, selecting a profile pic, etc.) the Company tracked, the most powerful predictor of long-term engagement within of the app was if the user sent seven (7) friend requests in the first four (4) days of membership. Of the group who fit this metric, a large portion of users remained active on the platform in the long-term.

The moral of the story is that assuming your product is good, there will be some things that new users do which will set them on the path to loving and continuing to use your product. In many instances, your particularly powerful engagement metric will not be what you expect so you need new users to engage with the product in interesting ways to find out what the metric is and how to encourage users to reach this initial goal.

What is the first thing you want your users to do when they sign-up? It’s hard to say and is no doubt different for every company. A few examples are:

Learn Something: Watch this how-to video

Do Something: Creating your first report

Teach (Us) Something: Write the first question you had when you came to our site

Values: Call an old friend today and save 10% this month

Habits: Log into your account tomorrow and save 10% this month

However you do it, new user onboarding is critical to the happiness of each user and the long-term success of the company. Let’s get to it!

by: Daniel Hinton

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