Samuel Hulick


This is conversation between Samuel Hulick and Justin Jackson on Product People TV. Samuel shares how he built User Onboarding and what he’s learned along the way. Lots of useful examples of how to treat customers like human beings. Check out the full conversation here.

##How Did You Start User Onboarding

My friend Jane Portman has an analogy that I use all the time, which is “it’s like having your suitcase packed with no handle on it.”

You just can’t use it to get anywhere. And as soon as you put that handle on it, all of a sudden it becomes so much more useful. I feel like I had a full suitcase with no handle for a very long time and then eventually realized onboarding was that handle.


Advice on Getting Started and Becoming an Expert

I almost like the idea of picking something you’re not very good at. And then documenting all the questions that you have as you go through it, where these are all questions that other people will be having.

Just take six months and do some research to get to be C-Level good at it. “C” like grade, not “C” like executive. And just say, “hey I spent six months researching this thing.”

You can tell people, “if you don’t want to spend six months, you can spend $40 or whatever for me to give it to you.”


What Can People Do with Your Product

It’s about people. But it’s also not just about what your product does, it’s about what your product lets people do.

What can they do with your product? That’s the important thing. Not just what does your product itself do.

I think it’s easy for us to get caught up in thinking of the products we create as almost finished work. Like a musical composition. We sat down and created this thing, and look at how beautiful it is.

I like to think of it more as we’re creating musical instruments, which let other people create the compositions they want even better.

And looking at what is the end result for them. Not just what is the end result of what we created.

People don’t buy products. People buy better versions of themselves.


What Onboarding is About

I think a lot of people mistake that onboarding is just getting people setup with the product or getting people better at using the product.

What onboarding should be about is helping the people get better at whatever the product helps them do.

So getting better at TaxSlayer is not something anyone wakes up aspiring to do. But getting better at getting their taxes filed is something they’re very motivated to do.

So onboarding in TaxSlayer should not be about explaining what all these different parts of the interface do.

Onboarding is not getting people from point A to point B in your product. It’s getting people from point A to point B in their lives.

So however you can reliably get people incrementally making progress, in TaxSlayer’s case getting taxes filed trajectory, is a lot more interesting in getting people to make progress in understanding how to use TaxSlayer’s interface trajectory.

Just explaining how to the interface works doesn’t get people very far.


Make People Feel Successful

It’s also about getting people engaged. Somebody is like, “alright, I’m sick of being a product manager screw up. I’m signing up for Basecamp today.”

Like today was there day. They had probably been thinking about signing up for Basecamp for weeks, if not months. And today for whatever reason they’re like I’m going to do it.

How weird would it be if Basecamp we’re to be like, “let’s just talk about how to use Basecamp for the next five minutes.”

You’re not really going to do anything. You’re just going to do a lot of reading. And then hopefully you’re going to remember every thing you need to know when you dive into the product. At then, the information will never be available again.

Just a total momentum killer. So I really like the idea of people are fired up, they’re motivated, they’ve made it. At that moment, the moment they signed up, their attention will probably never be where it is right now.

How can you really get them engaged and scoring quick wins as quickly as possible, to get them to be successful as early as possible within the product.


The First 5 Minutes of Your Product

A lot of research I did when I started looking at onboarding was on video game design. It’s been around a lot longer. Game design theory is a little more evolved. A lot of overlaps with first level design and tutorial design.

And looking at when video games, like a Nintendo game, would come with like a 130-page manual. You would never read that. I was just go in there and be confused. And have a miserable time and never play this game again.

I’m not going to read 130 pages about a video game.

So video games are becoming a lot smarter in making the manual interactive. They’d have a tutorial that was front-loaded. But even then it was like when you need to jump press A and when you need to do this press B.

It wasn’t really fun. You were still just trying to memorize things instead of actually getting in and doing things.

Finally, looking at blending the tutorial into the game where you don’t even realize you’re in a tutorial any more. It’s really like the ideal you want people to have, where all of a sudden they just learn by doing and certain things are kind of obvious.

That’s really what I encourage people to apply to their product design as well. That first five minutes can be highly, highly scripted and full of engagement like a video game.


Creating a More Human Experience

If you were serving a customer in person, and your product was swapped out in your place, would you have said the same things your product said with the same tone?

And almost always that is not the case. Especially looking at what are called blank states or null states. Which is like when maybe you login and the dashboard is where you would see all your projects or something.

And it would say, “you have no projects.”

Almost admonishing you for not having projects yet. Like I just filled out three forms, I gave you my email address and password, and I’m being scolded. This is not kicking off on the right foot.

Certainly it’s not something you would say if you were standing in the websites place welcoming a new customer to your company. That’s true.


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