Startup diary: Onboarding can be the toughest challenge

Last week in this startup diary I wrote about getting our podcast operational. It’s just one part of our inbound marketing, all of which exists ultimately to get people to trust us and to visit our website. What happens after a potential voxgig user arrives? How do we go from audience to paying customer?

We have to think about the journey that this imaginary user will take. And it’s not just one journey. There are different types of user, and for each type, there are different journeys. We’ll have to work out how to handle all of these possibilities so that we can maximise user sign-ups, and by keeping those users happy, user retention.

We will also bring people on board by directly inviting them, and by directly selling to them. But that is never going to be the main driver of user growth. Nor indeed will all of our inbound marketing efforts be the main driver.

No, most of our users, in the end, will come from other users. They will invite each other on to the system so that they can collaborate effectively to make events happen.

But it all has to start the traditional way – getting users to sign up, and that’s why the user journey from audience, to sign-up, to payment, is so important.

We need to build a critical mass, and them make sure that we can demonstrate a path to positive margins for each user.

Since we’ve already spilled a great deal of ink on the subject of audience and community building, let’s talk about what happens when a user arrives at voxgig.com.

At the moment if you go to our site, you’ll see a fairly basic search engine that lets you search for events and speakers.

That’s our live Minimum Viable Product (MVP). Our system has come on quite a bit since that went live in March, but all the action has been with our private trial clients, making sure we are building the right features for conference speakers, organisers and exhibitors.

Once we go live in January (the date is the 29th – one for your calendar), the home page will change. The search functionality will remain, and will operate in much the same way – a free text search just like Google (and much friendlier than most of the other event directories). However, on first arriving, you’ll see an overlay asking you to sign up to voxgig.

You’ll be able to dismiss the overlay and just use the search, of course, but your first ‘call to action’, as it is known, will be to register an account.

We’ll try to keep the registration process simple: just enter your email, or login with Twitter, LinkedIn or Github. If you enter your email, we’ll send you a message with a special link that will log you in automatically.

From there you can choose to enter a password and set up more secure login methods. We won’t require a password right away. We’ll use your email to guess your name, so you won’t even have to enter that. In general, we try to make you do the least amount of work to start using the system.

Once you’re logged in, you go to the search application within the main voxgig system, and we’ll also ask you for a few more details to customise things – speakers need different functionality than event organisers, for instance. One other thing that we need to make to do is explain your privacy and handle GDPR properly. This is a big deal for us. A lot of event systems, especially US-based ones, are not really taking GDPR-compliance that seriously – we will.

Why are we doing things this way? It seems a bit ‘in your face’. Because this is the most effective way to get people to register. The great thing about doing a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) startup in 2018 is that you have so much prior data to work with. It is now well-established that putting up a registration overlay is the way to go.

Try this: logout of Twitter, or LinkedIn, or any site of your choice. Then go to the home page. What do you see? For most sites, it’s a registration form, and that’s pretty much it. Google is about the only exception, and even then, they don’t take long to ask you to register.

We are innovating when it comes to collaborating on events – getting speakers and organisers and exhibitors and venues, and attendees, to work together more effectively.

What we are not doing is reinventing the wheel when it comes to established and effective SaaS user on-boarding practices. There’s far too much for us to worry about after a user registers to indulge in experimentation where it is not needed.

Once a user is registered, what happens next? That depends on the user type (speaker, organiser, etc).

We’ll come back to each user type in later columns. Let’s think about what is common to all users.

First, we want the user to be securely registered. We want them to set a password, and we want them to set up two-factor authentication. This is the new normal. A password alone is not secure anymore, and you need something else – a second ‘factor’. Typically this is an SMS code, or an authentication app, or even a special USB key. We really want our users to secure their accounts properly.

There are many things like this that we want our users to do  – one established way to do this is to show the progress bar: “Your profile is 10pc complete”. Many sites do this, and again LinkedIn leads the way. You reward the user for getting their account in shape. So we’ll have lots of encouragement for the user to get secure.

One other thing we need each user to do is link their professional social media accounts.

This is firstly to provide another secure way to log in, but secondly to allow the user to share content and actions between our platform and theirs.

It also lets us validate the user as a real person – there are lots of intrusion ‘bots’ out there that register fake accounts. There are enough fake accounts in the world these days, so we’ll do what we can to reduce that problem.

We’ll also want the user to fill out their public profile. That way we’ll get good and up-to-date data for our search engine. In particular we really want to make it easy for speakers to maintain a public list of all their conference talks.

For a speaker this is a portfolio of their abilities and something they really need. It’s one of those ‘itches’ that made me do this startup. As a speaker it’s a real pain to keep your speaking portfolio up to date – so much so that most are out of date most of the time. We can fix this.

(Newsletter update: 4760 subscribers, and an open rate of 14pc. Podcast update: 9 downloads last week – we’re measuring this on a weekly basis too.)

Richard Rodger is the founder of voxgig. He was the co-founder of Waterford-based firm Nearform

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