30 Jan 14 of the most brutal (but fair) SAAS onboarding teardowns from a UX expert

saas teardownsSamuel Hulick runs a fantastic blog at Useronboard.  With honesty he praises and dismisses online product onboarding sequences. And when I say honesty…I mean the ‘Coach Taylor’ honesty – firm, but fair.

You never want to get on the wrong side of him – but a dose of his feedback is mighty good for you.

He’s provided some of the funniest, most brutal putdowns I’ve seen aimed squarely at some of the most successful SAAS products on the web.  But – every single one of them is justified and a change would almost definitely see an increase in signups.

For those who haven’t seen the blog – it’s incredibly fair – justified praise is dealt with well to show what awesome SAAS onboarding could look like.

Before you start, if you want to learn how to generate more leads for your SAAS this year, just check out the on-demand webinar, showing the 2 fastest ways to generate SAAS leads in Q1 2016 here

As we’re lovers of SAAS companies (we help them generate leads to scale fast), we compiled his most brutal assessments.  Each one is amusing, but a helpful reminder of just how making or missing little tweaks can make all of the difference in the number of customers you will sign-up today.

Let’s dive in:

1. Apple Music

apple music onboarding mistakes

You’d be forgiven for assuming that with Jonny Ive onboard, Apple Music would have the most elegant onboarding process on the planet.  Sadly not, they quickly wind-up Samuel, who can’t help digging into this bizarre notification about Audiobooks.

Sorry Jonny, as much as I’m sure you’d like it to be – iBooks isn’t a verb quite yet.
Make sure every action you want a user to take is clearly labelled with zero confusion.

2. Buffer

buffer onboarding saas

Everyone’s favourite social media posting app has seen phenomenal growth.  Overall they have great attention to detail, but ol’ Sam doesn’t miss a trick – even though  they played a great hand up to this point – something just didn’t feel right about this page.  Sam pulls out a right hook and points out their page looks like a CSS error.
Think about how a user views the ENTIRE page on every device

3. Evernote

evernote saas onboarding mistakes

There isn’t a startup on the planet that hasn’t used or considered using Evernote as a way to store everything that’s important and a million half-started notes (or is that just me).  But asking a user to check out your blog in the middle of your sign-up, especially if that user is S.H., is not a great opening gambit.
Keep your user focused on the one job you want them to do….sign up.  Don’t give them any reason to leave your signup process, especially one of your own doing.

4. Headspace

headspace onboarding

I’ll be honest, I LOVE Headspace. The app is gorgeous and with its’ 10-day free trial, it converts thousands through a calm, guided, well thought-through introduction to the world of mindfulness.

That said, even the most-zen-like user could get slightly wound-up by a few parts of their smooth introduction. No punches are pulled here as a vicious Chuck Norris meme is dropped after being directed to an unintuitive small icon in the top right-hand corner of the screen – instead of taken through the app further.

Make. Every. Step. Obvious.

5. Hulu

saas onboarding hulu example

With all the cord-cutters out there leaving the big guys in their droves – and with fierce competition in the online video market, Hulu have a tough game to play (even with some awesome content signed up).  Captain Hulick
Captain Hulick makes a blunt comment here – I’m sure he knows they can tailor his content after knowing his date of birth and gender (do many 70 year old women like ‘Snakes on a Plane’, or 48 year old men love ‘High School Musical 2’ ?) – but he’s right to point out that a nice helpful prompt would ease a user through the process.
If you need some information from your users – make sure they know why they are providing it, or accept the fact that a percentage will be annoyed by every small request for information.

6. Invision

invision saas

Designers can’t stop raving about it – but even Invision has the odd fumble during sign-up. On this occasion, I can’t agree with Professor Hulick more.
It’s always amazed me how sites think they need ‘clever’ headlines rather than saying what their company actually does (let alone even providing some well thought out benefits).  Aiming hard, Hulick fairly and squarely fires all cylinders at the vague tagline: ‘where product design meets user experience design‘. I’m sure even their most avid fan would agree they don’t have a clue what that means.
No matter how cool your product is, you still need to tell people as soon as they hit your page – exactly what your product does and why they should care.
Before you finsih…if you want to learn how to generate more leads for your SAAS this year, just check out the on-demand webinar, showing the 2 fastest ways to generate SAAS leads in Q1 2016 here

7. Less Accounting

onboarding less accounting

Nobody likes accounting (even accountants) – but some firms create magic software that take some of the pain away. Less Accounting has some great features, but the one thing that ground Sir Hulick’s gears on their landing page, was the quirky character they had on the site.
You’d be hard pressed to disagree with his argument that the character wasn’t really that aspirational.  If you’re an accountant signing up – would you want this to represent you?
Imagery can often make or break a site

8. Livechat

onboarding livechat

He’s at it again with the Livechat team.  Pulling out his bold orange pen, Mr Onboarding turns into a grade school teacher and points out a very obvious mistake: Not a single one of their ‘Frequently Asked Questions’ is a question.
Proof-read everything until you are braindead to make sure your whole page makes sense.

9. Netflix

netflix onboarding saas

Who doesn’t subscribe to Netflix nowadays? but even with some truly outstanding productions (Bloodline and Narcos included) – the designer of doom feels like every Netflix subscriber does when they are recommended obscure movies from 10 years ago as their next ‘suggested move’.
What’s his beef? It’s images again. What the deuce are they all laughing at?
No matter how cool the rest of your page is, even a poorly added stock photo can take away a lot of the impact.

10. Optimizely

optimizely onboarding

The optimization tinkerers get some fantastic praise from Cap’n Onboard, but a little gripe hereand there is expected when you’re literally tearing websites apart.  Offence is taken by the promise of ‘getting started in seconds’ – and Sam, like the rest of us, knows that nothing to do with optimising anything takes just ‘ seconds‘.
Don’t set your users up to be let down – if something will take time, let your users know exactly how long it will take…or at least, don’t ever underestimate how much of their day you will take-up.

11. Shopify

shopify saas onboarding

The site that launched a thousand stores is well respected in the e-commerce world, but the king of teardowns slams his keyboard in frustration as he finds a strange quirk in a signup form. The API works out his state, but can’t seem to get the country right.
Nobody in the world likes a form – so make sure they are as pain-free as possible.  Being clever is great – but not if you’re going to wind-up your users.

12. Slack

slack saas onboarding

The app-de-jour that every startup uses is fantastic at making team communication better.
But no-matter who you are, if you hit the Lord of Landing pages in the face with a multi-colored swatch, when you should be directing his attention to a form – you’ll know about it.
Focus on where your user will direct their eyes – no matter how cool your design is.

13. Trello

Trello onboarding

My favourite project management app has a free version that’s better than most paid solutions.  That said, once again our hero finds himself not knowing what to do. They have CTA’s which have identical impact on a user – what’s a guy to do?
Work out your users’ best next-step and guide them that way, don’t give them too many options.

14. Vimeo

Vimeo onboarding

The last one in our list – and you must be starting to realise what a great job Samuel does. You can’t slip anything past this guy – let alone the crime that Vimeo commit.  Mr Onboarding doesn’t like the fact he gets a message which suggests he’s done something wrong, a nanosecond after taking an action.
Make sure your offsite activities link up with your onsite messages – and try your best not to


Samuel does a great job on finding every single fault in these teardowns. I’d highly recommend you check out the blog.

The curious thing is that none of this is exceptionally hard. All you need is a fresh pair of eyes and a clear focus on the user.

Knowing how hard it is to review your own work, make sure you get some user testing completed by the most critical people you know – and those who know literally nothing about your business.

A clean pair of eyes can really spot items that shouldn’t be there on your site – and increase your SAAS sign-ups

If you want to learn more about how to generate more leads for your SAAS this year, just check out the on-demand webinar, showing the 2 fastest ways to generate SAAS leads in Q1 2016 here
  • Good advice, especially that two about Netflix and Slack.

    • JSMarketing

      Yes, he’s great at spotting the obvious and not-so-obvious issues.

  • James Snelgrove

    Found a bit of a typo “The optimization tinkerers get some fantastic praise from Cap’n Onboard, but a little gripe here are and there is expected when you’re literally tearing websites apart.”, should be “here and there” only.

    • JSMarketing

      Mon dieu!

      Thanks for pointing this out, amended.