Cutting User Drop-Off by 50%: A Lesson in User Acquisition

I'm a few weeks into my launch, and I have had a tough pill to swallow: I was losing 50% of my potential users before they even got to use my product. This was a disaster, but the good thing about startup life is that very rarely do you only get one chance. I'm going to tell you what I did wrong, and how I was able to fix it.

The Sign-Up Conundrum

In the tech startup world, user onboarding is your first date with potential users. It's where first impressions are formed, and for Simplify, half of these our dates walked out on us. Why?

Well... It's because we asked for an email. Only an email, no password, no username, no phone number, nothing. I thought that this was as frictionless as I can make it, but I was wrong. There's a saying in Chess that I think about often:

When you find a good move, look for an even better one.

This was true for my user experience as well. I got tunnel visioned thinking "Ha! I'm not even asking for a password" but there was an even better option.

Looking For A Better Move

In our quest to understand the dropout dilemma, we dug deeper. Was it a cumbersome UI? Privacy concerns? A general trend of commitment aversion? We gathered feedback through our offboarding form that popped up when you uninstalled our product. (Thank God I thought of that...) The overwhelming consensus pointed towards a reluctance to share personal information prematurely.

A Better Move, Anonymous Authentication

Well, can I blame them? I'm a brand new software that they haven't heard of that only has a couple hundred users. The answer was obvious, although it's not something I have experienced with many of the softwares that I have used: anonymous authentication. The idea seemed antithetical to the data-collection mantra but putting users first meant reconsidering every 'best practice.' Also, this advice is good for a company like Facebook, but probably not for Josh Fonseca's Startup. For that, the best practice I can follow is to deliver as much value as I can to my user. So, I got to work.

Now, anonymous authentication did come with risks. People can abuse it and recreate accounts to get past our free tier usage limits, but this risk is very low-cost to us, and at my stage, is not worth the trade-off of user engagement.

After a relentless week of development, I rolled out the update. The impact? Immediate. I had my first non-family customer just an hour later—a small victory, but a meaningful one. It will take time for me to see the full impact of this, but I have a very strong feeling that this will significantly decrease user drop-off. And sometimes, especially when you're just starting out, all you have is a strong feeling to go off of.

Actionable Insights

Reflecting on this week, here are my biggest takeaways:

Conclusion: Embrace the User-Centric Approach

Paul Graham writes about doing things that don't scale as a way to understand your users deeply. In my case, it was about doing something slightly unconventional - allowing users to explore without barriers. By listening and adapting, I didn't just fix a funnel issue; I learned a valuable lesson in user acquisition.

The journey of refining user acquisition is a continuous one, filled with insights that often come from unexpected challenges. What I've learned goes beyond the mechanics of growth—it highlights the importance of adaptability and user-focused innovation in the startup landscape. If your user growth has plateaued, consider simplifying access to your platform. Sometimes, lowering barriers can create a more welcoming environment that encourages users to explore and, ultimately, engage.

Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed and were able to learn something. Feel free to reach out to me with things you are trying; I would love to learn from you as well. You can also checkout my startup with no signup required 😉