Onboarding is the biggest retention lever

To lift retention, most gains are typically made in fixing onboarding and activation, to make sure users are set up for success. This is vastly more impactful than fighting late-stage churn. Dedicate most of your resources to onboarding.


  • A clear signal of product/market-fitis a flatlining retention curve — it means that (at least a percentage of people) get continuous value out of your product, and thus keep using the product or service. If you don’t have a retention curve that flatlines, you need to make changes to find P/M-fit, before you focus on growth.
  • Once you have a flatlining retention curve, the central question should be how you can get a higher percentage of users to get to the point where things “click”, and where they remain active. This is what onboarding is all about.
  • Start tracking your funnel conversions and onboarding rates, and make sure you can break things out by campaign and acquisition source. It is not uncommon to find that certain traffic sources activate at much higher rates than others. While top-line user growth is nice, what you really care about are active, retentive users!
  • Various products obviously have different onboarding needs. Map out what the crucial steps are for a new user to have things click and “get it”. Then try anything in your power to make it as low-friction as possible for people to reach that point where everything clicks, and they experience the core product value, and they retain.
  • Don’t be afraid to go for the white-gloves treatment, and offer concierge services to help people on board. Speaking to customers (Law #35) helps you better understand where people get stuck. White-gloves onboarding, especially if executed by the founders, helps understand what is needed to automate the experience in the future, to make it even better.

In Practice

Facebook and Twitter were famously obsessed about onboarding. Facebook famously found that if they could connect new users to 7 of their friends within the first 10 days, then the user was extremely likely to stick around. They then tried anything in their power to make sure this would happen. As a result, Facebook had amazing activation rates, and was able to get a massive part of the world population onto their platform.

Another interesting example of excellent onboarding is email client Superhuman. They offer a high-end paid email client, and were able to grow extremely rapidly by leveraging white-gloves onboarding for each user, to make sure they were fully set up for success.

Pair with

  • Kwokchain on Superhuman
The AARRR model is broken