Alternative on-boarding models for SaaS (Slow is fast)

As more consumer-enterprise products are coming to the market, it’s getting more challenging for users to find the time to get hooked on the good products. People(including me) are signing up for products before they are ready to try them out. In other cases, they sign-up to more new products than they are capable of trying(bandwidth wise). This creates a potential problem for products to compete on the users’ attention, even if they aren’t in the same category! 

If I were to look at it from the macro-level perspective, a few things became more apparent to me after have been trying products of all kinds and have many onboarding experiences. I chose to outline my points as a tail end to a unique onboarding experience I had recently.  

Lessons learned from my Notion onboarding experience

I first started using Notion back in 2019, after hearing about its magic from other users online. (To read more about Notion and their unique culture, I recommend reading the Memo my friends at Xpo Network wrote about them). To be honest, my user experience at Notion started odd, as I was pretty overwhelmed by the possibilities of the product and didn’t know how to match myself into it. I knew it’d take a fair bit of time to learn the basics of the product to get the most out of it. In the first month, I didn’t find myself in the product, took some breaks, and got back to it occasionally. (Had they put a paywall at this point, I don’t think I’d convert.) Luckily, I was able to get a personal onboarding call from one of their customer success team-members a few weeks after (one of the co-founders on the startup was offering on Twitter it for free for a limited time). It was exactly what I needed to find out how my needs can fit a flexible product like Notion.

After the onboarding call, I managed to learn the product, and my usage-level had increased. I started using it as my general wiki/library for pretty much everything I do/read. I kept using it regularly and even forgot there’s a subscription involved.

Last week, after a few months of adding quite a bit of content into my spaces, I finally hit their blocks limit. The upgrade popup showed, and I upgraded instantly without even blinking.

It felt so natural to give them money at this point after they gave me the space to get to that usage level – and love the product.

It also made me realize the critical lesson of giving the customer space and time to get hooked on your product.

We all know the experience of trying a new product;

  1. It looks somewhat interesting
  2. Sign-up
  3. Get distracted
  4. Free-trial started!
  5. I can’t find the time to try it out.
  6. In the last trial day, I finally try it out but don’t understand everything. Meh.
  7. Trial ends. Customer service is spamming me on email, trying to get me to upgrade or complete a survey.
  8. Of course, I don’t upgrade; there’s no reason! Nor do I leave feedback, because who has the time.
  9. The user’s onboarding cycle ends. No conversion. The company spent resources and energy, yet completely missed the chance to delight the user.
  10. Repeat.

SaaS companies can do better

I think there’s a real opportunity to break that standard onboarding method for SaaS companies and convert better.

It would be possible by remembering two important things:

  1. The customer’s need

The customer has a need that can be matched with your product. If the user has signed up, there’s a good chance s/he thinks there’s a fit between needs and the provided solution by the product.

The user’s conversion at this point mostly depends on:

  • Whether or not the product is what the user was hoping to get. In other words, if the expectations match the experience.
  • Whether or not the solution is reasonably usable. Meaning, it’s easy to use, intuitive, and there’s access to help if needed.

2. The customer’s time

The customer doesn’t have time to try many products. Considering that, if s/he took the time to sign-up to yours – it means there’s a good chance the product can match her needs. Hypothetically. The user won’t hurry to try out your product and love it before his 7-days trial ends, and you dig his soul via emails. It may take him/her a month, two, three, or even a year – to get to try it out, post-sign-up.

In that regard, conversion depends on these essential factors, from the time perspective:

  • If the user has found the time to try your product, and how fast it happens.
  • What can you do to help the user save time learning what to do with your product?

Combining these points, the conclusion is; the user has to put a significant investment of time(money) in giving your product a chance. If the product is indeed providing the value that exceeds the investment of time s/he put in – the money issue can quickly get off the table.

Only after the value-prop is 100% settled, from the user perspective – there will be a higher chance of conversion, and then revenue. At this point, for the user, the ROI is higher than both the time investment and the subscription costs.

Many companies think mostly about pricing their product’s subscription model, yet don’t put enough thought into pricing the user’s time investment to get on-boarded to the product. That’s a massive pain-point for many products, which are priced reasonably, yet require a significant time investment of the user to take full advantage of the value the product unlocks.

Considering that, and adding the fact that most SaaS products cap the users’ onboarding period with time-frames – I don’t wonder much miss on great products, and conversion rates are lower than should be.

Why capping the user’s experience at the most nascent phase of usage, pre-value-prop validation, and solution dependency?!

  • It doesn’t cost more
  • The user isn’t taking advantage of a free product. S/he’s trying it!

Value-validation rarely happens so quick, thus capping the path to get there/putting paywalls on the way, significantly decreases chances to make product users want.

Notion has got it right

  • When you try Notion, there’s no time-cap for using trying the product.
  • You can test it in your terms.
  • No one is pushing you to upgrade before you got to use the product.
  • They offer a solution that can help you save time while learning how to use the product.
  • Only after you’ve reached the point of moderate usage, thus – only post value-validation phase, Notion puts a paywall. (which doesn’t block you from keep using the product, just capping its capacity)
  • At this point, it doesn’t matter anymore for the user. The ROI is higher, so the subscription costs aren’t going to make a difference. The user is happy to pay 😃


I think the notion of 7/30 days free-trial for enterprise products should generally be out of date in the SaaS world of today. I suggest more Startups should switch to usage-based trial periods that encourages the user to try the product and learn to love it in the fastest way – without the time rush.

Conversion events may take longer, but I suspect the rate will increase as more users will be able to engage with the product for a more extended period. Hopefully, they will be able to find out the service is worth the subscription costs.

When implementing an engagement-based, free onboarding phase for the product, the user has the freedom to take the time to try your product on his schedule. Then, after retention rate has reached a certain metric point that implies maturity, the user is ten times more likely to convert and become a paying user.

Determining that engagement metric can be tricky, yet it is done right – can set the product up to a highly optimized SaaS platform that users love, pay for, and are highly likely to keep using for the long term.

In my opinion, this model fits well with companies who endorse sustainable-over-fast growth, and want to stay in business for the long term. Considering VC-backed companies into this notion – Perhaps there may be some misfits to this approach. Often, Venture money pushes growth, to the point of harming the longevity of the business and its users.

It’s generally a better idea to give the user a lot of space and time to get to love your product before starting to charge money for it.

7/30-days trial #free-to-use-till-the-user-is-hooked

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