Remember that time in an art class when you were given a blank piece of paper and told to draw whatever you want?

If you weren’t a creative genius (or that one classmate always trying to impress) you probably sat for a couple of minutes, pondering to great lengths: “Where do I start?”

A similar experience happens in many SaaS products.

And it makes nearly a third of your users drop out before they have even started!

Shiv Patel, Product Manager and co-founder at Autopilot, a marketing automation platform actually explained it in his Product Drive talk:

He calls the phenomenon “fear of the white canvas” and it is dangerously extending your time to value (TTV).

Simply put: you are scaring your users away by showing them a blank dashboard and zero instructions after they sign up.

Your job as a Product Marketing Manager is to reduce the time it takes for them to reach those “Aha!” moments -ideally on the first day- and take away any friction that may cause them to go somewhere else.

So how do you make sure you don’t scare your users away?

How do you show the user value…before they even sign up, and then make sure the product meets their expectations?

In this post we will explain to you how to replace the daunting empty canvas with engaging, personalized templates and double your activation rates just like Shiv did!

We will also go over some examples from Shiv’s experience as a project manager at WeWork and as the Co-founder at Autopilot, why time to value and first-day retention are important, and what tactics you can use to address them.

Table of contents

1. What is time to value?

2. How Autopilot replaced their empty states with meaningful examples

3. How WeWork found a shortcut to their “Aha Moment” and reduced time to value

4. What should you be doing right now to reduce time to value?

Too long, didn’t read? Grab our Summary:

Here are a few actionable takeaways from this post you may want to implement:

– demonstrate the value of your product to a potential user even before the user signs up, on your website – with interactive assets.

– add a welcome screen and ask your users for their use case – to allow them to ‘choose their own journey’

– fill the empty states with relevant templates to reduce the Time to Value

– guide the users through the process of filling those templates with their own data the key activation points for their use case with interactive, personalized onboarding.

What is time to value?

So – you must have heard of this ‘empty state’ or ‘blank canvas’, right?

This is the first thing that most users see when they sign up for an app:

LinkedIn insights long time to value

Source: LinkedIn.com

An empty dashboard.

Wow, I am so excited to discover new groups now…oh wait.

This is the digital equivalent of being invited to a party, going to the venue, and seeing an empty room.

Would you hop on the floor and start dancing?

empty dancefloor

I’m guessing it’s a no.

What does this have to do with time to value?

TTV is how quickly you can give your users what they are looking for.

So, if they are constantly facing empty states with no guidance, it will take much longer for them to solve their business needs-and hurt your bottom line.

The shorter your TTV, the more likely it is that your new users will reach your activation points and make it past the free trial period.

Which for you means more $$$.

In the case of Shiv Patel and the months after founding Autopilot, his TTV was way too long.

How long?

About 1 week (and 8 steps from sign-up) to get to the Aha! moment.

Let’s see what Shiv did to reduce his TTV and how you can too.

How Autopilot replaced their empty states with meaningful examples

Autopilot is a marketing automation tool that allows marketers to visualize their customer’s journey, and create marketing messages along the way.

However, in the early days, 50% of new users never continued after the free trial.

Here is why:

When people finally went through the 8 steps after the signup, all they got to was an empty page.

Shiv Patel reduce time to value

Source: Shiv Patel

Remember the fear of the empty canvas?

People who got to this point simply didn’t know where to start. Just like the pre-schooler in an art class.

The people who stuck around and played with the tool didn’t reach their activation point until the end of the 30-day trial.

So Shiv realized that:

  • Their ideal user was someone who wanted to be taught the possibilities of their product without figuring it out on their own.
  • They needed to see the possibilities before they signed up to understand how they could solve their use case.

In response, Shiv’s team built a bunch of customer journey templates. They segmented them by industry and use case and put them (for free) on their website.

Showing value before users sign up

Source: Shiv Patel

Users could now explore a customer journey directly on the website before even signing up. They could play around with them and even save them – which compelled them to sign up for the app.

Autopilot then greeted the new user with the templates they already saved when they finished the sign-up process.

They were showing the value of their product from the first interaction or ‘pre-boarding’ their users.

That way: Shiv eliminated the empty state, reduced the time to value and he even got better leads. Plus they doubled their activation rates!

This is what we call real Product Led Growth.

How do I show the value of my product to a user before they sign up?

The lesson we can take away from here is that SaaS companies should let users explore the core end-value ASAP- before they even sign up.

  1. Make the case studies, templates, and use cases for your product visible and accessible to anyone visiting your website.
  2. Then, include these assets in your onboarding as the first introduction to what users will be able to do with your product.

You are eliminating the fear of the white canvas while filling the empty space with meaningful examples.

Users already know what they are getting into before they even download the app.

Now, some companies might already have all these assets on their website and feel like their value is obvious.

If you fall into this category-please bear with us-here is another example of how to reduce your TTV.

How WeWork found a shortcut to their “Aha! Moment” and reduced time to value

Empty office space

Source: Unsplash.com

So, where exactly does this brilliant idea of ‘pre-boarding’ users and removing the empty states of Autopilot come from?

Well, remember the empty dance floor analogy? Shiv noticed an ’empty office space’ phenomenon…when he worked as a Product Manager at WeWork London in 2018.

Despite the hype in the US – they found that the co-working space memberships were not exactly flying off the shelves in the UK.

The UK freelancers were skeptical. But why?

Well, simply put: they didn’t see the benefits of working from a co-working space over working from home.

Especially when they saw an empty office like in the photo above

Can you see the analogy between an empty co-working office and an empty state in your app?

Since the whole upside of a co-working space over a home office was the community, the potential member needed to see event rooms packed with people.

They needed to smell the coffee coming from the communal café, buzzing with water cooler chats or it was likely they would miss the “Aha! moment.”

Showing them an empty office space didn’t do the trick when they expected to work (and network!) in a bustling business community.

As luck would have it, WeWork partnered with (and eventually bought) the app Meetup.

WeWork offered a free place to hold Meetup events and was able to generate a whole new source of leads for their business.

Happy end of the story: a third of all attendees converted into subscription holders.

They reached their “Aha! Moment” without even needing a personal tour.

Shiv reduced his time to value significantly by:

What should you be doing right now to reduce time to value and increase day 1 retention?

The key for freelancers to reach their “Aha! Moment” so quickly at WeWork was an amazing first introduction. From day 1 they were hooked.

Even though they didn’t know exactly how they could generate more business for themselves, they saw the potential.

But can you hook people in even if they can’t figure out how to start using your product?

Yes you can.

You just need a product experience that is:

  • Frictionless
  • Meets user expectations
  • Teaches them how to use the product all in quick-fire succession

In other words, a miracle for some companies.

Don’t worry, there are some steps you can be taking right now to increase your day 1 retention and reduce your TTV.

Start with a welcome screen

Codecademy welcome page

Source: Codecademy.com- They even have an option for undecided users!

No seriously, a welcome screen might seem tacky but it can play a variety of purposes.

  • You can ask the user about why they are in your app, ie: their use case.
  • The user answers and jumps into your product with an onboarding tailored for their specific use case.
  • The welcome screen can capture information to fine tune your user persona.
  • You can include questions asking their role, company size and years in the position. You can then use this info to help you fill in those empty spaces with templates that are exactly right for their persona and use case.
  • …and it lets the user know that you are there to guide them through their journey.
Userpilot shorter time to value

Why wouldn’t you want this for your app?

Surprisingly though, despite the obvious benefits – our State of SaaS 2020 study found that 40% of SaaS products don’t feature a welcome screen for new users at all.

Userpilot welcome page

Source: Userpilot.com

This is less surprising when you consider that few SaaS businesses use code-free tools to build these helpful UI elements on the go.

Would you like to quickly build a welcome screen like this straight from your browser in less than 5 minutes?

Get your free consultation on what you should include in your first welcome screen and start improving your day one retention.

Create customized onboarding + pre-boarding

This is a pretty broad concept for addressing the first-day retention, but it covers everything from your onboarding, feature walkthroughs, and onsite resources.

Think of it as being dropped in the middle of a video-game without a tutorial. You are probably going to die very quickly and rage-quit without a subtle helping hand to show you the ropes.

You should be building these types of experience for your users to retain them from day one:

Userpilot features

We practice what we preach. We try to fill all of our own empty spaces with interactive checklists and walkthroughs so our users hit the ground running.

Speak with our product specialists and start building onboarding checklists like this to stop wondering if your time to value is too long.

With these two strategies, you can start setting up a day 1 retention plan that can apply to a variety of your new user segments.

zapier onboarding

Of course, Zapier has been so successful because they know their users aren’t going to get through everything their first day. So they have created a simplistic interface, an easy data upload process, a hands on walkthrough, and a plethora of resources.

You too should be realistic about how much the user has to do themselves to get the value.

Wrapping it up

Based on Shiv’s experience at WeWork and Autopilot it is pretty safe to say that by reducing your time to value and increasing day 1 retention, you can kickstart your product growth engine.

Oh, and meet user expectations at the beginning of their journey.

Higher quality leads will equal more dedicated signups. With a more interactive introduction you are right on your way to activating more users.

If you leave those empty states, before they come close to “aha,” they will say “adios” and high tail it to one of your competitors.

speedy gonzales

Stay in the loop with out email course:

 
About the author: 
 

Mark Gregory is a Content Marketing Manager at Userpilot.