I recently talked to Shivani Bhargava, CEO and founder of TheRightMargin, a San Francisco company that helps authors, novelists, bloggers, students and others, finish their writing projects by helping them become more goal minded with their writing.
TheRightMargin (TRM) is a web app and has developed an intuitive on-boarding process that relies on a question/answer approach with positive feedback to influence users to finish the signup process. The product also uses helpful tips and suggestions designed to encourage completing small tasks that make up an entire writing project.
Timely tips like, “You’re more likely to make progress if your tasks take an hour or less to finish” are informative and keep users engaged.
Shivani and I discussed a bunch of topics ranging from why she started TRM, to acquiring web app users, to keeping users engaged and retained. We also talked extensively about the app’s unique onboarding process.
It was a pleasure to talk to her and here is a summary of some of our conversations.
What was your motivation to start TheRightMargin? What problem have you solved?
I started TheRightMargin because it was a natural extension to a problem I was solving for myself: how to finish my novel. And longer writing projects in general. When I first began, I was solving a lot of organizational issues I had with status quo writing tools out there. MS Word, Google Docs…they were just editors. A piece of paper put on a screen.
So, I first set about trying to solve the pain point of organization. Building a way to keep your notes, your outlines, etc with your writing. But I quickly realized that was just the tip of the iceberg.
When I started doing a ton of user research and actually talking to writers, lack of organization actually became dwarfed as a problem, compared to some others.
What we’ve found is that the momentum and morale blockers that make up what folks call ‘Writer’s Block’ really amount to:
- Not knowing your next steps
- Lack of organization and good habits
- Low morale/feeling illegitimate
So, we’ve created an experience to address those problems, starting first and foremost by helping you break down your writing goals into achievable steps.
How are you creating market awareness? How are you reaching out to potential users and how are users discovering your service?
Our approach so far has been to understand who our earliest adopters are. Who are they, what to do they do, where do they go?
Once we figured out a bunch of early adopter ‘traits’ and ‘behaviors’, we just sat down and brainstormed a bunch of acquisition channels and strategies and prioritized that list.
So far we’ve tried:
- Flyers in coffee shops, bookstores and literary events
- Social media
- Online writing communities
- Paid ads (some general, some on a couple writing sites) → really great way to test value prop and early CAC #s
- Writing conferences
- Tech savvy sites
- Guest posting/content creation on our blog
Depending on the promotion and channel, some have been more successful than others. We have abandoned the unsuccessful ones and leaned further on the successful ones. Also, some are more immediate in terms of return of acquired users and some are more ‘slow burn’ type strategies.
Your on-boarding process is truly intuitive and drew me in to an extent that we are now writing about it here. How does the onboarding process help converting visitors to registered users and/or paying subscribers?
Besides having an informative and hopefully compelling homepage, our onboarding is a unique, representative way to hook users to signing up for our product. Why representative? Our whole philosophy of goal-driven writing is based on breaking goals down to find achievable, next steps. The idea is that if you know what your next tasks are and you’ve made them easy and achievable, you’re more likely to make progress.
So, the onboarding we have before sign up gives users a taste of our philosophy, our approach at solving a problem and a sneak peek at what the tool has to offer.
Everyone who signs up gets a free trial and to convert folks to paid users, we use a series of email engagement tactics that include helpful resources, guidance and motivation to help people make the decision of subscribing. Plus, our beautiful writing workspace does a pretty good job too ;).
What onboarding strategies have worked for TRM and what have not?
Actually, during the early part of our beta, we had a very different onboarding that consisted of a tutorial with gifs and helpful instructions on how to use the workspace. Now, even though this approach is pretty standard for a lot of websites, it didn’t prove to be very effective in terms of activating people or even converting return visits and retention.
Before we built the ‘working backwards approach’ you see in our onboarding, we prototyped it. First verbally and then through a simple Google form. We incorporated feedback and built it with certain details like how we picked dates, our suggestions, etc.
When we finally built it into our beta, we saw a 95% conversion from folks who started the onboarding process to sign up.
And now, even though we don’t see that same conversion to sign up since we’ve become a paid product, we still see around a steady 80-90% completion of our onboarding of users who start it. We’ve also extended the option to do it to all projects you create on TheRightMargin.
How did you decide on using questions and answers with positive feedback in your on-boarding process?
Embarrassingly, it just came to me one afternoon while doing some deep thinking around the product. But it was a very compelling process during our prototypes. In general, Q&A is a very easy way to engage someone. It’s generally less of a user burden on someone to simply be walked through a process of answering a single, engaging question at a time than for instance, filling out forms or going through a long tutorial, etc. It also serves to gather helpful user data and offers a way to personalize someone’s activation experience. In general, I myself have enjoyed experiences on websites that ask me really to focus on one thing at a time and make me feel accomplished for doing it. I’m more likely to stay on it longer and return again.
The web app’s user interface is truly inviting and onboarding leads into actually using the product seamlessly. How did you go about creating this arresting user experience?
Hah, thank you for the kind words. How?
- Understanding some UX basics including the necessity of creating delight and
- Having an awesome, capable and intelligent team.
What have you learnt since launching the web app and what have you improved?
Haha, what haven’t I learned really. Everything you do in an agile environment is really an experiment. And the only thing you can do well is the process of measuring, analyzing and learning so that every time you build again, you can do it better.
One thing I’ll say is that I don’t think it’s my job or any startup’s job to build a highly complicated, many featured, fully functional product of any kind. You have to pick your ‘peaks’. You have to decide what you want to do really well and then just work on improving that.
What mechanisms or services have you used to bring users back into your product?
We’ve mostly leaned on email. We’re using mainly Mailchimp to create campaigns and email automations to serve up inspiration, motivation, guidance, and craft-specific resources. And we’ve also done our best to invite our users to participate in the conversation.
Other mechanisms have included building a community on Slack (we’ve now built the largest writing community on Slack), our blog and social media.
We’ve now built the largest writing community on Slack!
I found this quote in one of your emails, encouraging me to finish this blog. “This is how you do it: you sit down at the keyboard and you put one word after another until it’s done. It’s that easy, and that hard.”
Yes, this is by Neil Gaiman, the English author. The product is designed to help writers finish their projects, so every interaction with our users follows that theme.
In the future, we want to further individualize the content and interactions with users based on the type and length of their writing project, number of active projects a writer is working on and where they have needed help in the past. This is our vision. To create an artificially intelligent writing experience that really helps you finish what you write (not just a place to write).
Where do you see the use of mobile in writing, reviewing, sharing and editing content?
I think a mobile experience is absolutely necessary for our future success. If you look at the customer journey, in our case, the writer, a lot of it these days takes place NOT in front of a desktop computer. Writers write in different places and with different tools, create on the go, have inspiration strike them while living and observing life–and so TheRightMargin should necessarily accommodate that kind of lifestyle and build an experience compatible with it. We’re currently in the process of capturing feedback and input on what kinds of things could be incorporated into a mobile experience.
So far, the biggest needs have actually been for idea/inspiration capture, being able to edit your tasks/goals or capture bits of pieces of writing to use later. So, we’ll keep that in mind when slating the work to build a mobile experience in the future!
Learn more about TheRightMargin at therightmargin.com
Learn more about Pyze at pyze.com