Are you a Product Manager striving to perfect your app's onboarding experience? You've likely found yourself asking questions like

"Why isn't my recent fix yielding the results I expected?"

“Why is there a drop-off in my Activation funnel”

"What can I do to improve our onboarding process to the next level?"

If you resonate with these questions, then you're in for a treat as we attempt to simplify the art of optimising your onboarding experience. Let's start with a clear definition of onboarding and its critical role in the user journey.

What is the role of onboarding?

It's the users' first interaction with your application, and it's our responsibility as PMs to guide these new users in discovering value within the product during their onboarding experience. This familiarity will enable them to understand how the product works and encourage them to use it consistently.

​Now, when exactly does the onboarding process begin, and when does it draw to a close?

A user's onboarding experience commences at their very first interaction with your brand, which doesn't necessarily coincide with the initial app download. This could have begun a long time ago when the first impression was generated; this could have been a targeted ad and then the onboarding process does not end until the user undergoes their first “Aha moment,” referring to the point in time when a user truly understands the value of a product or service and how it can benefit them.

To optimise your onboarding experience, one must be aware of each of the different phases within onboarding and work on each one of them separately. Let’s look at each step individually.


A user is made aware of your product through marketing, advertisements, referrals, or word-of-mouth. Once made aware they take the next step by signing up or installing your app. They've shown interest and taken an initial action to engage with your product.

A couple of things to focus on during acquisition:

  • Targeting - Finding the Right Audience
    • You need to create detailed user personas to comprehend their demographics and motivations. 
    • Leverage paid advertising on platforms like Google Ads  while continuously refining your strategy through A/B testing, and adapting based on performance metrics.
  • Messaging - Capturing Attention and Interest
    • To attract customers, craft a clear value proposition showcasing your product's unique benefits and problem-solving prowess. 
    • Ensure message consistency across all touch-points – ads, landing pages, emails, and social media – for trust and recognition.
  • Call to action - Guiding Users to Take the Next Step: 
    • Create a clear, concise, and action-driven call to action (CTA) using compelling action verbs.  
    • Try to generate urgency or exclusivity through limited-time offers to drive user action. Ensure seamless user experiences on landing pages with prominently displayed and accessible CTA buttons.

This billboard by Paytm is a good example of clear messaging and an actionable CTA, now the targeting is dependent on the area and the kind of user they are trying to capture.


"Setup" refers to the stage where users or customers configure or personalise their experience within a product or service. This stage typically follows the initial acquisition phase and precedes deeper engagement or regular usage.

  • Minimalism with Purpose:
    •  Prioritise efficiency over quick setup for a better user experience, focusing on guiding users to their "Aha!" moment with minimal steps, even zero setup when possible.
  • Personalisation is Key:  
    • If we were to take the Paytm example, the goal is to carry forward the acquisition context into the setup stage. The right way to setup the user would be to highlight that the user is able to make a Bank to Bank transfer without having to add their KYC. 
    • You could also personalise their experience by asking what they exactly want like Pinterest does in the example below.
  • Progression and Gamification: 
    • Maintain user motivation using progression and gamification elements during setup, offering small achievements and rewards, while emphasising progress towards their "Aha!" moment.
    • Also incorporating social proof in the setup boosts a users confidence in your offering.
  • ​Glitch-Free Experience:
    • Prioritise a smooth and hassle-free setup process, as users are prone to abandonment if they face early issues, understanding that substantial value hasn't been delivered yet. 

This Duolingo example highlights the significance of the setup process. A user unfamiliar with Korean might drop off if the course material is too difficult, while a familiar user might find it not challenging enough. Asking users, and tailoring their experience ensures they have the best learning experience and reach their Aha moment.


Activation is the first significant interaction users have with your offering after the initial acquisition. It's the phase where you need to deliver a seamless and rewarding experience that keeps users coming back for more.

  • Focus on the Core Value:
    • When users visit your platform, they come with expectations or goals. Avoid distractions and focus on what they seek, making core value easily accessible. Align onboarding with their intent, guiding them to their desired outcome. The CTA for Paytm app is aligned with its core value in the example below. 
  • Guidance and Assistance: 
    • Provide step-by-step guidance using tooltips or tutorials to help users experience your product's value. 
    • Use cues and progress bars to direct their actions. Tailor guidance to their behaviour and preferences for a personalised experience.
    • Remove all unnecessary friction that hinders users from fully experiencing your product. Streamline the user interface to make navigation intuitive and straightforward.
  • ​Rewards and Urgency
    • Incentivize users by rewarding them for completing key activation actions. Generate urgency with limited-time offers, driving immediate engagement. 
    • Enhance the activation process with gamification elements for a more enjoyable experience.
  • Progressive Unlocking of Features: 
    • Gradually introduce users to your product's features, beginning with the basics and unlocking advanced functionalities as they become more familiar. This method sustains user engagement by allowing them to uncover new capabilities and ongoing value.

Is Activation the same as Aha moment?

Activation and the "Aha moment" are related but not the same. They are distinct stages in the user journey within the context of product growth and user engagement. In essence, activation precedes the "Aha moment." Activation is about getting users to take the initial steps to use the product, while the "Aha moment" occurs when users understand the product's value and experience a sense of satisfaction or realisation.

Aha moment 

As mentioned above it is when a user truly understands the value of a product or service and how it can benefit them. Let’s take a few popular apps to illustrate the “Aha moment”.

Instagram: When a user posts a photo or video that gets a high number of likes or comments, and feels a sense of validation and social connection.

Dunzo: When you tried to order something and it was available and at a price you liked and got delivered in good quality and within 30 mins.

Can there be more than one Aha moment for your product and how does one find their Aha moment?

Yes, there can be more than one "Aha!" moments in a customer’s journey and these moments are crucial as they significantly increase the likelihood of a user continuing to engage with the product. A user could go through them as they continue to explore the app, uncover new features or through app updates.

Now, coming to the question of how one finds the Aha moment for their own product/feature. The systematic step by step method to arrive at this would require you to:

Step 1: Identify Personas: Start by identifying the different personas among your user base. Understand the unique characteristics, needs, and pain points of each group. Personas are the foundation of tailoring your product to specific user segments.

Step 2: Define the Ideal Cohort: Within each persona, pinpoint the ideal user cohort. These are the users who not only match the persona but also engage with your product or feature in the desired way. Define specific actions or behaviours that indicate they're getting the most value.

Step 3: Data Observation: Now, it's time to monitor this cohort over a period of time, typically one cycle of natural frequency (e.g., a user's interaction within a week or month). Collect data on their actions, patterns, and engagement levels. Look for trends and insights that might indicate the Aha moment.

Step 4: Validate with User Calls: Data alone might not tell the whole story. To validate your findings, engage in qualitative research. Reach out to the users within your ideal cohort and conduct user calls or interviews. Ask them about their experiences, what resonated with them, and what led them to that "Aha!" moment.

Step 5: Iterate and Refine: Don't consider your Aha moment discovery a one-time task. Continuously iterate and refine your understanding of it. As your product evolves and user behaviours change, so might the Aha moment. Stay in touch with your users, collect feedback, and adjust your strategies accordingly.