took a swing at this idea over four years ago, but in retrospect I buried the lede. It keeps coming up in my conversations with entrepreneurs, so I figured I'd try again with a more direct approach.
It's insanely hard to get people to adopt new behaviors.
Almost by definition, startups need customers to try something new: a new brand, a new product, a new experience. Some people (the kind that start new companies) are *always* looking for new ideas. But *most* people don't spend their time scouring the world for new products to try.
There's so much crap out there that the default customer attitude toward any new service is skepticism. And rightfully so.
Given how hard it is to talk people into trying something new, I'm always amazed when I meet entrepreneurs who expect users to do a ton of manual setup and data entry in order to get value from their product. They're so in love with their own ideas that they can't imagine others won't be as well.
If you want people to fall in love your product as much as you do, remember the principle of "beginner's mind" and create a first-use experience that has a massive "me-value delta":
Ask as little as possible of your customers, and use that tiny bit of commitment to generate a magical amount of value in return.
The more wired your customers are, the easier this should be. The amount of personal data embedded in the average Twitter, Facebook or Gmail account trumps anything you could possibly ask for in a signup process. So why the hell would you ask users to fill out page after page of form fields when you could just let them log in with an existing account? Once you have access to the data in that existing account, it's your job to parse, sift and analyze it to create some new intelligence -- and a new experience -- that blows them away.
Take Flipboard as just one example: all you have to do to experience the magic of that application is connect one of your social media accounts. Almost instantaneously, you have a beautiful iPad magazine full of content that's uniquely relevant to you -- because it's sourced from your friends. Tiny effort, huge payoff.
If your onboarding process feels like an effort to capture data about your customers, you're signaling that you don't have much faith in your ability to retain them over time. Your first-use experience is a chance to surprise and delight, not fill your database.
Make magic for your users and they will love you. Earn their love -- and their trust -- and they'll follow you to the ends of the earth.