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The Day Zero Problem
The first time someone uses your product shapes their impression forever. Why do you not spend more time on it?
When you are first building a new product, it’s new to everyone including you! That means you spend your time creating accounts, realizing that sign-up is broken again and fixing it. Over and over. That initial customer experience is the “day zero” experience and it’s usually fairly good since everyone has had to deal with it.
As your product grows, and you have more users or customers, you spend less time on the day zero experience. You use the same test accounts you created years ago to test those features, and eventually you forget what it was like to even sign up for your product in the first place. You and many of your customers are on day 234 of using your product, and you start to forget what day zero was like.
Surely someone is testing the day zero experience, right? Might be the engineers or QA folks, or maybe you have a product manager assigned to the signup flow. As a leader, you’re off working on the bigger vision so it’s not your problem.
The reality is that, typically, no one is looking at the day zero experience. At least not in the way you need. It’s seen as an administrative detail because everyone on your team has become experts and is much more interested in the new shiny features. As a result, the day zero experience for most products rots over time until it becomes really bad.
Your day zero experience shapes the customer’s opinion of you forever.
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Before someone starts using your product, they will have some level of excitement about it. The day zero experience is the difference between whether that excitement survives, and the user becomes an evangelist, or it dies and the user becomes a detractor. Products that are easy to start using feel like magic! Products that are really hard to start using are usually discarded or used unwillingly.
What makes a day zero experience magical?
Extremely little effort required to get up and running.
An almost immediate payoff for the user. Access to the product isn’t enough, what benefit do they get immediately without using the product further?
An intuitive interface, so they don’t need to watch a video or read a document to know how to get their payoff or use it further.
Note that it’s not enough to just set up the product or integrate it, the user needs to get some kind of reward for doing so! It doesn’t matter if your product takes minutes to integrate if it takes another few hours or days to get some benefit from it. You might see integration as a milestone, but the users care about what is in it for them and integration is just another step.
This sounds obvious, but how many products have you used where the day zero experience was magical? You can probably remember them all, and it’s likely you recommended them to someone else. Why is something so obvious so rare? Designing a great day zero experience is extremely hard. It requires a commitment from you, as a leader, to make it a priority.
In some cases, as much work goes into a magical day zero experience as the rest of the product combined! This is especially true of mobile games, where there is such a short window to engage the user in their first session before they move on to another game. While the switching cost of your product might be higher than a game, you still need to make it part of your strategy if you want to create evangelists.
Your day zero experience can also be a competitive advantage. When building Flurry Analytics, I obsessed over the day zero experience for six months. Every little thing we could do to make it easier and faster to use we did, even though it was a freemium product and I knew our competitors could copy it. I believed that building a magical day zero experience would be a head start for us, and we could move forward while the competition copied what we did. I didn’t touch the day zero experience again, and even four years later we were winning awards as Flurry Analytics was the easiest product to start using in our category. That six month investment became a lasting competitive advantage because it is so hard to create magical day zero experiences and everyone else overlooked it as a critical strategic priority.
Having your customers become evangelists is the best competitive advantage you can have in any market. Building a magical day zero experience is the key to unlocking that advantage, so why isn’t it a priority for you?
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