If you are a very early stage entrepreneur, then the next 10 minutes reading this post will probably save you weeks of time that you plan to invest in customer acquisition and UI optimization strategies.

Like you, we started out with just a vision in our heads and little experience in running a SaaS business. Most of the time we had little clue of what we needed to do to convert traffic into leads and leads into customers. We got some great ideas from experts in the field, but the amount of knowledge on Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO) can be overwhelming sometimes, especially for early stage startups.

So we did what we like to call as ‘experiments’ on CRO rather than have ‘strategies’. Some of these experiments have worked brilliantly for us and well, some have failed miserably. So we are sharing our learnings with fellow entrepreneurs who are starting out. The idea is to share our experience with young entrepreneurs just like us and to convey the message that it is a good practice to go with your gut instinct and experiment with options.

You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future – Steve Jobs

1. We let our users try the product before they signed up

One of the earliest dilemmas we had was – do we get our users to sign-up first or do we get them to try our product and choose if they want to sign-up or not? During the early startup stage, we were skeptical of adding account-based sign-up because we did not want a high bounce rate early on. We needed people to try out our product. It was logical. Why should any user sign up for an app without knowing what it is capable of?

So we put the entire web app in front of the users so they could explore and play with all advanced features without any restrictions. Traffic conversion was the least important thing on our mind at that time. We just wanted users to explore our advanced features which we believed were state-of-the-art. Sign up was required only in a couple of cases where the user was looking to save their work for future use and an account was necessary.

The result was as we had expected – a relatively lower bounce rate but almost no sign-ups.

2. But we got them to sign-up before we gave away everything

Soon enough, we did the right thing and attached our success to number of sign-ups instead of traffic. We realized that traffic is important only as long as it is valuable. And valuable traffic meant returning users. We needed users to sign-up so that we could engage with them over time for testing features, getting feedback, analyzing their usage behavior, and even for making a sales pitch to them some day.

We knew adding a restriction was the right thing to do but taking a call to cut out the anonymous users (responsible for most of our traffic) was a tough one. But we took it. We made it mandatory for our users to sign-up before they could download the final output of our web app (QR Code images they had designed and generated). We readied ourselves for a jump in the bounce rate and sincerely hoped that our tough decision would result in an increase in the sign-ups. This is what happened:

grow startup to early revenue stage

Turns out, we had underestimated our product at that time. Our sign-up rate jumped from 9% to a staggering 33%.

3. Our sign-up conversion rate shot up with social logins

I was showing some of the changes we had made to my roommate, a web developer working with a large media firm, when he commented very casually ‘How come you don’t have a Facebook sign-up? Add it. You’ll get more sign-ups’. I felt a little stupid at that time. It was so commonplace and I wondered why we hadn’t done it already. Sign-up by email is not the best cases of good UX.

grow startup to early revenue stage

28% of our users leak out during the sign-up by email process.

In our sign-up by email process, a user first has to fill up a form providing his name, email, and chosen password. Then the user is required to verify the email address. The high number of steps required to sign-up by email definitely increased the chances of the user giving up. We definitely needed a quicker and more user-friendly alternative. So as suggested by my roommate, we immediately added sign-up by Facebook and Google to the existing sign-up by email option. As expected, these were the results:

grow startup to early revenue stage

69% of all Scanova sign-ups are now via social logins. This considerably minimizes the leak of users by sign-up by email process. It made sense to add sign-up by Twitter to the mix of options. But we didn’t. Turns out, Twitter does not share the email address of the users which meant not having any medium to engage with them – now or in the future.

4. We figured out what’s actually happening by adding event-based analytics

We were now getting sign-ups. Great. But we realized that we had absolutely no clue what our registered users were actually doing. Using Google Analytics, we could find out who our users were but we needed more details like how they were navigating through our website, which steps caused the maximum leaks, and so on. Google Analytics provides limited support for detailed event tracking so we chose to go with a more specialized event tracking tool, Mixpanel. At no cost to us.

Trying to make smart decisions about your business without metrics is like driving your car with your eyes closed” – Gregory Ciotti, Content Strategist at Help Scout

We went with the free version of Mixpanel.

grow startup to early revenue stage

5. We added a sign-up call-to-action block and the results were astonishing

Once we deployed event-based analytics, it opened up a number of possibilities for us to optimize our conversion rate. We analyzed our conversion funnels and realized that we were waiting way too long to prompt our users to sign-up. Our app prompted the user to sign-up only when the user was ready to get the final output (QR Code image). We knew we had to move in earlier than that. So we added call-to-action sign-up blocks on every page of the trial web app. Through each block, we also made it very clear to the users as to why they should sign-up.

grow startup to early revenue stage

It is common knowledge that adding a CTA to a landing page increases conversion rate of capturing leads. But in our case, this is the degree to which it helped us:

grow startup to early revenue stage

The CTA blocks now account for a total of ~37% of all sign-ups. Quite effective I would say.

6. We opened up little features instead of waiting for users to discover them

This was a simple yet effective piece of advice we came across on GoodUI. One of their UI design ideas is to reveal options instead of hiding them up in drop-down lists. We actively followed this and opened up our features that were somewhere hidden in the app.

grow startup to early revenue stage

One other important thing we did was to open up sign-up options in the CTA blocks. At first, we had added only two options in these blocks – Login and Sign-Up. On clicking sign-up, the user was redirected to the sign-up page which had the mix of sign-up options (sign-up by Facebook, Google, and Email). Instead of redirecting, we added the options in the CTA blocks itself. This ensured that the user could create an account in a single click, helping us minimize leaks and increase conversion rate.

grow startup to early revenue stage

7. Using modals to navigate to advanced features was a bad idea

We knew that some of our advanced features were really amazing and state-of-the-art. However, with the help of analytics, we noticed that users were mostly using our basic features and navigating away from the website. We realized that navigation to our advanced features was not prominent enough and changes were required. After several discussions, a modal prompting the user to try the advanced feature (design QR Code), seemed like a good option to us. The modal was triggered whenever the user clicked on the ‘Design’ button which we had made to look like the default next option in the UI.

grow startup to early revenue stage

However, it turned out to be a bad idea. The design feature was used even less.

grow startup to early revenue stage

 

We figured out that the modal probably gave an impression of a pop-up and users preferred to skip it rather than engage with it. Modals can be useful – such as in the case of export options – but for navigation, modals did not work for us.

 

8. We found conversion leaks at least likely places

It is common knowledge that more the number of clicks in a particular process, less will be the overall conversion rate. But we were surprised to see leaks in the most unlikely places.

grow startup to early revenue stage

grow startup to early revenue stage

This was quite a revelation for us and we began investing our efforts in plugging these leaks. It became clear to us that we needed to regularly review our funnels for conversation leaks and make updates to optimize the UI for a great user experience.

9. Our live chat support feature became our innovation driver

So we were getting sign-ups but we felt we were not interacting enough with our users to understand their challenges. We tried few options such as a welcome email and feedback button. But the one experiment that has worked immensely for us is a Live Chat button on the app interface. Using this feature, a user who is facing an issue can quickly chat with our customer support team. We thought it would act as a good channel for users who were facing technical issues. And it began in that way when our app did have a good number of bugs.

But soon enough, the Live Chat option turned out to be so much more. Users were constantly interacting with us for tutorials, feature requests, feedback, and use cases of QR Codes for their business. Being a startup, we were quick to resolve their issues and our users loved us for that.

grow startup to early revenue stage

Our innovation pipeline was soon aligned to our discussions with our users. Most of our new features are a result of feature requests from our users or challenges faced by them. Through the Live Chat option, we have even managed to make sales.

We are using the customer support tool LiveChat to manage our live interactions with our users.

10. Results from ads on Bing-Yahoo network surprised us

Along with Google Ads, we also gave the Bing-Yahoo Network (BYN) a shot.

grow startup to early revenue stage

So far, we have actually got good results with BYN. The monthly average CPC of BYN is typically less than that of Google Ads, saving us a few dollars.

So these were some of the experiments or ideas or just our guts telling us what to do. If you have similar stories, we would love to hear them and learn from your entrepreneurial experience. Please feel free to add them in the comments section below.

 

Gautam Garg is a Co-founder of Scanova. He is a QR Code enthusiast and a big fan of inbound marketing, CRO, and usability. When taking a break, he likes to travel solo and eat spicy food. Follow him on Twitter @GGarg88