Superhuman's onboarding brilliance
Superhuman is winning hearts with their product, but don't miss their strong GTM chess moves...
Like almost every other professional within the orbit of venture investing, I just signed up for Superhuman and scheduled the customary ‘human-led’ onboarding call this past week- and was blown away.
If you haven’t heard of the product before, think of it as a replacement for your main email inbox, with much faster and more intuitive keyboard shortcuts to eliminate clicks, set easier reminders, etc.
The basic pitch: do everything email related much more quickly. My workflow has become much more email-task related lately, and Gmail didn’t seem like the right solution anymore, so I decided to check out.
Superhuman’s go to market motion
The Superhuman onboarding experience was a master class in go to market first principles thinking- wanted to break down some observations in this edition of the newsletter. Important to note that “go to market” does not exclusively refer to the human led piece of selling a product- I think of ‘GTM’ as a blanket term for the way a product is sold, whether it’s human led, product led, or a combination.
Superhuman’s early go to market approach combines both product led growth and human-led onboarding in a unique way. When a company creates a novel GTM approach, it’s easy to miss the little details as to why it was so well done- it just feels like magic to the end user. But each detail is intentional and was carefully chosen for a reason.
Here are a few of their touches that I think warrant further observation:
Every user has to set up an onboarding call. Why would you spend so much human time (and thus, capital) on onboarding calls like this? Isn’t the average sale price ($300/year or so) too small for this to be an efficient use of human capital?
Here’s why: Superhuman is trying to replace an app that you’ve been using for 10+ years (Gmail, Outlook, etc.) They know that you won’t figure everything out, or devote the necessary attention to the app, on your own or through the customary, automated “click 6 times” onboarding tutorial. To win your loyalty, they know you actually have to learn the product beyond a reasonable doubt.
Additionally, applicants are so tickled/happy to be off the waitlist that they don’t mind the fact that they can’t onboard themselves. You immediately accept that this is the process- another reason why a waitlist is a savvy system for this type of app with a larger than average learning curve.
Superhuman intentionally focuses on boxing out the competition. At the end of the onboarding call, their onboarding specialist (she did an amazing job- more on this in a second) proactively asked me to switch Gmail’s spot on my bottom iPhone dock (one of four primo real estate spots) for Superhuman. I couldn’t say no- I realized this in real time, this is pure Cialdini persuasion.
If someone spends the time to personally walk you through their app, and then asks you a favor at the end, you’re going to grant them that favor without thinking. “Click/Whirrr” as Cialdini calls it- she asked, I recognized what was happening, but still granted the request because she just spent 30 mins of onboarding time with me. Did it register that they insisted on the time to onboard? No- I just did it anyway without thinking.
By the way, another “box out” maneuver done by Superhuman:
This is my new choice whenever I click on my Gmail bookmark now- Superhuman is very focused (and rightfully so) on winning loyalty from Gmail.
The onboarding call was delightful and a great use of time. Superhuman’s onboarding specialist was incredible. I don’t know how she has the energy or patience to onboard this many end users with that type of enthusiasm and sincerity, but it was impressive.
As a [former] GTM leader, it’s really hard to find strong onboarding/customer success team members, and it’s REALLY hard to have the discipline to do such a thorough job with small contract users (1 person team, $300 ASP per year) at such high velocity. It was really exceptional, very detailed, and very precise.
As a bonus, I, like most people, learn best 1:1, with the ability to ask questions, or slow down when a concept isn’t clicking. I start to tune out when I know I can’t interact, which is why the human led onboarding is so powerful.
Because the onboarding call built so much trust, I now trust the company and welcome their follow up onboarding emails. That matters a lot because now, the team member who I had such a good experience with is the face of Superhuman. I feel a personal connection with their entire brand. I feel like if I had an issue tomorrow, Superhuman would care.
Superhuman also does an excellent job with onboarding and automated follow up emails- they’re very focused on capturing user loyalty right away. Check out the language they use in their follow up email- you think they’re focused on making sure you stay loyal to Superhuman and don’t fall back into your old Gmail/Outlook habit?
Churn is an existential risk to their business- if they can’t convince you to fully ditch your old habits, you will not renew your Superhuman subscription. Ultimately, great SaaS businesses are built atop low churn and high net dollar retention.
“Have you opened Gmail since our call? If so, how come?”
The specific shortcuts and workflows within the product are their moat. Shortcuts and workflows are Superhuman’s strength- really smart because if you own shortcut habits, you own the user. Shortcuts are a moat- if I get used to using Superhuman’s shortcuts, I’m stuck with Superhuman for better or worse, forever- or at least, there is now a massive barrier to get me to switch off of it.
Gmail has shortcuts but because I don’t use them, I’m vulnerable to being swayed elsewhere. They know this is their “superpower” and the onboarding experience only serves to lock this in with intentional education by a human being. I’ve been programmed by Superhuman to be loyal to them through my leveled up knowledge on how to work fast within their product. The onboarding call cements my understanding of these shortcuts, and quickens the adoption curve.
Referrals as currency. I can refer other people to Superhuman- it’s a form of free social capital that they just gave out. Costs them nothing, and the possession of that ‘capital’ benefits their early users. They’re becoming masters of status as currency.
Restricting access with a waitlist. This was a first principles move. I don’t believe they made the product “waitlist only” just for the sake of scarcity. They identified that user education is really important for this type of product, and not inherently scalable. So, their go to market approach flowed from those attributes, and not the other way around. Also, guessing that syncing an entire inbox is a massive server load challenge, which means the waitlist makes even more sense (Mailbox took the same approach back in the day.)
Another interesting observation- it seems like most early users are VC’s. Let’s think through why Superhuman seems to have targeted venture capitalists for early access:
a) Generalization, but venture capitalists are buyers of startup equity. If you’re Superhuman, and you plan on selling your equity at some point (most startups do this eventually, in some form) they are now marketing to the buyers of that equity with their product. People may scratch their heads at this, but intentionally marketing to VC’s is a thing- I know someone whose company blanketed Oracle Park with ads (pre pandemic) because they saw it as an opportunity to create investor awareness (and as a bonus, some end users would see them.)
It’s very rarely a bad thing to see high demand for your equity- it ultimately means the ability to retain more ownership of their company.
b) Venture capitalists are likely seen internally as ideal end users for their product- they are early technology adopters, they live in their inbox, and have to manage a lot of conversations at scale. So why not start here as their ICP?
The main point here is that, launching with a waitlist can serve strategic value, and choosing who (precisely) your early users will be is also strategic move.
The ‘sent via Superhuman’ signature at the end of each email is their viral secret sauce. The email signature is both a brag/status symbol (“I got on Superhuman, which is tough to get!”) AND a viral sharing mechanism. Every email you send sprinkles an advertisement for this new product. Imagine the math behind this- User A sends an email to 20 people a day (conservatively) that’s 20 opportunities for a new user to find out about that company and click the link to become a user.
What’s next for Superhuman? This is a classic bottom up, viral product. They are selecting their users from a waitlist, and choosing based on their ICP criteria (tech industry people?) They’ll slowly expand their criteria (guessing they may use Clearbit at some point in the near future, who they already have a partnership with, to identify users that are leaders/executives, and employees at companies that fit a certain Alexa rank.
An early access methodology is a really compelling approach to take. It allows you to intentionally grow slowly early, seed positive reviews, seed buzz and excitement, and then explode once the groundwork has been set for wider adoption and anticipation.
Over time, Superhuman will be open for everyone. They’ll replace human led onboarding with some sort of automated program whenever possible, do group webinars, or invest heavily in an onboarding team (again, their first principles dictate that onboarding is a key motion based on their product and competition.)
Once they seed the world with signups (they may adopt a stripped down free tier just as a lead gen mechanism for an enterprise business) identify the organizations that fit their criteria and/or have a lot of free usage, and then sell those groups or companies “Superhuman for Teams” or “Superhuman Enterprise.”
They’ll build up a sales team, they’ll add SDR’s, sales leadership, expand to different countries, the whole ‘product led growth meets sales’ playbook.
As time goes on, they will develop team specific use cases and workflows to make the enterprise offering more valuable- templates/drip campaigns (or Salesforce integrations, see below) for sales, collaborative inbox and ticket management for support teams, etc.
Bravo Superhuman- this is product led growth + incredibly savvy early GTM decisionmaking at its very finest! Plus a killer product.
Thanks for reading EarlyGTM post #3!
Principal, Craft Ventures
(for more thoughts on go to market, and occasional sports-related frustration - @mikemarg_ on Twitter)