In the late ‘90s, Clifford Nass and Byron Reeves at Stanford published breakthrough research that underscored a crucial insight: that human beings react to computers with the same set of emotional reactions that they use to react to other human beings. This was pioneering work.
And yet, one of the first artifacts born from this research would go on to be featured in Time’s 50 worst inventions of all time, along with Agent Orange, CFCs, and sub-prime mortgages. Clippy: Microsoft’s infamous virtual office assistant.
Microsoft’s mistake was this (according to Alan Cooper, father of Visual Basic): If people were reacting to computers the same way they react to human beings, the one thing you didn’t have to do was anthropomorphize them by slapping a human face on them.
Humans had been doing user guides for over 2,000 years - since the one engraved into the Antikythera analog computer in ancient Greece. But the killing of Clippy was arguably an inflection point in user guides for our species.
20 years on, we’ve moved on from Clippy, may its soul rest in the seventh circle of hell, where it’s probably asking the devil: “It looks like you’re trying to keep the temperature up. Would you like some help?”
The advent of product-led growth gave us much more and much better data to better understand human-software interactions. Enough to at least place Nass/Byron’s research in the context of how we interact with software. SaaS in 2022 is more human than ever.
Product experiences of the Lyfts, ProfitWells, Amplitudes, or Freshworks of the world feel much more human today, thanks in large part to *cue intro music* Appcues.
🥵 A story of Shared Frustrations
When David Cancel, then the Chief Product Officer at Hubspot came over to Jonathan Kim’s desk, it was not to ask him to build something new.
He had noticed that Jonathan, then a Software Engineer at Hubspot, was either a 110 % there and super passionate about something or not at all. And of late, Jonathan had not been very passionate.
That struck a nerve.
The two got talking, and Jonathan talked about his frustration. He’d been building a lot of features for Hubspot— that was not getting used (or even discovered) by customers.
He also fervently spoke of user onboarding being a huge challenge and how he’d built a landing page, which could really be a whole product on its own.
"The way you light up about that, that’s what you’re really passionate about. You should go do that," said David.
And that’s exactly what Jonathan did.
About 500 miles away from the Hubspot HQ in Cambridge, Jackson Noel faced a similar frustration while working on Growth for an EdTech Co, Testive in Boston.
Jackson focused a lot on top of the funnel, dialing in on ad campaigns and website conversions, only to see users falling completely flat on their faces after signing up for the product.
So, he shifted his focus to work on activation.
While experimenting with in-product onboarding, Jackson felt first-hand that, unlike anything top of the funnel, there was zero tooling to help them move faster.
To make a change in the onboarding, he had to first write a JIRA ticket.
Wait for that to get picked up.
And then building it was a whole mammoth task in itself.
Bonding over their shared frustrations, the two teamed up to start Appcues in 2013.
Owing to their solid background and the fact that there was a gaping need for a product like this, the duo picked up a $1.2Mn in seed funding in 2014 from Atlas Venture and angel investors Ty Danco, Dharmesh Shah (yes, the CTO of Hubspot), Brian Halligan, David Cancel, Elias Torres, Ric Calvillo, and others.
"User onboarding is a key area of focus for online businesses in particular because, typically, less than 5 percent of new users will go on to become actively engaged. This is simply because the users don’t find value from the product quickly enough,"
- Jonathan Kim, Founder at Appcues
Solving this pain point, the v1 of Appcues helped anyone, from Growth teams to Marketing teams, go from implementation to launch in <20 mins and build user onboarding that customers like love.
Some of the marquee clients that swear by Appcues today are heavyweights like Amplitude, Canva, Yotpo, and Typeform— all teams that are known for great user experience.
Today, Appcues does a lot more than user onboarding.
Jonathan describes the platform as an experience layer that sits atop your product, making it super easy for your product, marketing, growth, or customer success team to drive business value by creating delightful, timely, and personal product experiences for end-users.
Having raised a total of $52.8 Mn so far, with its latest Series B of $32Mn in January this year, is category-defining in many ways. Following the entry of Appcues, many other startups have birthed in the space.
But, Appcues has maintained its position as a category leader.
But how did they get here? Let’s dig a little deeper 👇🏼
Product-led above all else
Appcues is helping companies nail user-onboarding by providing low-code, non-technical solutions to both build and iterate in-app user experience.
The key use-cases they solve for are:
🛤 User Onboarding: With Appcues, one can make personalized, native-looking onboarding experiences for reduced TTV, and highly engaged users.
💪🏻 Feature Adoption Software: Low code, in-app product feature announcements, and guides to help you meet your users at the right time, accelerating feature adoption.
👩🏻💻 Insights: Code-free event tracking and beautiful data visualizations to measure product adoption and usage, hassle-free.
📄 Surveys: No better time to take user feedback than when they’re actively using your product. Appcues’ turnkey NPS prompts makes collecting actionable user feedback, easier than ever.
📣 Announcements: Move over dismal email open rates, and communicate with your users effectively while they’re actually using your product.
📱Mobile Adoption: A new feature, Appcues now allows you to improve mobile adoption, which would typically take weeks and a lot of Dev efforts’ in weeks.
So how are they getting customers (💸) themselves?
Let’s dig deeper 👇🏼
🆓 Free Trial, FTW!
Signing up for Appcues is super simple. The “Start building for free” CTA across its many website pages leads to ➡ a signup page. Simply input your work email - no credit card required. The free trial allows you to build 50 workflows, which could include onboarding experiences, NPS surveys, checklists, and more.
After you’ve exhausted the 50 workflows and experienced the convenience and ease of Appcues, you’ve gotta, of course: Upgrade to the Paid Plan. 💰
💰Transparent feature-based pricing
In feature-based pricing, your customers scale along with you as they expand. Appcues has three plans: Essentials🖌, for startups and SMBs; Growth📈, ideal for teams at high-growth companies and Enterprise💻, ideal for multiple products or enterprises.
Let’s take a look at each of them in greater detail:
🖌 Essentials: Starting at 249$ / mo, some of the takers for this plan are companies like Gorgias, Codepen, and Clearbit.
📈 Growth: At $879/mo, the Growth plan is ideal for high-growth companies. Some of the takers of this plan are heavyweights like Amplitude, Profitwell, and Privy.
💻 Enterprise: A custom, annual plan where you have to hop on a call with their Enterprise sales team to explore the pricing. Some of the marquee clients of the Enterprise plan are Freshworks and Pearson.
🧲 Lead Magnets, baby!
Appcues solves a very real problem for companies that usually would need design and engineering talent as well as a recurring investment in maintenance and iteration for enhanced in-app experiences.
To get the market to discover their product, they launched mini-apps like a Product-Launch Planner, Product Adoption Academy, User Onboarding Calculator, and their highest rated product on Product Hunt, Appcues 2.0: where the mini-apps drive organic discovery from high-intent users.
🪄 Made with Appcues
With Made with Appcues, customers can access real tutorials from product and growth leaders who have been there and done that, i.e., built a product adoption engine with Appcues.
One can filter by use-case across Strategy, Retention, Onboarding, Launches, Feedback, and Adoption to access in-depth articles that cover “The Background,” i.e., the challenge faced, a step-by-step “Plan of Action” section, and to end the article, a section called “How we built it”
Their own version of templates to reduce TTV, the Made with Appcues workflows allow people to see the time estimate for each workflow, tools needed, and experience level preferred.
Each article is followed by the CTA “Build this” — which of course, leads you to the Appcues Studio.
🧩 Good UX with Appcues
Inspiring UX examples, proven frameworks, and hard-earned lessons from in-depth conversations with the product, design, customer success, and marketing experts to help you build user onboarding and product experiences that further turn your customers into champion users.
The Flow Gallery showcases a best-in-class UX gallery for use-cases like user onboarding, modal windows, product tour, and more from Appcues’ leading customers like LucidChart, PandaDoc, Gorgias, and Wistia to name a few.
👑 Content is (still) KING.
If there’s one theme that’s standing out across the leading product-led companies in the world, it is that they focus a lot on content marketing.
It's 2022, and content is clearly, still the undisputed king.
Appcues has a multi-pronged content marketing strategy, where most of their traffic comes (about 50%) comes from search, out of which a whopping 98.06 % is organic. Ranking for over 7K organic., the website garnered over 800K visits just last month.
Led by Ramli John, Appcues consistently churns high-quality, relevant, and well-researched articles to appeal to each of their ICP.
The Appcues Blog is strategically divided across categories that their ICP belongs to:
📈 For Growth folks, the Appcues blog is a goldmine of valuable resources. Articles such as 9 strategies to convert free trial users into paying customers, and Bite-sized user onboarding: How breaking things down can improve product adoption, not just help them rank, but indisputably make the Appcues blog a reliable resource for Growth professionals. Playing with the product, then, is just a matter of time (and patience).
💨 For Product Marketing, articles such as How to write release notes, and How to Plan a Product Launch, both written by Anand Patel, the Director of Product Marketing at Appcues himself, and others written by subject matter experts themselves, including Eric Keating, VP, Marketing at Appcues.
⌨️ For Product folks, the UX Design and Product Management blogs have blogs that educate, educate, add value, and of course, also subtly sell.
📰 For all product launches and feature announcements, or any other updates - they’ve got the News page.
💻 The Case Studies page showcases real companies (pretty impressive ones, at that) that have used Appcues to educate, delight, and convert end users. Articles like How ProfitWell used Appcues to increase first-week retention by 20% and How GetResponse boosted activation and adoption using Appcues do a pretty good job of detailing the results that Appcues is able to drive.
Webinars, both live and recorded for those that hate reading and would rather watch how it’s done!
Gated E-Books. The Product Experience Playbook - A how-to guide with over 20 proven strategies and tactics for creating more impactful product experiences at every stage of the journey.
Lead Capture? Provide value? Build authority? Check, check and check.
💌 Provide Value > Sell
Appcues truly wants their customers to win.
Nobody likes to be hard-sold to, and Appcues knows this.
So, what do they do instead? Provide their ICP with TONS of resources that enrich their professional life, and make them champions of all the use-cases that Appcues itself solves.
And wait till they are ready to try Appcues.
Charm them with magic (and results), until they ultimately—
Let’s break down the different ways Appcues provides value (for free) 👇🏼
I) Product-led Growth Collective 🍄
The Product-Led Growth Collective is a community-driven resource made for growth-minded folks by growth-minded folks. Industry leaders share the latest insights, strategies, and lessons learned from their own journeys to becoming product-led.
All of this, for free, just a subscribe button away.
And who are some of the contributors to the community, you ask?
Only the best minds of the Product-led world, from world-class companies like PostScript, Klaviyo, Vidyard, and Figma, to name a few.
The Collective has a series called Voice of Product, where they put product leaders in the hot seat, and ask them hard-hitting and insightful questions. Season 2 is out here.
II) Product Adoption Academy 💻
The Product Adoption Academy is a collection of courses taught by experts and with real-world examples for millions of readers to better understand product-led growth, adoption, UX design, and product strategy.
Currently, the five courses offered are User Onboarding 101, Product Launches 101, Free-to-Paid Conversion, Value-first Onboarding taught by Andrew Capland, former Head of Growth at Wistia, and Postscript and Mobile App Onboarding 101 taught by Ankit Jain, former Head of Search, Google Play (Android).
They’ve also got a course on User Engagement that’s coming soon. Taught by none other than Nir Eyal (yup, that guy that wrote Hooked.)
Best part? All of this is entirely free.
Not so much if you think about how each of their learners mastering any of the above use-cases also becomes a potential user of the Appcues platform. 🤷🏻♀️
Heavy Sales Motion 🪴
Ron DeCanio leads the revenue function at Appcues as its CRO. With a stellar record, previously leading as VP of Sales, at MuleSoft - Ron, and his team of Sales Leaders, SDRs, and AEs are collectively responsible for prospecting, and researching new accounts, conducting thorough Demo’s of the Appcues platform, testing with potential customers of any technical workflow and providing proof of concept, as and when needed.
Once the free trial ends, an Account Executive takes over helping a prospect buy Appcues and become a customer. They own negotiation and introduce new customers to the Customer Success Team to ensure that a great experience continues after the handoff.
Owing to their strong Product-led Sales motion, Appcues currently caters to over 4,000 customers and has powered over 1.8 billion end-user experiences to date.
What’s next? 🔮
Vexed by the sheer number of resources and the time it took to create simple in-app experiences to delight end-users, Jonathan Noel and Jackson Noel teamed up to revolutionize the way we companies onboard new users, about 8 years ago.
Today, they do a lot more.
Having raised a Series B $32Mn earlier this year, the team led by the dynamic duo is set to go all guns blazing on their shared passion for making elevated product experiences a reality for teams worldwide. At a fraction of the cost and resources.
In Jackson’s own words, they plan to use the fresh funds to invest in I) their team II) the product, and III) research and content to help customers win (yes, this means more free and insight-rich courses at the Product Adoption Academy).
Appcues has already hit it out of the park, beating a lot of its competitors on most of the ranking criteria on G2 (read: Ease of Use, Product Direction, Ease of setup)
So, will they reach the coveted billion-dollar zip code?
Well, if the soaring high NPS score of 81 ⭐️ is anything to go by, it certainly does seem like it.