Why I Created OnboardList
OnboardList Founder & CEO Chris Tsongas
Origin stories in the SaaS world are as varied as threads on Reddit.
In 1999, Ryan Finley - the founder of Survey Monkey - was contacted by the marketing department at his workplace and asked to create a survey for users. He found the tools to be disappointing to use and wanted to create something that he would want to use himself.
Meanwhile, Joel Spolsky and Michael Pryor - the cofounders of Trello - got inspired by the humble sticky note on their desk and set out to create a virtual collection of sticky notes to keep track of projects and organize information.
At the root of each origin story is a problem that the startup is trying to solve. In our inaugural post, I sat down with our founder Chris Tsongas to ask him why he created OnboardList.
How did the idea of OnboardList come to you?
I knew that I wanted to start a new SaaS company. I looked around and there was no onboarding tool that I wanted to use myself. The options on the market didn’t fit my needs. I saw a lot of product tours, email sequences features that I felt were more complicated than they were effective.
I thought about the kind of software I would want to use. The biggest problem with onboarding is users signing up or downloading the software and wondering “what do I do next?” I wanted to create a tool that gave clarity and what it is that the user should do next.
For example, Appcues had an onboarding checklist feature. However, it didn’t integrate with other aspects of the onboarding experience. I wanted to simplify the process, make a straightforward checklist, and combine with emails that send a straightforward message of completing the next task. That way, we can eliminate the noise of sales pitches, product tools, and demos and the user could focus on understanding the product.
You mentioned checklists, targeted emails, and analytics. Why those specific 3 features?
Individually, these tools are effective. However, I found that they can work together to improve user activation over time.
Having analytics has been a vital part of my background in SaaS and I can see other businesses benefiting from being exposed to this data. Development, at its core, is an iterative process. You can’t iterate if you don’t have feedback, which is crucial for improvement.
Ultimately, many onboarding tools have one or two of these features, but none that combine all three. We’re trying to be an effective tool for SaaS startups without them having to do a lot of integration work. Produce high results at a low cost that makes OnboardList an effective tool for other bootstrapped startups just like we are.
Do you have any prior experience with startups?
I do. I came up with my first SaaS in 2004 after spending time working on video projects. The first movie I worked on was the Kindergarten Cop. Every day I would collect reels of film from the set. They would be put on an airplane, flown to L.A., processed and sent back the next day. This way, the crew could watch the work they’ve accomplished from the previous day.
Before Dropbox and Google Drive, I created SpeedProjects, a file sharing service. I was working with print shops and with individuals on video projects who had large files that needed to be shared digitally.
The idea was good for the time and I learned a lot of lessons along the way that I’m applying now to OnboardList.
Once you had the idea for OnboardList, what did you do next?
Being a developer, I thought I would just build the tool myself. This turned out to be a mistake. Just because you know what you want in software, doesn’t mean that you know what your customer will want.
I built an MVP on my own. Through gathering feedback and making the first initial demos, I realized that there were features I built that was superfluous and some I excluded was crucial.
Rather than launching a product that was off-target, I went back to the drawing board so that I can create something that will truly fit people’s needs.
At what point did you feel like you wanted to bring other people into this project?
Right after I decided to go back to the drawing board and re-do the feature set. I wanted to surround myself with more voices and feedback rather than just create this in a bubble of isolation. I work as a mentor in an online program and I thought it could be mutually beneficial to bring some of the students on board.
I’m glad I made that decision because now we have a diverse and interesting group of people.
Who did you create OnboardList for?
As someone that bootstrapped both of my SaaS businesses, I think of them first rather than larger enterprise customers. I created OnboardList for people that are launching their first business and want to get started with something affordable and ramp up over time.
Other SaaS onboarding tools can get expensive. There can be a lot of fear, uncertainty, and doubt when you are bootstrapping your business and I wanted to avoid that with an effective and affordable tool. I think there’s a big opening in the market for a predictable price structure that won’t be so intimidating to founders.
What has been the hardest part of the process so far?
Deciding to get started. It’s easy to have an idea. It’s hard to do something with it. I had 5 different ideas I was looking at and did a write up on each one of them (focusing on strengths and challenges).
Ultimately this was the most practical idea. SaaS has a lot of moving parts, but creating this software seemed tangible enough that a small team could pick up and run with it. It just seemed like the best fit. However, making an active decision to make this a reality has been the most difficult part of the process.
What do the next couple of months hold for OnboardList?
Launching our MVP is going to be the biggest item on the agenda in the upcoming months.
In the past, I was focusing my attention primarily on building the product. However, engaging with your audience is equally as important. By getting feedback as you’re building, you will create something that people want.
The most exciting part of building something is getting people to use it and I’m excited to bring our product to market in the next couple of months.
What advice would you give to someone in the beginning stages of their startup?
Make sure you’re truly excited about what you’re working on because it is going to take a lot of work. Also, find quality people to work with because it will make the process more enjoyable.
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by Talia Mazepa