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Be Open to Pivoting, Or Be Prepared to Fail

By Joelle Steiniger

Samuel Hulick, creator of User Onboarding grew his audience from zero to over 3,000 people in less than 2 months. But first he spent months talking to crickets.

“I really can’t stress enough how frustrating it was to feel like I had good ideas, but nobody that would listen to them…” -Samuel

It wasn’t until he figured out that a small pivot would drastically rebrand himself and his product. From there, he’s experienced hockey stick growth for his signup list.

After wrapping up an apprenticeship with Rob Walling, helping him bring Drip to market, and years of user experience consulting under his belt, Samuel decided to move forward with his own product release: a book.

Tentatively titled “Customer Growth” it started to shape up as more of a high-minded, philosophical approach to UX within a company. It was about how if you align your business around improving your customers’ lives your business will also succeed. Sounds nice, but it’s vague, and not particularly actionable.

He realized pretty quickly that he couldn’t even really explain what the book was about without taking a couple minutes to do so.

RED FLAG #1: If you can’t boil down what your product (or your book) is about in one (hopefully enticing) sentence, you need to seriously think about what problem you’re solving.

He also realized that although the topic sounded warm and fuzzy, nobody in the world was like, “We’ve got a real problem with this esoteric concept”.

RED FLAG #2: If people glaze over when you describe the problem, you’re probably not solving one of much value.

“It was way too vague and wasn’t something that people identified with as a need.”

-Samuel Hulick

Nevertheless, he went on blogging, but felt a lot of his excitement draining. Partly because no one was listening. And partly because he was missing the thing he enjoyed most, a UX touch on his content.

RED FLAG #3: If you’re losing your excitement or your passion for your idea especially in the early stages, you’re setting yourself up for failure. Stop what you’re doing right now and figure out why before you waste any more time.

When you start to see red flags pile up, it’s time to keep your eyes open for the real opportunity. It’s probably staring you in the face.

Because I’ll tell you now, there is absolutely a correlation between your enjoyment level with your work and your ultimate success. Enjoyment leads to much higher quality work (whether it be writing a book or building a product). And a kick ass product with passion and momentum behind it will almost always do better than something that’s just been forced through.

Derek Sivers put it best when he said,

“We’ve all heard about the importance of persistence, but I had misunderstood. Success comes from persistently improving and inventing, not persistently doing what’s not working.”

In other words…if it’s not working, STOP FORCING IT.


In the midst of all this, Samuel had been privately consulting with companies, doing detailed teardowns of their user onboarding processes. And he knew two things:

  1. The teardowns were worth every penny, and
  2. He really enjoyed doing them.

So he decided one day to put out a teardown for free. He picked a company pretty much at random, Less Accounting, and threw it up on SlideShare. He didn’t even tell Less Accounting he had done it.

By the next morning he had an email in his inbox from the co-founder thanking him for such awesome work and letting him know they’d be implementing most if not all of his suggestions that week. There was real value in what he had produced.

It got shared around a bit and he started to see a few signups roll in. So he did another one for Basecamp, which got shared around like crazy. Then Buffer, Netflix, and more. With each one came more signups and more name recognition. But most valuable of all, he had found his perfect pivot. And he wasn’t afraid to make the move.

“As soon as I started representing myself as ‘the guy who knows about onboarding’ instead of Samuel Hulick…I suddenly had a lot more ears.”

Had Samuel been blind to the opportunity staring him in the face, he wouldn’t have been able to create this niche brand for himself. He wouldn’t have been able to take a vague idea and morph it into something concrete, something actionable. He wouldn’t have built the loyal audience he has now, waiting in advance for the release of his book. And perhaps most importantly, he wouldn’t be enjoying his work as much as he is now.

Don’t be afraid to pivot when all signs point to a better opportunity. It’s almost always the best decision you could possibly make for your product.

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About the Author

Joelle Steiniger

@JoelleSteiniger

I'm Co-Founder of HookFeed and Co-Host of the best podcast on the planet. Writer, reader and triathlete. IPA connoisseur