No friction please… But how did a product that was “bad design” hit $1M ARR within 2 months of opening payments? 🤔
Time for a closer look.
If there is something designers and product managers around the world agree on, it is that friction in a digital product is a bad thing. It’s obvious, right? I’m sure these sound familiar to you: “We need to make the onboarding frictionless.” “The experience here can be optimised.” “Let’s simplify this flow.”
About five months ago I decided to experiment with a new tool called Roam Research. You could call it an app for note taking, but it’s a new category; it’s an ideas factory.
What we would call “onboarding” is non-existent in Roam. All you get is an interface that we would describe as unintuitive, ugly and unpolished. There is A LOT of friction between starting to use it and getting value. The typography is all over the place, a lot of things happen with secret shortcuts and the mental model is something that didn’t exist before.
Recently, they opened up payments and got to 1M ARR in 2 months.
Can we look at this in a different light? Friction triggers Slow Thinking. It helps to learn and understand things at a deeper level. It makes you more invested. And the best part: once it clicks, you get that sweet sensation of discovering something new. You’ve crossed the river and are now part of the tribe on the other side. If the other side is great, you will explain to others how to get there.
And this is exactly what happened with Roam. The onboarding experience was the community sharing videos and how-tos on twitter, on Slack, on YouTube… The onboarding experience was the community, learning in the open and becoming better through this tool.
We need to change our mindset. Using design to create Duplo interfaces 100% of the time is not the answer. It’s insulting to the cognitive abilities of our customers. Removing friction may not be as import as we think it is. At best, it’s a marginal gain that can compound over time to something great. But it’s not what will get you to $1M ARR in two months. And it’s not what will get you to a loyal customer base.