As a product person, it can be hard to use software. While you understand how things work (and can be great tech support for your family), you also see all the flaws (and potential) in the software you use.
That means it’s more common to use software and think, “I wish they’d just…” instead of enjoying it.
Yet, every once in a while, an app comes along that really gets it…
Years ago, I had a tribute post drafted to my favorite calendar app ever, Sunrise.
Unfortunately, before I got around to fully writing and posting it, they got acquired by Microsoft and shut down…
With this in mind, today, I’m writing about an app that’s great now, so we can all enjoy and recognize what makes it great while it’s here (and at its best).
Thankfully, I think Superhuman is here for the long haul given their major fundraising, and the fact that unlike Sunrise, they’re charging for their product, so have revenue to keep going long after VC money runs out.
With that in mind, let’s dive in…
10 Things I Love as a PM About Superhuman
Now, it’s no coincidence that this amazing, inspiring product isn’t just a good product. They’re also a company that is great at building products, as it shows throughout everything they do.
That’s why these 10 things aren’t just features, they’re also inner workings and approaches I’ve noticed as a customers for the last 2.5+ years.
1) Their survey at signup
Before you even get access to Superhuman, or talk to anyone there, they have you complete a 12 question survey.
Now, your first instinct may be, “that’s crazy! How many leads are you losing by making them do that?!?”
And you’d be dead wrong.
This actually works hugely in their favor:
- Their onboarding people can make sure everything is set up for the customer’s success before they even schedule a call.
- They have a consistent data set they can use to segment & analyze their customer base (conversion rates, churn rates, retention, LTV, etc)
- They can disqualify bad fits, focusing on those they can help most, while also understanding how many of those bad fits there are (a boon for prioritization)
And most importantly, it does *not* have a significant impact on their conversion rate.
How do I know?
- If it did hurt, there’s no way they’d still have the survey up many years later.
- We do a survey for all signups for my startup, Lighthouse, and the vast majority of signups complete it
Yet, a good survey would mean nothing without action to go with it, which they nail as well.
2) Awesome Onboarding
One of the challenges of SaaS is understanding your audience. Some people *really* want to talk to someone before buying, while others just want to get into a product and explore.
Superhuman is targeting busy, email-heavy users, so time is precious. They had the foresight to realize that by onboarding everyone with calls, they save a ton of questions, headaches, and missed opportunities later.
Now, I’ve seen some companies try to emulate this, but throwing someone on a call is far from enough to make this a worthwhile use of time.
In the 30 minute onboarding, the person on the call did the following which really made a big difference by doing all of these in this *exact order*:
- Reviewed my survey answers beforehand so that they didn’t have to re-ask those questions
- Asked me a variety of followup questions about what email tools I use, my biggest pains and frustrations around email, and how I thought I might use Superhuman
- Showed me the most important features to me, then some general power ups they thought I might like
- They had me try out the features, because they had already asked me to install before the call
This had an immediate huge impact on me:
- I felt heard, not sold to.
- I was immediately ready to cancel a few other tools I was individually paying for (like Yesware), because I knew how to do it in Superhuman
- I knew how to use the product for the most important features to me, not just what they assumed I’d like
- Their onboarding person was super friendly, which gave me a positive opinion of Superhuman as a whole, while putting a name and face to the company
All of this made the “put your credit card in” a no-brainer, and I was tweeting how great Superhuman was within a few weeks.
If you want to have similar results, you need to start by asking if your product fits an audience who wants to talk to someone. Then, be very careful to create similar steps around the prep, questions, and how you demo the product.
Your demo will absolutely fail if you start with jamming features down your potential customers’ throats with little or no considering for what your customers want.
3) They take referral programs to another level
Now, many products will let you invite a friend. All bottoms up (aka- product led) SaaS, and any network-effects driven consumer app will ask you to invite your friends. Some will even be outright predatory asking to grab your whole list of phone contacts.
Fortunately, Superhuman is a breath of fresh air in this regard.
Now, as the tweet above explains, they started with a simple email you cc to the CEO, but now have a nice, simple, and fast workflow (just like so many other things in Superhuman):
Here the referral flow lets me start typing anyone in my contacts I want to invite, and then it also recommends people they think would be most interested:
- Friends and contacts that are on the waitlist
- People on my team and in my company
Those suggestions are a great bonus, which led me to not only invite the person I had in mind, but also to add a few people on the waitlist I was happy to help get off the list.
But it doesn’t stop there. With the referral, it generates an email they both get, which allowed me to give their onboarding specialist more helpful info:
As I’ve been a customer for a couple years, I’ve seen how they iterated to this. It started with just the email to the CEO, but now they automate big parts of it, while still keeping some of the personal touch available. Paul Graham and his “Do things that don’t scale” post would be proud.
4) Feedback done the right way
One of the key things about everything that Superhuman does is that it personalizes. While some of their onboarding survey asks multiple choice questions about devices and operating systems, much of it is open ended.
The same is true for their Feedback.
All you have to do is click a little button in the bottom right corner and shoot them an email:
Now, if you read my recent post, you know I hate feature voting apps. The key takeaway from it is you don’t really get the voice of the customer that way, and you frustrate your customers in a variety of ways.
What Superhuman does here is so much better:
- It gets my feedback in a clear fashion in my own words.
- Because they actually reply to every message, as a customer, I feel heard.
- Their replies often ask for more context, bringing further understanding and information.
Now, you may be thinking, “Jason, that’s sooo much work! We can’t do that.”
And you’d be wrong.
All product feedback on Lighthouse gets passed to me, and through a simple tagging system, I’m able to keep it all organized despite spending less than an hour per day on all support requests for our small team.
And at scale, Superhuman has managed to stay organized, as recently tweeted by their CEO when they had a new GPT-3 application analyze all the feedback they’ve received:
It’s initially a bit more work to set up this process, but as you can see in the quality of the Superhuman product, it’s well worth it in building better features, and having more passionate, engaged customers.
5) Teaching you as you use the product
Before Superhuman, I was not a keyboard shortcut guy at all. The only things I knew were CMD+TAB and CMD+` which allow you to change windows on your laptop.
With Superhuman I now daily use:
- e – to archive an email
- c – to compose a new email
- esc – to leave a window I was composing an email in
- cmd + enter – to send an email
- cmd + k – to do a million magical things
And what I like most about Superhuman is how they keep teaching me more keyboard shortcuts. Basically any time I hover, or do something manually, they’re letting me know, “hey – there’s a shortcut for that!”
This is really clever product development, and it permeates all over…including in their catch-all CMD+K:
This is the definition of product craftsmanship.
Building new habits is hard, but this approach makes it easier as you get reminded over and over what the correct name of the command is and what the shortcut is.
And since Superhuman is a native app on my computer, they know what I’m typing there, which likely means they were able to analyze mistaken/frustrated entries in CMD+K and figure out what misspellings and alternate words to support.
Now, not all products lend themselves to this kind of hotkey-driven approach, but it’s a very healthy exercise to ask you and your product teams:
- Where are our customers getting confused or lost? How can we help them arrive at the right place anyways?
- When do people need our deeper features most, and how can we present each deep feature at just the right time?
- What shortcuts, integrations, and special actions does our product have, and how could we teach our customers about them when they need them?
6) Awesome, simple product emails
Product updates are the kinds of things many companies either don’t do, or shortchange the effort.
Or they may outsource it to marketing, who then trumpet it off to non-customers who often care a lot less than your current ones.
You’re leaving so much opportunity on the table by doing that.
Superhuman gets a lot of things right in their updates:
- Frequent: It feels like they’re always launching new, interesting things. This builds brand affinity.
- Brief: Because they send them often, none feel overwhelmingly long, so you’re more likely to read them.
- Reply-able: You can react and reply to the updates, which is great for understanding customer questions, hearing what people love and hate, and seeing
- Interactive: They make these awesome Gifs that show how features work like this recent one below:
If you’re not doing product updates, you’re missing out on a huge opportunity to prevent churn and delight your customers. You can learn more about how to send great product updates here.
7) That magic sidebar
It was a sad day when Rapportive stopped working. That alone was incredibly valuable.
Whether confirming you have the right email address for a customer or getting helpful context quickly as you write an email, this sidebar is a massive value add. I was interested in trying out Superhuman for it alone.
At first glance it may seem pretty simple, but there’s huge depth and valuable information in that sidebar:
- You can see the last 4-5 emails you exchanged with someone with their subject line listed
- You can click on the “Mail” icon to see all emails between you and that person
- All the links you could need to find their internet paper trail are right there, no need for searching
And that’s just the default.
Automagically, if you start typing a date, it will change to a calendar view, which makes it easy to make sure you suggest times or days that actually work for you:
And you can see in their most recent update in my previous point, they now also let you schedule meetings in that sidebar as well.
It toggles seamlessly and rapidly to whatever you need that sidebar area to be.
Any one of these sidebar details alone would probably be “nice to have”, but there’s a reason that when I timed myself before and after starting using Superhuman, I found I was getting through email 30% faster. The fact is all that convenience and friction removing adds up to a “must have.”
This sidebar is a great example of the key product lessons to find your points of magic for your customer and double down on them.
8. So many awesome little big details
Building products can feel like an assembly line sometimes, especially if you’re building things like Settings or Admin panels. Yet, true craftsmanship can show in a variety of ways when a team is truly committed to delighting their customers, and has the resources to perfect that last 10%, or add a little touch of joy.
There’s even a website dedicated to these that I love getting lost in: Little Big Details.
Not surprisingly, Superhuman has this in spades:
- As pictured above, when you hit Inbox Zero, they show you a gorgeous, random picture to celebrate with you
- You can also see that along with the picture, they’re teaching me the keyboard shortcuts again, and give a convenient way to undo an action.
- If you hover over an email you sent, they show you when it was opened:
- And if they haven’t opened the email, only one of the checkmarks is checked, so after you learn the indicator, you don’t need to hover to see if it was opened:
- While I love their updates email, they also keep those tucked away in case you want to review it:
- And when you reveal the updates, you see they denote if it’s for your phone or desktop app, and use emojis to differentiate updates:
- If you have a person’s name and email showing in the right sidebar, when you hover on one of the emails listed that they have sent, you can see when it was sent:
And they add all these little, helpful details and tiny delights while delivering on their promise of speed and convenience. Because no one cares about your witty quotes you show on your load screen if it takes 2 minutes for the page to load.
What little delights can you add to your product to bring joy and timely information to your customers*? (* assuming you have the fundamentals of a fast, functional product covered)
9) Their mobile app is truly mobile first
Too often, products make a decision of whether their primary use case is for mobile or desktop. They then double, and triple down on one or the other, and make a half-hearted effort to have something useful for the other platform.
Superhuman has not only built a great app that covers most of the functionality of the desktop, they took a mobile first approach to the design and use cases.
A few of the helpful tweaks:
- Rather than tabs like on the desktop, it’s one tap on an icon to switch between your different inboxes. Conveniently that icon is in the bottom right corner of the screen so it’s easy to tap with your thumb while holding your phone, which is right next to how to switch sections of your inbox (like “News” and “Other”, below).
- Pulling down when looking at your inbox reveals Search, which they put the cursor in the Search field, call up your keyboard, and give you a variety of hotkeys and recent contacts to one-tap choose from to make it faster/easier.
- Replacing the contact information sidebar, which there’s not enough room for, a summary version is at the top of the screen
- Once you tap on the summary version of the person you’re emailing, Superhuman brings up the additional information that would normally be the sidebar, while optimizing for the screen space:
Once again, these are small things, but they add up. It’s clear their team has put a lot of thought into everything.
As I was writing this, for instance, I noticed that each email in my inbox view was almost perfectly the width of my thumb. That makes a lot of sense given that swiping with your thumb is exactly how you clear out your inbox with one hand. With that sizing, it’s also less likely you’ll hit the wrong email or action.
It’s all these little things that make it so that Superhuman feels both desktop first and mobile first. They treat both devices as priorities to be great, and create an experience that rivals most apps that are only one or the other.
10) They’re teaching all of us how to do it
When you do something exceptionally well, it can be tempting to keep it as a secret. Just look at Apple.
It took a decade for anyone to share much about how the iPhone was built. (Note: I highly recommend Creative Selection for that reason). And this post on how Steve Jobs liked to do product is so little known, I’ve yet to meet anyone else that knows it exists besides those I send it to.
Yet, Superhuman is sharing their insights along the way, helping a whole wave of product-led, customer focused startups.
Two of my favorites such posts are:
- Their mega post with First Round Capital on how they surveyed and analyzed data to get to Product-Market Fit
- A fantastic post from their design team on how to do Dark Mode right
They’re just as thoughtful in their posts and public persona as they are in their product, which is an awesome value add to the startup world.
There’s a lot we can all learn from Superhuman and how they approach building products. Whether borrowing inspiration for a user interaction, trying to create a similar workflow, or treating them as the aspiration of the kind of product you want to build, they’re a great shining light for other SaaS products.
Of course, all of this comes with a caveat: Superhuman comes with *massive* funding. They’ve raised over $33 million, which you may not have.
However, did you know that Superhuman has been working on this since *2014*?
They built very quietly and in private beta for *years*. They worked painstakingly to add all of those things I shared in this post, and many more like them.
Even with infinite resources, you can’t turn your product or idea into a great product like Superhuman overnight. However, if you’re like them and spend a lot of time getting to know your users through surveys, interviews, concierge onboarding, and truly listening to feedback, you can start bringing more delight to your customers.
Building customer driven products is hard, and rewarding work, and there’s nothing quite like the feeling of building something your customers truly *love*. If you want help doing that, I’ve done it before, and would love to help you do it, too.
You can learn more about how I help companies, or schedule a free call to talk about your challenges here.