The Minimal Homepage

I came across this short post about increasing signups through the use of a minimal homepage via Andrew Chen.

While a lot of the advice in the post is sound and all of it undoubtedly leads to more signups, I have a problem with Mattan’s first point: “No access without signup.”

He argues:

Most startups make the mistake of giving people who visit their site free access to content, whether it's apartment booking or daily deals. This is often a bad idea. Contrary to popular belief, the more things a visitor can interact with on your site before they're prompted to sign up, the lower your signup rate will be.

He is almost certainly correct that such a design will increase signups, but the question becomes - are signups the most important metric to be tracking? User numbers a frequently a vanity metric, especially for venture-backed or venture-seeking startups, which use them as a proxy for potential monetization (however dubious).

The focus should really be on creating enterprise value. In the case of a startup like Dropbox that has a revealed business plan and is generating revenue, the relevant metric would be whether giving “no access without signup” results in the greatest increase in revenue - that is, users who ultimately sign up for Dropbox’s non-free accounts.

It might be that signups correlates well to revenue and income, but getting too focused on the intermediate goal of increasing signups can cause you to lose sight of long term value.

A good example of this is Quora, which has taken the strategy of “no access without signups” almost to an extreme, only allowing non-registered users to view the first answer to a question on their site. The practice has received a lot of criticism, but I’m sure the Quora team justifies it with increased signup rates. For Quora, however, with their unknown business model, I’m skeptical that “increased signups” is the relevant metric for their long term value [1].

[1] To me it is the difference between StackOverflow and ExpertsExchange - yes, ExpertsExchange probably had a lot more signups by denying access before paying, but ultimately StackOverflow won the war.