The making of Stairway

How we started, shaped, and built the product

Adding new people to
a team is painful

Most teams are not prepared for growth, It often related to hand-holding and repetitive work, all while dealing with all the rest of responsibilities.New hires are eager to prove themselves and contribute as fast as possbile, the problem is that they lack the pieces of information & context to do so.
This problem only gets worse, as time passes the know-how of a company can only accumulate over time and passing it onto new people becomes more and more complex.

We came up with a product that guides new hires to results

With Stairway, companies could put together a sequence of steps that would help new hires step into their role.
The purpose of the guide is to help people step in their roles as fast as possible. It's a sequence of content, activities and events, that new hires would complete and trigger over time.
While there's a ton of company knowledge scattered in docs, wiki's and decks, the idea of the guide is to put them in the right order and offer the shortest path of information to get people to results. It combines content, required activities and automation in one journey. Making progress would trigger important internal processes and communicaitons that otherwise would have been manually handled. ​
By pointing people to the essence of what they need to know in order to do their job, companies could significantly cut the time to contribution. While also taking from the burden of managers and senior employees.​
Library v2 - books

The path to a working prototype

We've already had an idea of how the product could work, but we needed to define it in more detail. As with many other startups, our goal was to build something useful enough as fast as we could.

Shaping the product was a journey of trial and error. Our goal was to exhaust as much as possible ideas with the help of quick sketches and user flows.

We had to make sense of the behavior & motives of managers

A big chunk of the design work is making predictions of how users would behave and what decisions they would take within the product. As the backlog of decisions piled up, we needed a compass that would guide us towards what is useful to users.
We outreached to many potential customers and did a handful of interviews to learn more about their needs. What we found was that, while onboarding is important in general its 10x more important for customer facing roles. Sales & support reps have a very long path to go before they are ready to help customers.
Based on all the insights that we collected, we've outlined the core experience. The starting point was to identify the desired outcomes of users and the opportunities to prove the value of the product as early as possible.
Everything that stands between the user and those outcomes was a our playing field for improvement. Every step that we could remove was a win.

Taking things further, we explored the different types of layouts and ways in which the experience could look like. At this stage of shaping the product, we started making some comitments on how the product would look like.

Coming up with a new medium
brought its own challenges

Guides are instrumental to delivering the promise of Stairway. It's an ambitious attempt to create a new type of medium as alternative to using slide decks, docs and wiki articles.
The purpose of the guide is to help people step in their roles as fast as possible.
We experimented with different variations of the layout and navigation to find the best approach. Our aim was to make the content of the guide easy to digest and navigate, but there was a lot more than that. For instance, we had to figure out a look that would fit the inside communications of different brands, it had to look native.
The evolution of the guide went from flexible and customizable to more cleaner and standartized. Restricting people from making choices, would also liberate them and help the focus on the content.
Ultimately we choose a format that was simple and gave way to the content to stand out and was easy to navigate.

Ensuring guide completion with engagement loops

The biggest challenge we had to solve was the adoption and completion of the guide. It was the closest feedback loop for whether the product is works or not. For that purpose we designed engagement loops that would take into account the different aspects of new hire's behavior. Positive reinforcement and motivation to make progress.
A big chunk of the experience, actually happens outside of the guide. Behind the scenes there's a system of rules that triggers communications and events as people complete steps. Stairway serves as a hub of integrations with the calendar, HRIS and other internal tools.
One aspect of the guide was it's cover and indentity, we wanted companies to have the ability to create custom branding for those journeys and make them feel more inviting.
It had to reflect the brand and the culture of the company. But we had to be careful with how many choices we offered, since more choices often leads to more cognitive overload and paralysis.
The metaphor of a handbook and the ability to add a cover, made the guide more inviting, after all, we do judge books by their covers.

We had to solve the blank canvas problem with content creation

From the start it was well understood that if busy managers didn't take the time to setup those guides, the product would fail. Designing a creation experience that was both advanced and accessible to busy people.

It's a common problem for automation products, there's always a lot of overhead in setting things up, before they prove to be valuable.

We had to design an experience that took into consideration the priortities and the business of managers and senior employees who would collaborate to create the guides.

The first idea was to create templates that would give a good starting point and also be used as a guideline for how guides should be designed.

But It still could take months to reach an aha moment

The weak point in this experience was that the proof of value was greatly delayed. At some point in the future, customers would create a guide and then at some point they would assign it to a person who have joined the company. This was too obscure and unpredictable for us.

Aside of the template and semi-generated guides, we also introduced a guide made by us that would be universally useful to existing employees. That way we could hook the manager to invite his teammates and observe how they experience it.

One of the key benefits of using Stairway is the ability to where people are in their journey and what obstacles they might be facing. Managers would get weekly reports and see if someone is falling behind.

It didn't work as expected

It was a bitter pill to swallow, when we found that managers didn't bother with creating this type of automation. Regardless of our effort to make it easy to create, it still felt overwhelming to set it up and it required a lot of coordination between roles.

Our goal was to help them create great journeys that would free up the hands of managers, but it required a lot of upfront work that was simply a turn off for most people.


Content is too hard to create for busy team
leaders or coworkers


Information becomes outdated faster than anticipated


It's yet another place where people have to visit​

We had to move knowledge, where people actually needed it

We tried to make sense of the initial rejection of the idea and the directions that could be taken. This lead to a few experiments with ideas around a chatbot and a browser extension. In both cases the reasoning was that information had to be served where people actually do their work and that it had to be broken down into pieces.

The concept of a chatbot seemed intriguing at first, due to the surge of AI and bots during 2017. Despite that, the potential conversations seemed to be superficial and the whole gimick seemed to be unnecessary. Instead we went forward with the idea of a browser extension that server bits of knowledge at the point of need. ​
We had to distributed the responsibility of the content creation, the lesson we learned was that it was too big of a burden for one person to create and keep the content fresh.

Eventually we decided to build a collective brain for every team

After a number of lessons, we came with the concept for a collective brain for teams. Despite changing so much about the product, the problems we were trying to solve we still the same.
Providing the pieces of knowledge needed to help people do their job. It was really hard to anticipate what people would need as information and when, and this is one of the reasons why the initial idea was failing. One can't predict the demand for knowledge in a company and therefore can't plan out the supply.

Capturing knowledge becomes a shared effort

It's common that companies put on heroic effort to document every single step in a process in order to create the so called playbooks in the company. What often happens is that those employee handbooks become outdated a week after they come out.
At that point it was evident that we needed to reduce the scope of knowledge capturing to the smallest unit of knowledge. Something that anyone can contribute, without being too concious about where to put it or how to compose it.

Stairway becomes a layer of knowledge on top of your work

The role of the extension was to serve as a layer of knowledge on top of your daily tasks. In the case of sales reps, this would be the CRM or communication tools.
The perfect timing for providing knowledge is at the time of need, too early and it will be forgotten, too late and it would be useless.

Information at growing companies ages like milk

One of the most critical problems of knowledge sharing is keeping content up to date. Things change very rapidly and information ages like milk. At that point it was common sense that this should be crowdsourced, but there was more than one way to do it.
At a growing company information ages like milk. No matter how much docs you write, it's hard to keep up with the ever changing circumstances.
1. Allowing people to flag outdated content
2. Every card has a a responsible person for checking the validity of the content
The score for the freshness would basically deteriorate over time, until a person validates again that the information is stil valid.

The unfortunate end (2016-2018)

It was a great journey that came to an end. The lack of momentum and resources lead to the eventual closure of the company. At the same time we saw competitors pull off the ideas we thought were meaningful and would fill the gaps we discovered.