What is the Hero’s Journey?

Who doesn’t love a good hero story? With the start of summer officially around the corner, hero narratives are going to hit the theaters with all kinds of blockbusters–Spider Man, X-Men, even Simba (aka Donald Glover!).

Each of these movies will likely follow a similar framework, called the Hero’s Journey or monomyth. Created by Joseph Campbell, the Hero’s Journey is an archetype in which the main character begins the journey in a relatively normal state, but embarks on an adventure, passing through unfamiliar and special challenges, experiencing key events along the way, and returning to the initial state a changed and elevated person.

This framework is applicable to classic narratives like Buddha, Christ, all the way to Moby Dick,  Luke Skywalker, and Neo from the Matrix.

What does the Hero’s Journey have to do with customer retention and SaaS?

In many ways, your customers embark on their own adventure the minute that they sign up as your customer. The experience and benefits that your product delivers ideally bring them to an elevated state and improve their lives.

In the SaaS world, we often call the customer experience the “customer journey”. So likening your customer onboarding process to the Hero’s Journey is actually not that far-fetched. Customers go through a journey — have a problem that they want to tackle, and then embark on a journey with your product.  

Your users have their own battles and challenges that they are facing — and you are the one called upon to bring them full circle through the process of self-improvement and resolution. 

Your user onboarding is the guide that will help them through the trough of sorrow, trying to figure out the first value, and how to use your product.

Ideally you successfully activate your users, they engage with your product, and if all is executed according to plan, then you successfully retain the user and complete the journey (ie solve the problem that they initially sought to overcome). 

Let’s dig in to see how the stages of the Hero’s Journey and User Onboarding overlap.

A Brief Overview of The Hero’s Journey

Here is a great 3 minute summary of what the Hero’s Journey includes:

The above 12 steps outlined in the video can really be grouped into three steps:

  1. The Departure: The hero departs from the familiar world to enter an unknown universe seeking something.
  2. The Initiation: The hero faces challenges and hardship. There are downfalls and failure along the way, as well as meeting a cast of characters–friends, foes, mentors–who become part of the journey.
  3. The Return: The hero returns home from the adventure. But the experiences have transformed the hero, to make him or her a transformed being.

These three steps align nicely with the stages in a user journey with your product. Here’s how: 

1. Activation and Onboarding

Your users just signed up for the product–they have a problem that they believe you can solve. But they are stepping into the unknown. This is Luke Skywalker leaving his home planet to save the princess.

Your goal in this phase is to help users get familiarized with their new environment, and set up for success.

Some questions to help guide you in this:

  • Who is your user?
  • What is their challenge/problem that is driving them to sign up with you?
  • What success are they seeking?
  • How do you measure their success?
  • How do they measure their success?
  • How do you confirm that they are fully onboarded (ie what metric will define completion of onboarding)?

Your goal here is to facilitate the hero in their journey forward.

This is an important distinction, as you are a software as a service, not a hands-on service. Your strength is that you can scale the value that you deliver by being hands-off and letting your product deliver value. This is your customer’s story to own, but it is mission-critical that you deeply understand your customers so that you can activate them properly. This is the onboarding phase.

2. The Aha Moment

Once your users have onboarded, it is your goal to deliver them to their first value: their Aha! Moment. This is the hero’s first victory, despite facing numerous challenges.

  • What is the Aha moment that they seek? In other words, what is the critical action that delivers transcendent value to your users?
  • What is the most logical path to guiding your hero/customer to the Aha! Moment?
  • How long does it take on average for users to realize their Aha moment?
  • What are the drop off points where users get caught up and fail to reach their Aha moment?
  • What channels do you use to communicate with your users to ensure that they achieve their Aha moment–email, in app messaging, live chat, support documentation, webinars?

Reaching this Aha moment is critical to nailing customer retention. This validates the lingering question in the user’s mind of if they actually need your product and if they should pay for it.

3. Engagement

Does your user (ie the Hero) return to their previous status quo as a changed person? Framing this in terms of a SaaS user, do they continue with their daily routine as they were, except now with a new perspective after having used your product? Better yet, are they different now because they have also adopted a new habit–namely using your product regularly?

Some questions that you will want to ask yourself in regards to the Engagement phase in the User Journey:

  • How do you confirm that a user has adopted your product? This is in terms of features used, and frequency of usage. For example, for Airbnb it would be the number of nights booked, or Uber would measure the number of rides booked in a given time as their measure of product adoption.
  • How many of your users successfully meet this criteria for product adoption?
  • Of those that have adopted regular use of the product, what do they have in common? What have they done?
  • How can you predict who will adopt the product or not? Doe it have to do with actions taken, demographic criteria, plan type, etc?

Engagement is the key factor to driving customer retention. People are not going to pay for something that they do not use, or that does not offer value. Your users desperately want to complete the Hero’s Journey and become an elevated version of themselves, and bringing them to the point of complete engagement and product adoption is the completion of their Hero’s Journey.


The reality is that we are all Heroes in our own narrative. That is ultimately why we latch on to archetypes like the Hero’s Journey, because we can see a reflection of ourselves in these stories.

And which stories do people tend to appreciate the most? Those that make us feel good at the end. Use this framework of the Hero’s Journey to think about how your users make their way through your product to become the best version of themselves. Need help creating your retention strategy? Email me gen@retainable.com and I’d happy to help you make your customers heroes.