Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Getting Beta Users

Building in the wild. While in SV this term got tossed around a lot, so what is it? Basically it just refers to the fact that most of the time you won’t get it right the first time. You have to get feedback. Beta testing is a great way to do that, some would say it’s essential.

Why You Should Beta

If your service is released as a beta, you get to say sorry. People who signup for your beta will assume your product is a work-in-progress, provide you with feedback on features and brand choices, and forgive all the bugs and errors and system crashes along the way.

In fact, if your service is not bulletproof you should release as a beta, or else. While many product teams tell themselves “well, so it crashes; everyone crashes at first,” that is not the way consumers see it. Only 16% of users will try an app more than once if it crashes... that means MORE THAN 80 PERCENT will ignore you forever if you fail. So please, go beta if you think you are going to crash.

Finally, when you work in a bubble your ability to observe objectively becomes hindered. People tend to reinforce bias in each other, you could call it group bias. This can even lead to members of a group to ostracize those with dissenting opinions. Getting objective feedback from users solves all this. No one can argue with the market, the idea sticks or it doesn’t . Of course, that assumes you recieve objective feedback... so how do you do that?

How To Beta

There are several resources that can help get beta users. However, there are several important things to keep in mind before you start.

1. Know how much you can spend. You have to assume the cost of future iterations, as well as the value of any users you acquire. If you get all this great feedback and can’t capitalize on it by improving your product, well you’ll have to start begging for money. Anyway, if you’re beta you shouldn’t be spending a lot of money on marketing. Wait until you have a sticky product.

2. Be sure you have a way to engage with users. Believe it or not, I’ve seen people set up services and have no means to engage with users. No email, no social media, it’s really incredible. Trust me, it’s not an ideal situation. To set up your beta, you can try a landing page host like Unbounce Pages, or Launchrock. These services will collect contact information for  you. Better yet, integrate with Mail Chimp and really stay engaged with autoresponders and lot’s of other valuable bells-and-whistles.

Acquiring Beta Users

The easiest tool is you. Go to and find events where your target users exist. Show them your prototype and ask them to signup. They will also tell you how cool it is, and if they mean it they won’t mind signing up on the spot... so ask them to. If you get to know the organizers of a group or event, then ask them how you can participate. Offer your help and be sincere, eventually it will pay off. Organizers will appreciate your efforts and will promote your little beta, or give you the chance to as a guest speaker.

Next, use StumbleUpon Paid Discovery to direct targeted users into your acquisition funnel. This is probably the most cost-effective way to promote anything on the web. In one case study, a company got 6000 signups for $0.03 each in one week. OMG that’s cheap! You probably won’t get that good of a deal, but at most you’ll spend about $0.25 for high quality leads. Your retention will be higher if you’ve tested your landing page first (show it to people at meetups, etc), and if you are using Mail Chimp to send people autoresponders and informative email.

Beta listing services are also a good way to promote your product early on. These services let you list your beta with all the fun and fancy you desire: landing page screens, app screens, descriptions, etc. Users will discover your beta there, and try it. Here are a few:

Get Professional Help

The methods above are great because while you’re acquiring beta users you --hopefully-- build some buzz around your product. It’s a beta release, your marketing while improving your product. However, sometimes you just want to test and get it done.

If that’s the case, I recommend Center Code. They offer a variety of “managed testing” for hardware, software, and mobile. There are lots of benefits, and if you don’t have a QA team to support you (do you?) then this is probably a good idea. It’s $3000 to test a mobile app for 2 weeks... which is a real bargain considering the consequences of a buggy launch.