How to make your beta successful

Having external folks engaging with a product for the first time certainly is one of the best and scariest moments in a startup’s life. The beta phase is a huge opportunity, as you are finally working with data and user feedback. However you really have to put in a lot of work and thought to make sure it is meaningful and you are getting the most out of it.

Here a few things I’ve seen working well for our (in most cases consumer) companies.

Getting reach: Have meaningful scale and make sure you get your target group on it (because mom will love it anyways)

  • Reaching out to friends, family, other startups, investor networks, etc is obvious – key thing here is to set them up in a way that they can “sell” the beta for you (i.e. explain it well, have the proper links to access the beta, codes, etc) and they know who you are targeting (mind you, your investors should really know that)

  • Tap into online communities that represent your target group – you can find them on twitter (look for relevant hashtags and identify influencers), Facebook, Reddit, specialised blogs, etc

  • Build-in viral loops such as that every beta user gets codes to invite 5 more – people love dishing out codes to friends

  • Offer press / blogs invite codes for their readers to trigger coverage

  • Build in twitter / FB posts such as “I just got beta access to X – it’s a cool new way…” to generate curiosity and allow beta users to “show off” with their beta access (and then be asked for codes)

  • Go out onto the streets, into cafés, etc – approach people you think are a fit; ask them if they have 2 minutes to try a new app

  • You may want to even consider a very small ad budget to make sure you are reaching the right users if you are struggling organically

Invite Emails: You only have one chance to make a first impression

  • Do not write emails like “Hey X, you’re invited to our beta – sign up here: “ – provide meaningful context such as a short description of your product and what it is supposed to do

  • Include suggested first steps in your email – trigger an action

  • Generate curiosity, put in some teasers

  • Sometimes it can make sense to highlight if you are seeking for specific feedback on something. So not “let us know what you think of this app” but “let us know if it does x/y/z for you” ?

  • Make it personal – the sender should be a founder or senior team member

  • Include several feedback opportunities right in the mail – offer a simple reply, specific email address right in the email, link to feedback form, etc (more below)

Onboarding: Make sure people “get it” quickly, help them, lots

  • Unless you have reasons to be secretive (in which case a simple email & code field will surfice) you should consider making a proper landing page with most bells & whistles – basically a slightly more detailed version of the email described above. Provide context, reason and some teaser points
  • You may not yet have a great step-by-step onboarding or fancy coachmarks, so think about a simple one-pager that explains the basics that users see before entering your product. Or a very simple slide-show like experience at the beginning

  • Show a FAQ link frequently within the product. Consider making specific FAQs always visible where they are applicable

  • Where applicable – have a bot trigger an interaction with the user, make sure it’s not a lonely place

  • Consider pre-populating content that is meaningful / shows how the product can be used

  • You may want to send a separate “first steps” email after people have signed-up; just in case

Feedback: Provide several ways to give feedback and be prepared to have to tickle it out of people

  • Email active users after a meaningful period of time has passed. Ask for specific and general feedback

  • Provide links / forms / chat bubbles at several places – ideally people should be able to give feedback where and when it becomes relevant to them

  • Schedule skype calls, even better: meet your users!

  • Get a few of them into the office and film them as they go from email, onboarding to first actions

Engagement: Frequent updates are key

  • Use some of the standard retention tools to keep engagement high – e.g. (re-) activation mails, etc

  • Frequent updates are absolutely key to keep users engaged at curious

  • Let them know what has changed, let them know what feedback you used – give them “payback” for their feedback – either through (meaningful) email updates, onboarding screen or notes in HockeyApp / Testflight

  • Make sure you are pampering your most active and relevant beta users – give them extra codes, answer their feedback emails, etc. Really try to reward feedback

Analysing: Use a broad tool set

  • Make sure you have all of the standard web analytics available & wired in & tested before you set out

  • Build it in a way that A/B testing even little things is very easy and fast

  • Make sure to structure user feedback along specific features, problems solved, etc – provide easy scales, yes / no, etc

  • But also make sure to get unstructured / general feedback – let them ramble!

Some common mistakes to avoid

  • Scaling too quickly: onboard a small batch first before you try to scale the beta – get the big / embarrassing bugs out first
  • Letting people wait too long to get beta access: unless you are the coolest thing in town make sure you have a relatively short time period from people asking to them getting beta access
  • Confirmation bias: only focusing on data that supports your thinking, hearing what you want to hear

  • Thinking correlation implies causation: think hard about what is really driving and influencing an action, etc

  • Feedback from the wrong user group: keep in mind who are building this for and solve their problems

  • Jumping to conclusions with limited / questionable data: data quantity AND quality is king!
  • Not prioritising feedback: really focus on the common themes, the big issues

  • Completely ignoring gut feeling and solid judgement – don’t get lost in the data

And the ultimate mistake: never leaving beta! Remember don’t let great be the enemy of good. ;)


4 Comments on “How to make your beta successful”

  1. […] at data. Of course the art – or actually science – is to combine both. I wrote about user feedback / data during the beta phase a while back so I am going to skip some details […]

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