You may have created the greatest software in the world, but if you don’t find a way to reach the right user base, you could end up dead in the water.
Just as Hollywood producers set up private screenings of films prior to the film's release to the general public, you need to get your software tested by real people in the real world before its official release.
If you’ve already identified your product-market fit and simply wish to test your marketing methods and server loads, you can release a public beta. But if you haven’t tested any use cases outside the development team, you’re still working through glitches or you just want to build buzz for your product, a private beta release may be the way to go.
Private Beta Benefits
Private betas can be a win-win for both you and your product, because exclusivity gives software a certain coolness factor, and a private beta offers you the opportunity to refine your efforts and engage with users in real-world scenarios. Other benefits of private beta include:
1. Saving yourself from embarrassment. Once you leave the private beta stage, users' comments won’t always be constructive. That's because people are often unforgiving about the functionality of their apps and games, even if they’re in public beta. Private betas can help you avoid the hassle of digging your app out of a bad rating.
2. Finding your product-market fit. You may have envisioned your app for a specific use, but if you find that people are using it for something completely different, you can tailor both your app and its messaging for its true place in the market.
3. Building media buzz. By inviting influencers to your beta test, they’ll start talking about it, which is free advertising for you. Be sure to nurture your relationships with the media, analysts and other industry insiders to ensure they’re saying good things when they talk about you.
4. Generating word of mouth. Everybody wants what they can’t have, and techies love bragging to their circles about cool new apps. A successfully executed private beta can help you build positive word of mouth, viral appeal and anticipation for your public launch.
5. Reducing costs. Quality testing is expensive and exhaustive, and you can’t always cover every angle. A private beta provides you with a steady stream of user feedback and glitch reporting that makes the development process much more cost-effective.
Secrets to a Successful Private Beta
A private beta can make the launch of your official release more successful—but only if you execute it well. Here are three ways to make sure it goes off without a hitch:
1. Exploit the coolness factor. The best way to build early buzz for your product is to make a beta private through invites or an application process. Google had one of the world’s longest private betas for Gmail, which was invite-only from 2004 to 2007. This helped build solid buzz for the product, which allowed it to overtake Hotmail and Yahoo! Mail as the top email provider.
2. Invite the influential. Choosing the right users to invite is essential. You need a mix of people who'll benefit from the service, as well as influential industry insiders, such as bloggers and popular social media personalities. Do some research to identify people whose audience is a good fit for your app and offer to sign them up.
3. Incentivize your private betas. Although the merits of your app should provide enough benefit to selected users, be sure to offer incentives as payback for their time and effort. Swag is always appreciated and can be as simple as a personal bag, pillow, phone accessory or T-shirt. When branded correctly, these items can act as walking billboards as users proudly display their swag in the real world.
Private betas aren’t for everyone—Electronic Arts certainly doesn’t need to build buzz for its annual “Madden” game, for instance. But when implemented strategically, a private beta can be a great tool. Users love being the first to try new products, and when done well, a private beta can raise your company’s profile. Plus, you’ll get valuable feedback from real users that can ultimately help make your product better.
Gideon Kimbrell is a Miami software engineer and serial entrepreneur as well as the founder of InList.com, which curates the most exclusive international nightlife and charity events. Kimbrell is also a member of Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC), an invite-only organization comprised of the world's most promising young entrepreneurs.
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