How do you structure a software beta program?

How do you structure a software beta program?
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Every Friday, we’re answering your questions about business, startups, customer success and more.

Happy Friday!

This week’s question comes from Brian Walker, who asks:

This question stood out to me because it casts the spotlight on one of our biggest early fails: not having a strong structure to our beta program.

We did have on big win when it came to beta user acquisition⁠—just in terms of the sheer number of signups⁠—with our viral signup form that rewarded people on the waiting list for sharing Groove with their friends.

But when it came to actually gathering feedback, we didn’t have a “program” that consisted of anything more than our small team monitoring support emails for feedback, as well as me reaching out, one-on-one to each user. That worked fine, but we did end up with a lot of beta users who never really ended up using the product, many who didn’t really fit our ideal user persona (and so gave us feedback that wasn’t super helpful) and a good number who didn’t really understand the point of a beta program and were unforgiving of bugs. This was our fault, not theirs, for not communicating clearly enough.

If we were to do this over again, it would be harder to join the Groove beta.

I love what Zapier did with their paid beta program, charging a small fee for companies who wanted to join. The fee was a completely insignificant amount of money, but the obstacle was just enough that they:

  1. Only got people who truly wanted to try the product, and
  2. Signed up users who expressed an understanding that they were signing up for a beta program, and not people who thought they were getting a polished product.

As for data collection, check out our guide to customer development for how to get great feedback from your users.

Alex Turnbull
Alex Turnbull Alex is the CEO & Founder of Groove. He loves to help other entrepreneurs build startups by sharing his own experiences from the trenches.