Much has been written about how to plan and run successful software beta programs. Perspectives include project managers, testing software vendors and product marketing professionals who identify best practices for user selection, application coverage, financial implications, and goal setting practices amongst others. While all are important, TimeChop’s beta program was successful because of it’s authentic connection with participants.
As a bootstrapping startup, we began TimeChop’s beta program focused on the basics; make sure our code was rock solid, that we squished those bugs, and that our beta users had a great experience. After all, if they found value they would provide our earliest references and form the start of our tribe.
We’d been working for months on process flows and interface design, alpha testing, and user engagement to understand existing issues and available solutions. As a startup working on a completely new concept in meal planning, we considered ourselves the experts. After all, we were neck deep in this every day and even had an idea that we could patent (which we did). It’s a good thing we had kept an open mind and built connections with our beta users.
This is how I’m going to use your app
Our first surprise came as new feature requests started coming in. “I want to plan further out. I want to share my shopping list. I want go back and make a meal I missed.” Even with all the research and user engagement sessions prior to beta, getting our app used in the real world showed what we overlooked. It’s great to be a small company who can work quickly to support user requests.
This is who I am
We built TimeChop to remove the obstacles that solo/duo cooks find on their quest to eat healthy meals. Our initial research showed there are over 35 million households that fall into the solo/duo cook market, and we were particularly excited to have an application that could be used by college students as they develop their initial solo cooking and eating habits. We also knew that retired individuals would be interested in TimeChop too.
Our beta testing revealed a few surprises in our market segmentation. Along with the college and retiree market segments, young professionals and empty nesters found particular value in TimeChop. In addition, we found the latter segments more willing to pay for the service. Once again, we were able to quickly adjust to this new information and modify our go to market strategy accordingly.
You are on the Right Track, but…
Another surprise. Our user feedback showed that TimeChop saved an hour or two per week in overall planning, shopping and meal preparation time. We were thrilled as this validated the connected meal concept. What we didn’t expect was that our users would be saving so much money. One couple saved $20/week on their food bill as they weren’t buying processed food. And they were eating healthier meals that met their allergen constraints. Trifecta!
Connecting with Your Beta Users
While we ran a small beta program compared to the large corporate programs I had been involved with in the past, the above surprises only came about because we built a connection with our beta users. We sent out frequent updates sharing feedback, issues and requests. We also shared what our developers were working on and their progress.
We made each email relevant and fun by challenging ourselves to identify a song that matched what we and our beta users were experiencing. For example, when feedback went quiet one week, we titled our email “Honesty” (by Billy Joel) to show we were open to more feedback. When we made a lot of progress, we chose “Getting Better” (by the Beatles). After receiving a lot of feedback, we kept the momentum going with “Keep it Coming Love” (KC & the Sunshine Band). Our TimeChop beta user playlist contains some incredible songs and is in itself a fun map of our journey.
While the songs and emails were well received, real insight came from one on one conversations with beta users. This helped us understand their experience on a deeper level. There’s nothing more exciting than hearing a user’s success, and nothing more valuable than hearing a user’s challenges with your product firsthand. And yes, we conducted a few surveys to make everything scientific.
Listening For Success
To sum it up, our beta program was successful because we approached it with a desire to learn from our users, not because we had to close bugs before launch. I’m sure we could have planned better, set more specific goals or had better application coverage. As TimeChop launches, we will find we missed a bug or two and we will fix them quickly; such is the nature of application development. However, I’m especially proud of our approach and thankful to all our beta users (not testers) who not only tested our app, but provided guidance for its success. Here’s to our beta users!