Beta testing can be a bitch - especially when you're working with complex business technology that doesn't make sense for consumers. It can be incredibly difficult to find good test subjects with enough of a knowledge base to give you intelligent feedback on these kinds of sophisticated products.
That’s exactly the issue facing Pertino as it prepared to launch its cloud-based network launch last fall.
Where To Find Qualified Beta Testers?
Pertino’s concept was to build a cloud-based global network, requiring no specialized hardware or virtual private networks. The company envisioned a network affordable enough for small and midsize (SMB) companies with the security and performance of an enterprise network.
How the heck do you beta test a product like that?
Pertino CEO Craig Elliott turned to the Spiceworks.com community of more than 2.4 million IT professionals, centered around the company's free, ad-supported IT management tools for SMBs.
Elliott and many Pertino employees were already Spiceworks members, and they started with a 20-company private beta program that grew into “a community-exclusive public beta” involving 250 “Spiceheads.”
Spiceworks’ co-founder Jay Hallberg says three to four years ago the Spiceworks team was “dreaming big that someday we’d have a company launch within Spiceworks.” Pertino turned out to be that company.
Beta Testing Feedback Is Essential
While the usual point of beta testing is to find out if your product is good enough to launch, most initial offerings end up requiring signficant tweaks. “If you’re not thoroughly embarrassed by the first product you release," Elliott says, "you’ve overthought it, and you’ve come to market too late.”
Beta testing in Spiceworks enabled knowledgeable IT professionals to actually use the product and offer Pertino “incredible, first-hand feedback and insights,” says Elliott.
Todd Krautkremer, Pertino's VP of marketing, explains that, “Since so many members of the Spiceworks community work IT at small and mid-sized businesses, it was a way to treat SMBs as consumers… The Spiceheads provided feedback in real time [that] shaved months off what the normal development timeline would be.” Beta testing in Spiceworld gave Pertino “validation and the ability to go back to the drawing board based on the feedback,” Krautkremer adds. If you can’t make it in the Spiceworks community, how can you succeed in the broader market?
Pertino didn't worry about launching its “private” beta to such a large community. ""In the world of open-source tech,” says Krautkremer, “to rest your laurels on defensible IP is not a recipe for success.” Patents can't protect you.
Instead, seizing the market as early as possible is the best way to become a dominant leader, says Krautkremer. It’s not necessarily being first to market,” Krautkremer continues, “MySpace was there before Facebook.” To win, your idea has to be novel and simple, and you have to pursue it aggressively.
So far, that approach is working for Pertino. The company publicly launched its product in February: "6,000 people downloaded it on day one,” Krautkremer says, and more than 300 Pertino networks were built.
Beta Test Tips
Sharing what he learned from the Spiceworks beta, Krautkremer offers tech companies 4 quick tips:
- Use the freemium model: make it easy for potential customers to try your product.
- Keep it simple: “Click, click, done wins. Click, click, click, done loses.”
- Eat your own dogfood: use and test your own product.
- Get to market first and then grow fast.
Oh, and find qualified beta testers to provide useful feedback before you make your product publicly available.