What the heck is a beta test?

beta-testingMy latest business venture recently completed a large-scale beta test for a new mobile marketing platform, app and website we are now rolling out nationally. The test ran for about 6 months and included hundreds of prospective customers and app users.

Both during and now after the beta test I have been asked why we took the time and spent the money necessary to conduct such a large test. We had a significant outlay in the form of software development costs, hardware deployment and months of customer meetings, resulting in revisions and, in many cases, additional expense. So the question I am often asked is: “Was it worth it?” In a word: Absolutely!

I have done frequent soapbox rants on the need for startups to look for customer validation early on in the development process. In fact, in mentoring other starters in their new ventures, I often have to push and prod new entrepreneurs to “get out of the building” and actually interact with prospective customers, actively seeking their input and suggestions. In fact, the response I often get is a look of fear and trepidation. “You mean I actually have to talk to customers? OMG!”

In truth, I suppose you can always fall back to the “old days” of simply trying to cram your supposedly hot new product or service down customers’ throats via aggressive and expensive sales and marketing campaigns. But a smarter approach, in my opinion, is to “go lean” and involve customers early in the process. It is often not actually arrogance in asserting that I’m sure my customers will love what I have created. It’s simply that, in the absence of having their input during the development phase, invariably I may spend time unnecessarily on features customers do not want or need, make errors that could have been easily avoided, fail to consider things obvious to true customer experts – well, you get the idea.

If a customer can give me just one great idea I would have missed or help me avoid an expensive mistake, not only have I saved money and shortened my time-to-market, but I have also gained a valuable advocate and customer relationship. There is really no way to put a price tag on that. Do I enjoy spending the money required to conduct a large test to gain customer feedback? Not really. Am I glad I did? Absolutely!

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