Open betas and Lean Start-up methodology

Kelly Schwedland

As someone who has built several companies most of which are not tech companies per se, but leveraged technology to make the business model efficient, an open beta test is a bit scary.


In previous companies the customer facing side of our technology was pretty simple. A few forms, maybe a status page. But really limited as far as the need for user experience.  So it was easy to be lean during the early days. A form that sends an email can slowly develop into a database that we could export, then using the data to direct activities inside the company, to eventually fully automate activities.


So the idea of a lean start-up is certainly not new.  Employees, however, are a lot more willing to put up with the limitations that the “system” has while you work on the next improvement. After all you are paying them.


But when your product is the technology, how willing are your users (read: potential customers) going to be to put up with the early stage limitations? Well, that is what a beta test is supposed to determine.  Put the product in the hands of a few potential customers early. Watch them use it. Get feedback. Make changes. Right?


Open Beta vs. perfectionism


But an open beta is more like crowd sourcing feedback. With 5degrees we made the decision to launch a minimum viable product (MVP) in iOS version to the public as our launch product. I can tell you this is a bit nerve wracking. What if we get bad press? What if we turn off users? What if they won’t upgrade to our changes and simply write us off? These certainly are a few of the concerns.


But prompted in part by Dave McClure’s (of 500 start-ups) lean start-up methodology we made a decision to get a simple version of the product out quickly. 

Get feedback. And make changes.


Since our mobile centric contact management system is in the early stages, designed to meet the broadest possible user base, we have no one user group or use case that we are focused on other than those people that connect a lot; networkers, professionals and sales people. (and apparently job seekers from early feedback). So, we need feedback from a wide range of people.


This of course goes against the desire to want to always put the best foot forward and have a perfect product before releasing it. In the end time will tell. But for now we are committed to the lean development process. So feel free to be apart.


Along those lines we’d really like to thank the Chicago tech community this weekend at Techweek for all of their support and encouragement.



Post a comment

or to post comments


Kelly Schwedland

Fair enough, perhaps my post trends toward the clueless category.

That is not not entirely true, since the full vision of the product is a rather robust mobile centric personal, professional and social contact management system, the final product is bit much to develop in the first stage. The launch product is more focused on the needs of a professional/networker. Simplifying the process of scheduling, notes and follow-up emails after connecting with someone, all via your mobile device.

In the end, business owners and sales managers are the ones who will decide if the product will get purchased. Having been both (successful business owner and managed sales people) and on a team with other professional salespeople, I also realize that the most successful implementation of technology has always been those things that our people really liked to use.

So 5degrees starts at the core. The end user as apposed to the end purchaser. So with this basic build we are testing our hypothesis that networkers and salespeople will like using the product because it makes the process of following up with people easy.

At this point, a week into the downloading, the answer is a qualified yes. Yes, in the sense that most folks like what we have to offer, so far. Qualified, in the sense that they want to see more of it.

Also I want to thank everyone that has shared insights on improvements. Many of those improvements are in the works.


Bernhard Kappe
I definitely agree with Sue on this. (Well said, Sue) If you find a core audience and your solution nails a big problem for them, getting traction is a lot easier. If you're tackling problem number eight or nine on lots of people's list, it's a lot harder getting them to take action, let alone pay for something. It's also a lot harder to market to that broad audience. The Lean Startup approach looks to tackle the biggest risks for a company first, with the minimum work necessary to validate your hypotheses. Most of the time, those biggest risks are market risks. Sometimes, if you're lucky, your minimum viable product involves NOT A SINGLE LINE OF CODE! Dropbox is a perfect example of that: Their MVP was a screenflow video of mockups that they posted on Hacker News and Digg with a link to a landing page asking people to sign up if they were interested. Three days later they had 90,000 people signed up. They took the market risk out before they developed too much. There's a lot of misconceptions about the lean start approach, but if you dig in, there's a lot of great stuff. You might want to check out the Chicago Lean Startup Circle ( 1300 members, lean startup talks every month, lots of folks going through the same journey as you. Good Luck!
Sue Kim

Lean Startup for me is not so much about fast and imperfect launches as it is about matching up your product with a core group of customers who have a specific problem to solve.  If you are seeking feedback from a wide range of people, then it looks like you haven't yet found your early evangelists who are wiling to overlook the imperfections.


Have you checked out the following?  I haven't read the Cooper/Vlatskovitz book yet, but I've heard it's good.  Running Lean was extremely useful to me in clarifying the methodology.

Erik Severinghaus
Been going through those EXACT same internal conversations at KoalaDeal. I think it's particularly tough when you have a vision for the value of the app, but the reality doesn't get you there as fast as you want. It's *tough* to release before you think it's perfect, but I think you're spot on that it's best to crowd-source that as much as possible. Good luck!

Oh no!

You're fresh out of job post slots.

Upgrade your planmanage current jobs

Create an account

Let startups find you

Create a profile and upload your resume today.

Explore the local startup scene, find your
dream job and hang with fellow techies.

No sales pitches, just awesome original content.

Oh no!

You're fresh out of job post slots.