Open betas and Lean Start-up methodology

July 27, 2011

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.