If you’re working on a startup, sooner or later you’ll have to start testing your solution on a large crowd. After testing out the core features with friends, we decided to do an open beta. While bugs are inevitable at start – nobody ever heard of a bug-free launch – it’s better to take care of as much as possible while the product is not out in the open. And besides bugs, the testers also often have great ideas to improve the product – this is why the testing phase is invaluable.
Not to mention early adopters and evangelists – every startup needs them. They tend to forgive bugs and missing features, and help the other users, which is a huge assistance – startups have limited resources, so any help in support is welcome. Most of them are really enthusiastic about the product, they help spread the word without you asking them, which ultimately results in more users.
So what was our path? As you might now, we’re developing an app for Android, so we decided to use Google’s native beta testing platform. While the third party solutions requires some extra hassle from both the users and us, the Google Play method is easy to setup and manage.
The app is uploaded to the Play Store, but won’t show up in search results, the only way of accessing it is by joining a dedicated Google Plus community. So the product is protected from random discovery, but doesn’t require much extra work from the user to obtain it, and updates can be pushed out automatically, just like with a regular app. Sidenote: there is no way of leaving reviews for an app in beta, so don’t worry about the early reviews shedding a bad light on your product.
The Google Plus community worked great for us – people are posting their issues, we can engage with them and answer the questions, and a lot of times they help each other out without us interacting. To make our lives easier, we created an issue tracker on Google Code – at first, we were a bit afraid that they won’t use it, but luckily, they proved us wrong.
We’re dedicated to give fantastic support – answering questions and helping out as quick as we can. While a large crowd works wonders on bug discovery (our server is on fire, thanks to almost 20.000 app downloads), talking to our users in person (or at least via the internet) is really worth it – getting to know your users results in great insights and a lot of great feedback. We keep in touch with about 50 people since day one, picking their brains on a weekly/bi-weekly basis.
Another key point is updating the app frequently. Our goal is to publish two new versions every week, containing bugfixes and new features as well. As a rule of thumb, the lean methodology works really good here – pushing out small packages regularly, so one can examine how the users react to the changes.
A few words about us: Ready’s purpose is to give context to your contacts. We’re an Android app, in closed beta since June. Our community has 25 000 members, 20 000 of them downloaded it and more than 4 000 are active. Since opening the beta, we were featured on several websites (including Lifehacker, CNET and AndroidPolice), and were chosen as one of the best apps in June on AndroidHeadlines and Phandroid. We’re planning on launching publicly in September. If you’d like to try what we’re working on, head over to the beta page and join the community!