In early April, my co-founders and I had a conversation about beginning the “beta launch” process for Phiona. We had recently finished up a pretty significant enhancement to the application that would add much more value to people who were looking to transform their data in specific ways. At this point, it was time to move from a more limited alpha testing phase to a more significant beta testing phase.
This phase wouldn’t be limited to just friends, family and past co-workers- we would be actively opening up registration to people who wanted to try Phiona for free, rather than selecting people one by one to work with who fit our targeted personas.
We had already tried, a couple of times, releasing Phiona functionality using a more traditional minimum viable product approach. The problem that we found, especially when building a data-focused product, is that
traditional MVP solutions don’t encapsulate a broad enough set of capabilities to be useful. The bar for functionality has been set high enough by applications like Microsoft Excel and Google Sheets that most users need to see a critical mass of differentiated features before choosing to try a different platform.
After these first couple of setbacks, we started moving towards more of a minimum delightful experience model (see below), where we would create enough of a feature set to build up the base usefulness of the product, and then expand from there. The key ingredient to move up the ladder of delightfulness” was to find non-affiliated beta users, to test the usability of the application. Enter Betalist.
Credit to Spotify Product Team for the great visual.
We submitted our application on April 7th. There are a few different components of the application – connecting your Twitter account, uploading screenshots, explaining your product, and choosing whether
to pay or not.
Your strategy on how to approach each of these requirements
depends on what you’re looking to accomplish. Are you:
Option 1: If you’re looking to validate an idea, you probably want to focus more on your linked landing page and proposed value messaging on Betalist to try to attract attention, signups and retweets. You probably don’t want to pay for listing, since there’s no immediate way to recoup
that revenue unless a customer is paying for early access.
Option 2: If you’re looking to gain beta users, it makes more sense to focus on your screenshots (creating GIFs, which attract more attention), highlight actual functionality in your value messaging, and optimize your sign up flow in your landing page for registrations. It may be worthwhile to pay for listing, but it may not- it depends on your company’s finances.
Option 3: The last activity is coordinating a launch with other websites. You could call it an “all of the above” strategy. It’s probably worth paying for placement, potentially paying for advertising space as well, and even creating a special offer for Betalist users to marginally increase the likelihood that someone converts to a paying customer.
Since we were looking for free beta users, we chose option 2. We rolled the dice on the feature timing because we’re a bootstrapped company with limited resources. It turns out that wasn’t a terrible decision. Betalist initially approved our submission two days later, and the wait began.
Betalist tells you that it might take one to two months to be featured. We were featured in 11 days, starting in the late evening of April 18th, which meant our first full day was a Sunday. This wasn’t optimal, since traffic is much lower, but it did give us a bit more free time to promote the launch during the day, since there were fewer other work tasks that would distract.
We sent messages to friends, families, and our mailing list letting them know that we were featured, as well as promoted our launch here on
IndieHackers, Reddit and other forums.
Betalist sent us a direct message on Twitter letting us know that we were featured and we retweeted it, but with our low follower counts that really didn’t make an impact. We were also surprised and disappointed that
Betalist didn’t tweet out our product, which they seem to do for every other featured product, which also might have depressed our numbers. That didn’t seem to matter, however, as we still made the newsletter the next day, and the featured product tier the day after that.
Overall, we feel like we achieved good results from our exposure on Betalist. We saw over 200 directly attributable visits, with perhaps an additional 40-50 more from other promotion efforts as well. We had 16 signups on the site, which is a bit low compared to most Idea Validation launches, but is pretty respectable for beta testers. Here’s the specific chart that shows performance over the full week:
We’ll see how well these beta testers work out- whether they give us valuable feedback, potentially turn into paying customers in the long term, or even better, provide references and testimonials.
So, was posting to Betalist worth it? Definitely. We certainly got some great early adopter traffic, and a few signups that could potentially evolve into something more down the line. We got a solid backlink from an incredibly reputable site that will pay dividends for us long term.
Could we have done better? Perhaps. But, it is often difficult to know what your outcome could have been for paying to be featured on a certain date of your choosing. We looked at it as a customer acquisition cost – if we paid and had similar results, we would have spent around $7.50 per signup. With the free listing, we didn’t pay anything, and for a bootstrapped company, that means money we can spend elsewhere where there might be a greater impact.
As with all things in life, there are tradeoffs. But, Betalist is quite the nice service for startups looking to get some views into what they’re doing. We would certainly recommend it.