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The Hidden Gem in Your “Private Beta”

Lately, I’ve had the great pleasure of being able to work with startups from the Microsoft BizSpark program that are leveraging SaaSGrid to bring their SaaS apps to market. It’s really been a blast, and it’s great to see the success they’re having and the enthusiasm about our product and what it’s doing for their business.

One of the topics that has come up lately in discussions has been the concept of a “Private Beta”. Having been responsible for the go to market strategies and successful launches of software products in the past, I’ve been fortunate to have learned a number of things along the way. One hidden gem that I think many times is overlooked during a software company’s private beta phase is:

Gaining an understanding of the SPECIFIC thought process of how users evaluate the product.

Everyone wants users to tell them how great their product is and what could improve. But what if rather than just going to market with a slightly better product, you could also go to market with a keen awareness of how your target market will be evaluating your offering? This isn’t the easiest thing to do, and in order to do it, your private beta needs to be structured with this objective in mind. It can’t just be “use it and tell us what you think”. You should have a set timeline for the private beta, with well defined milestones and feedback loops, just like any other project.

Here are 3 major things to consider that should help you on your way:

1) You want to understand what the private beta users expectations are going in, before you provide them with access. You want to understand what they hope your product will do for them, what they think it will do for them (based on your website, the information you’ve given them in the past, etc), and why they are interested.

2) Next, you want to understand their immediate first impression. When they initially are provided access, what did they think? What questions did they have immediately? What impressed them right away.

3) Further on, you want to understand the reasons that these users find value in the offering
Capture this information, document it, analyze it…etc.

Ultimately, you want to understand what you can do to keep your future customers engaged and extremely successful at every point of their relationship with you. When they initially contact you, when they are evaluating your solution, when they sign on and begin using your product, AND hopefully when they are evangelizing your product to others.


Here’s an example of a first step and email to kick things off:

Send a precursor email or call (depending on your participant numbers) that tells them that you are preparing to open up access to them in the coming week, but that first you would like them to tell you why they are interested and what they hope your product will do for them. Ask them to simply respond, so that you have some real data about their personal expectations and hopes for your product.


Hello _______,
Thank you again for your interest in <INSERT YOUR PRODUCT NAME HERE>.
We are excited to inform you that next week we will be providing you access to <INSERT YOUR PRODUCT NAME HERE> in response to your interest in our Private Beta. Before that time we would like you to simply respond to this email and tell us why you are interested in particpating, and what you hope <INSERT YOUR PRODUCT NAME HERE> will do for you. We are collecting this data now, before you see <INSERT YOUR PRODUCT NAME HERE>, so that we have an understanding of what your personal expectations and hopes for our product are.
Our goal is to make our customers/users wildly successful. Understanding your expectations prior to your initial impressions will help us to better hone our messaging, so that we can communicate the value of our offering most effectively.

We greatly appreciate you taking the time to respond with this information and we look forward to working with you.

Event in NYC Tomorrow and Webinar on Friday

We have a few events coming up this week at Apprenda, and I thought many of you might be interested:

Going From SaaS Product Idea to Paying Customers in Under 6 Months (WEBINAR)

When: September 25th, 2009 at 1:00PM EDT

This will be a great event. You’ll have an opportunity to hear from Nate Rowe, CEO of Appoint IT, who recently launched their product offering, and was able to go from a product idea to paying SaaS customers in under 6 months by leveraging the SaaSGrid SaaS Application Server.

You’ll also get a chance to hear from Luis Aburto, CEO of Scio Consulting, and myself. It will be a great discussion, and you’ll see why SaaSGrid is quickly becoming the solution of choice for ISVs large and small as they make the move to SaaS.

You can find out more details about the event, and register

“How to Fail Miserably as a Cloud Software Provider” (NETWORKING EVENT)

When: September 22th, 2009 at 6:00PM EDT
Where: Public House, New York City (Lex/3rd)

This will also be a great event, and an opportunity to network with some movers and shakers in the SaaS and Cloud Computing space here in New York. You’ll also have an opportunity to hear from Apprenda CEO Sinclair Schuller, and he’ll be delivering a presentation entitled: How to Fail Miserably as a Cloud Software Provider”. If you’re in the area or can be, you won’t want to miss it!

You can find out more and let us know you’re coming here. We hope many of you can join us!

– Jesse