We’ve seen it time and time again: startup founders try to get user feedback on their product from their parents, their best friend, some guy they met at a bar late one night, or their board members and executive team. This is a costly mistake because they’re not going to get product insights from their target market to establish product-market fit. They’re bound to build features that don’t make sense to their end user, features that they’ll have to dismantle and rebuild later.
If you’re planning to launch a new product, acquiring early adopters and beta testers in your target market is a crucial step to building a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) that you cannot skip or shortcut if you want to gain valuable feedback to refine your product. Establishing an initial user base is a lot of work, but the systems you put in place during the beta testing phase will help you set the foundation to grow your product successfully. In this post, we’ll share insights on where to find early adopters and beta testers in your target market, how to engage with them, and helpful tips to establish an effective beta testing strategy.
Why do you need early adopters and beta testers?
You can internally test and adjust your products until they are “perfect” in your eyes, but in the end, all that matters is what your customers think. They determine the product’s ultimate fate, so their thoughts and opinions are invaluable to your dev process. Early adopters and beta testers are the users who provide insights and feedback during the crucial early stages of your product’s development to help you refine it and make it a valuable solution. Their input helps you identify bugs, resolve usability issues, and validate that current and proposed features align with the expectations and needs of your target market.
Who are these “Early Adopters”?
Early adopters are the first customers who are willing to try out a new product or service. They are often tech-savvy individuals who are excited about innovation and eager to be the first ones to experience the latest offerings. They typically understand that the tradeoff for being the first to try new tech is having a more rough-around-the-edges experience, so they’re more forgiving than later adopters.
Your early adopters can’t just be anyone, though. They have to be users within your target audience so that they clearly understand the problem your solution is attempting to solve and provide valuable feedback.
When should early adopters and beta testers be brought into the process?
In the world of software development, if you wait until you have a product launched to seek user feedback, you’re too late and your product will struggle to gain traction — even if it’s just the beta version of your MVP. There’s a big risk of wasted time and resources when you wait until after the product is built. Bring your users in at the earliest stages—before you start building—and allow them to be a part of the full development experience. Pitch your idea, but also give them a chance to share their needs in a live conversation, look at wireframes, and test out clickable prototypes.
This strategy helps you with two things:
You can build product-market fit in real time and reduce your risk of failure.
Your initial user base will be more invested in what you’re building.
This second point is really powerful from a marketing perspective—the symbiotic relationship you’re building with your initial users in this stage will be a springboard for attracting more users and establishing your business as a trusted partner in the industry.
How to Build Your Initial User Base of Early Adopters and Beta Testers
How you go about gathering your early adopters and beta testers will largely depend on which context your solution is for: business-to-consumer, or business-to-business, but below are a few helpful tactics to help build your roster. Keep in mind that finding early adopters and beta testers may require you to do things that don’t scale to get started, like contacting people directly and making a personal invite, or connecting with potential users in person.
Create a Curated List: If you’re building a B2B enterprise solution, you might already know of a few ideal companies (and roles within those companies) that you would like to build for. Make your wish list and then use it to kickstart your networking strategy.
Utilize Social Media: Social media platforms and online communities are powerful tools for acquiring early adopters and beta testers. Identify the platforms where your target audience is most active and establish a strong presence there. Create engaging content that provides value to your audience and positions your brand as an authority in your industry. Use relevant hashtags and keywords to increase the discoverability of your content. Share sneak peeks, behind-the-scenes content, and teasers that showcase the value and uniqueness of your MVP. Engage with potential early adopters and beta testers through comments, direct messages, and social media groups. Encourage them to share your content and spread the word about your upcoming launch.
Remember that wishlist you made earlier, with ideal companies you want to partner with? If you know the job titles and roles within those organizations, you can leverage that information in your LinkedIn searches to find decision-makers and message them to invite them to try the product. The emphasis in your message should be that you value their perspective and feedback on the product, versus selling them something (more on this below).
Networking and Outreach: Attend industry events, conferences, and meetups where you can connect with potential early adopters. Establish relationships with influencers and thought leaders who can introduce your MVP to their followers.
Is Digital Marketing Helpful for Recruiting Early Adopters?
While building anticipation and generating buzz for your MVP launch is crucial to attract early adopters and beta testers, digital marketing efforts are resource-intensive and should be reserved for certain use cases. For example, building a landing page and creating a paid advertising campaign might make sense for B2C platforms that need 50 - 100 early adopters, but you’re more likely to find those people in the physical location where they’ll make use of your product, like a local bar, gym, or grocery store. (Mile Marker CEO Daniel Litvak spent weeks standing in front of a grocery store while he was launching his first company in order to get early adopters to try the app and give feedback on their way out.) For B2B solutions that need 1 - 5 early adopters, you’re better off building direct relationships through the tactics mentioned above and reserving digital marketing resources for a future phase (i.e., post-launch, when you're ready to scale your platform.)
A Note About Beta Testing Communities: There are beta testing communities and platforms where you can find enthusiastic testers eager to try out new products and provide feedback, but we don’t use them with our clients because as mentioned earlier, the ideal beta tester is your target audience who has the problem you’re trying to solve. A random person in a beta testing group won’t offer the same insights as your target user.
How do you engage with early adopters and beta testers?
When you’re preparing to reach out to your target users and invite them to test your product, it’s important to remember that they’re already inundated with new products and services vying for their attention and wallet. Trying to sell them on the product value in your initial invite to test the platform is unlikely to capture their attention, and let’s be real—this pre-launch version of your product still needs a lot of work! It’s going to be tough selling a product that isn’t baked yet. So instead of selling, you’re inviting them into the product development experience and asking for their advice and input. The invite should make them feel important and valuable, not your product.
Let’s say you’re planning to build a new platform that helps freelancers manage their client workload. Here’s an example invite message that invites them to participate in the full development experience, versus selling them on the idea:
"Hey [Name], I see you are a freelance marketing consultant. I am considering building a product that makes it easier to manage your clients and their requests. Before we start development, I was wondering if you would give me 15 minutes of your time to answer a few questions."
Personalizing it by mentioning shared experiences and connections makes it even more likely that they’ll respond to your message. Once they’re on the call, invite them to participate regularly as part of your user advisory sessions, which should happen regularly during development. Some people may not have the time or the interest, but many will say yes and try the platform at least once. These people will convert and become your first customers – after all, they helped built it to exact specifications that solve their specific problems.
Once you have their attention, there are several tactics you can use to keep them engaged:
Create a demo to help them understand the vision and value of your product. This could be a presentation of wireframes, a clickable prototype, or even just a video.
Offer Exclusive Access: Create a sense of exclusivity by offering early access to your MVP to a limited number of users, especially if you’re a B2C solution. You can also create a waitlist so that they know they’ll have a chance to try it out when you have more capacity for them to join.
Offer Incentives: Provide incentives or rewards to beta testers for their time and effort. This could be in the form of discounts, free subscriptions, or even merchandise related to your product. Putting a time frame around the availability of the incentives will motivate users to act quickly. These can also be used to generate user content (quotes, testimonials, case studies) that you can leverage in sales enablement and marketing efforts down the road.
Referral Programs: Implement a referral program that rewards users who refer others to become beta testers. Incentives like discounts, extended trial periods, or exclusive features can encourage users to spread the word about your MVP. Make it easy for users to share their referral links through email, social media, or messaging apps. Track and reward successful referrals, and consider gamifying the process to add an element of fun and competition.
What should my beta testing strategy be?
There is no one-size-fits-all method for running beta testing. Your strategy will vary greatly based on your product and its functionality; a B2B service might be well-covered with a handful of beta testers while a B2C service would benefit from a much larger group. Since you’re building an MVP and not a full-scale product yet, testing should require less time and fewer testers to reach a level of confidence to launch. Remember, the goal with an MVP is continuous refinement, so it’s an ongoing process that has no end point. If you’ve done the legwork to gather a group of early adopters who are in your target market, you should get the feedback you need to launch and improve your product further as your user base grows.
Here are our tips for a successful beta testing strategy:
Set up a system for collecting feedback for users to easily report bugs and suggest improvements such as feedback forms, surveys, and user testing sessions. You will also need to establish a process for evaluating that feedback against your product roadmap to prioritize product updates, such as a Value Versus Effort Model. (Read more on this in our blog post about Meaningful Metrics for Measuring Your MVP’s Success.)
Engage with your users:
Provide clear guidelines and expectations to your testers about what you need them to do, and what kind of feedback you’re seeking.
Create channels for open communication, such as dedicated feedback forms, user forums, or regular check-ins. Slack groups for B2B platforms have been a really effective tool for our team.
Provide regular, transparent communication about progress on product improvements based on their feedback.
Make the product updates based on their feedback, and communicate with users about it, e.g., “We just released this new feature at the request of [User X] who was first to suggest it.” This demonstrates that you value their insight and the time they’ve invested into your platform. This is key to building their trust and retaining them for the long haul. Involve them in the iterative process so that they feel invested in the product’s improvement. If you choose not to make certain updates, be sure to clarify why in your communications so that they don’t feel ignored.
Your beta testing strategy is laying the foundation for a loyal customer base and sales enablement through user quotes, testimonials, case studies, and more. The systems you put in place for attracting new users and collecting their feedback will help your product gain traction in the market post-launch. If you get it right, your early adopters and beta testers can become your brand advocates, spreading the word about your product to their networks and creating buzz around your launch that can increase your chances of success in the market.
Looking for more guidance on how to find users in your target market or establish a beta testing strategy? Mile Marker is here to help. Contact us today to schedule an introductory conversation.
About Mile Marker
Mile Marker is your strategic partner for Agile software development. Created for founders, by founders, we offer strategic software at startup speed. We specialize in aligning your technical work with your business goals through collaborative planning, offering a multidisciplinary development team, and ensuring ongoing support for your software. If you’re searching for a software development company or need a technical partner, start the conversation with an introductory call.