Benefits of private vs public beta?


Here's the scenario:

  1. There is a product with a high learning curve while it's still in beta, but this will be alleviated in the release version.
  2. The product is at a point where it is no longer necessary to be kept stealth, but it never hurts to have it more fine-tuned before the whole world sees it. The company can be a first mover into a niche market, but not positive for how long.

What are the benefits/pitfalls of having a private beta, vs. making a publicly available download-able beta via the website.

Some pros I can think of for a public beta are:

  • Increased exposure to potential customers
  • Increased exposure to potential partners
  • Establishing a market presence early on
  • Find out what features customers really want out of the product
  • Someone can take the idea if it is pre-maturely exposed to the market
  • If it is a large success, the company can potentially be over-burdened by support calls (due to the learning curve to implement the beta) and development may cease. (Although there could be worse problems to have)
Some pros I can think of for a private beta are:
  • Testers have more of a "vested" interest in creating products success
  • Not susceptible to theft
  • Nothing that the company can't handle (support-wise)
  • Perhaps no longer first mover to market (another company claims dominant presence)
  • Not enough awareness generated and when release comes, no one knows what it is or if they can trust it.
  • Testers know too much about product and may not reflect realistic target market (provides inaccurate feedback about product)

Thanks in advance!


Beta Product Launch Product Release Micro Startup

asked Apr 21 '10 at 20:21
515 points

1 Answer


We've run a quite successful private beta about 6 months ago for 2-3 months.

Don't do public beta unless your product is pretty stable and works as expected in many stages otherwise lots of people will ignore you for the next year based on the crap beta experience. That's hard to shake off.

Depending on your product when you go public you'll notice you've got 1000 more bugs than you know.

If you decide to do private beta, read and follow Joel's advice. I wish I had.

Finally, you can do a quick private beta and depending on the product stability etc. you can open the beta later on.

answered Apr 22 '10 at 04:51
The Dictator
2,305 points
  • Hi, thanks for the reply. While I agree with what you're saying, I'm still curious as to if the company would lose a potential competitive advantage by waiting so long, perhaps 3-4 months, to fix a significant portion of the possible bugs they would face by releasing publicly. Also, what if it turns out that customers want to use the software for something entirely different, or want features that the developers never thought of previously? There's something to be said for developing a product that has less bugs, but also for a product that simply gets in front of people's faces A.S.A.P.. – Nbeecroft 14 years ago
  • In private beta you'll understand if people want something else or not. That's what the beta is for. Being private is damage control mechanism. Secondly I don't what's the app is about but 3-4 months almost never matters. If you good people switch over, it doesn't matter you are the first comer or not (and be realistic what are the chances that they've waited so far and will do the release just before you release? Yes it's possible but very unlikely). If you want to get it in front of people ASAP, cut features, deliver less but do not deliver a buggy app. – The Dictator 14 years ago

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