I am 50% done with my startup and I am appying to Techcrunch Disrupt at San Fran this Sept:
http://techcrunch.com/events/disrupt-sf-2013/event-info/ They said that they will prefer companies who launch their product at the time of disrupt. Now, my question is that - I will be good to go live around August. Should I launch my beta product in August and start collecting reviews from beta testers or should I launch LIVE all together in Techcrunch Disrupt?
Sometimes it's better to wait until everything that's core to your product is in place, otherwise all those people who sign up on beta never come back.
I disagree with the accepted answer, because people who will be disappointed and won't come back were people who probably got served the wrong pitch along with the product.
Drive Your Pitch Home
The points that you need to drive home with a beta are:
People only go away if they expected something grander and they don't get it, and can tell from the beta that they'll never get it.
When I don't come back to a product after a beta, it's that the pitch was way over the line and I know the product will never be delivered as it was advertised. Build a Community
If the right pitch is delivered, maybe not as many people will sign-up, but those people who do will be the ones who care. They will actually help and actively contribute and invest time and effort in you. And they will value your efforts as well, if you let them see what is involved with developing your product.
These people will be the foundation of your community. That's how it starts. And these things kinda often work on a "first come, first serve" basis. Which is annoying for late-comers, but not as annoying as a crap product or no product at all.
Reward your Hard-Core Fans, Beta Testers and Community Members
These people took a bet on you. Maybe not financially, but they did chose to trust you with something, be it their data, their time, or their input of some sort.
Make sure you do these 3 simple things:
To be able to say "I'm sorry" and "thank you" is a very valuable skill.
Rewards can be a simple as a discount on the price of the final app. It can be an extra license for one friend. It can be a free t-shirt.
The thing is, the reward buys their time, and also produces a sense of urgency that will engage people in jumping in. It's the same "trick" as for sales or many card games. Offers available for a short-time are attractive so you feel like you will "miss out" if you don't jump in. And once you've invested in something, you don't want to bail and feel like you have to stick around longer than you would even have to (same as betting too high and too early in poker, yet the longer you wait to bail, the harder you'll fall if you took the wrong bet).
That's another very important point: free betas are great. But sometimes, paying Betas aren't a bad thing. They need to be signficantly cheaper than the final product, so that people don't feel cheated but you can still pass on misshaps under the cover of the "beta" tag. Also, they "lock in" the buyer's motivation because of that investment, and it ensures that you won't have to support hordes of freeloaders who'd come to try and bail right away.
Some companies do multiple stages in that spirit, starting with the free "alpha", and then the cheap "beta" (which is even free for those who were part of the "alpha", and then the final release (which is cheaper for "beta" adopters and even cheaper for "alpha" adopters). Just be careful not to implement a "bait and switch" system, as nothing angers people as much as this. It's actual trickery and dishonesty, and you'll lose people's trust.
Another option along these lines is to have the reward be a function of the involvement. Alpha users who just register and don't contribute anything are useless, except to boost userbase numbers for glory. Users who report issues are the ones you need to reward the most. Just be careful to not make it so interesting that people will want to submit crap that will take you time to review to determine its value.
So in general I'm all in favor of releasing early. Maybe it's not a beta, maybe it's a community preview, maybe it's an alpha, maybe it's some other strange name. But the earliest you can push it out the door, the better it is. Except if you're already a large company and people generate buzz on future products, in which case secrecy is a marketing tool for you as well.
And release often, to show that you care, that you're alive and hopefully well, and that you listen to criticism and get stuff done not only on areas that matter to you but on areas that matter to them (if that makes sense for you though, you need to be able to say "no" to requests that don't present a long-term benefit and beware of creeping featurism).
In Disrupt, there are two paths to get publicity, the competition (battlefield) and the floor (Startup Alley). They have different requirements.
For the Battlefield:
To compete in the Startup Battlefield, at time of applicationFor Startup Alley:
submission startups must be live for fewer than three months. We are
looking for fresh companies that have had little to NO Press.
Companies that were founded 2 years ago or more are welcome to
participate so long as the product you intend to launch is live or in
Alpha/Beta testing less than 3 months.
Startups wanting to participate in Startup Alley must be less than 2Now, to your question - should I delay beta launch?
years old, with less than $2.5 million in funding.
That depends on how important you think potential press coverage is.
Launch post April 7th, and according to the rules you'll be able to be included in the battlefield contention. Or do a bang up job on the floor and get nominated to be included in the days battlefield presenters.
If you could be spending lots of time in alpha with customer development, then perhaps this is a path. But frankly, press cuts both ways - if the products value proposition isn't awesome / doesn't meet customer needs, you could get press coverage like this.
Money and time are valuable resources - perhaps best spent on delighting customers.
"Isn't it cool, if like if you start your company, the first thing you
do, is like, techcrunch mentions you? Wouldn't that be the coolest
Gotta tell you, If I'm on your advisory board or board, I'll break
Steve Blank, Stanford University| Entrepreneurial Thought Leader Lecture Series
Takeaway : After first contact with customer, you will likely change your hypothesis. While it might be nice to show the article to your parents, a press strategy should be formulated after you've worked out your business model.
Or - be happy you don't have an advisor like him.
Consider launching a private beta now to smooth out any problems, and then a public launch at TC Disrupt.
That might get you the best of both the approaches you were considering.