As I work on finishing up the final details for my start-up. I wanted to know if anyone here setup pilot programs for their first few customers at discounted rates or for free for a limited period of time. The benefits of this would be that the site would get "real world" usage and valuable insight regarding usability. The pilot customers would potentially have little investment since it was "free", except for the time spent learning the product, which they could easily decide not to use at some point later.
I've seen this model work before at past places. It was generally well received since the products offered where things people wanted.
It depends somewhat on what you are trying to accomplish. I've ran tests where I was still trying to understand some of my costs and I did these for free with customers (to a certain point - say free for a month). They still had to do some work with the services I provided and I usually do these tests with developer heavy teams or people who we can work closely with.
If you are at all worried about them actually using the product - where you give it to them for free and they do nothing with it - then I would charge them something. Whatever you can get them to agree upon - as long as they are paying you something so they are somewhat invested. I would try and get something that's not quite nominal but not full retail either.