Im working on a saas web application, ive got what I think is a minimal viable product and im now ready to user test it.
The question I have is not so much about finding early stage users but about how accessible to make my sign up process.
I want to try and conduct this early adoption phase in a way that adds the most value to the user. High level of support, responsive bug fixes, new feature requests, training etc etc...
I have three approaches in mind.
(any other options?)
Im a little worried about option 3. I feel like this application isn't ready to be opened up to the wild yet. If I did option 3 id feel as if id need all sorts of disclaimers stating that this is an immature product so it wont be perfect etc etc... I also feel as if I should be trying to monitor and nurture these first user interactions and manage expectations. But I also feel that this would maybe annoy some users...?
I guess for me its a question of ease of use vs expectation management
Any thoughts on what the best approach might be for introducing the first 20 or so users to an immature app?
Either #1 or #2 sound like they could be a good approach for what you want to accomplish. Which choice is ultimately better will depend on different factors, but hopefully I can help in that regard. (I'm assuming your early adoption phase is mostly for product quality, as opposed to marketing—that line gets blurred so often with web applications.)
Direct, Hands-On Approach The challenge with #1 is that the amount of effort required isn't necessarily scalable. If your SAAS offering doesn't face a lot of competition and also solves a major problem for people, you might get a high response rate to your pitches. But what happens if you don't get that high response rate?
When it comes to beta and beta-like testing phases, people often make the assumption that if they have 20 people who sign up for the test, they'll get 20 people (or at least close to it) offering feedback. Unfortunately, that's not realistic. Participation rates can often be as low as 1/4 or 1/3. Since it sounds like you want to put a lot of care into recruiting and managing this process, you might see much better participation along the lines of say 1/2 or 2/3. But you have to factor these things in when picking your numbers. If you've concluded that getting feedback from 20 users is important to the goals of the user test, then you probably want to set your goal for the number of users you let into this test phase at 40. If only 10% of the people you pitch express interest in the project, then you're looking at 400 people you need to contact.
Your actual numbers may be much better, which could really swing things in favor of using this approach. But the basic idea I'm trying to convey is that you'll probably get better results through direct contact, but much more effort might be required.
Online Invite Request This approach works just fine. In fact, when the company I work for is managing beta tests for other software and hardware companies, this is usually how we recruit for their test communities. But it does require you to figure out how you're driving traffic to the sign-up page and how to optimize its conversion rate.
Since you do get the luxury of screening when you're doing online sign-ups, there are two simple questions you can ask that will really do a lot of the work for you. (1) Why do you want to test this product? and (2) What makes you a great tester for this product? If someone isn't willing to answer those questions, it's probably a good indicator that they wouldn't have participated anyway. And people who give you high-quality answers will probably give you high-quality feedback once they're using your application.
Finally, while you're only looking for a small number of testers, I'd still suggest harvesting sign-ups as if you were looking for many more. If you decide to run a full beta later, you'll already have a list of candidates. And it's also advantageous from a marketing perspective. So, by going this route, you could find you have more upside in the long term, but less of a relationship established with your testers.
Expectation management is important, but it will be clear enough either way you decide to handle inviting your users. It's better to focus on your goals for the test and which approach will yield the most benefit to you (and, in turn, your future customers). Definitely nurture and try to foster a sense of community within the early adoption test. Sounds like you're on the right track. Good luck!
Does your technology not give you the ability to approve accounts after the registrations? If so, I would go for option 3 - open it up completely - probably you won't get as many people as you hope right off the bat so there is no real worry about a surge. At the same time you should also go for number 1 - direct contact - i.e. "talking people into joining". I would also go light on the "disclaimers" - just have a statement on your site that it is an alpha or beta and leave it at that. Also, it sounds like you are setting up accounts manually - make sure your registration system is really good before you launch - that part is really important.