Taking care of beta testers


In the development of our application, we've relied heavily on a handful of beta testers. Their input has been very, very valuable and has no doubt made our application much, much better than it would have been. In particular, one of our testers has also been a great evangelist, playing a large role in getting us some of our customers.

When we originally approached potential beta testers, we just told them that, "We'd take care of them." It made sense to say that since we had no idea how significant a role they'd play nor did we know what we'd eventually charge for the product.

After some internal discussions we eventually decided to offer that very helpful and evangelizing beta tester a 75% discount off the product (subscription) "forever". Our thinking was that everyone should pay something, mainly so we treat them like a real customer and they treat us like a real company. The tester has pushed back on that, politely, but it was surprising to us. It does seem quite clear that this in not an issue of money. We're getting the impression that our product is under-priced to begin with, and a 75% discount makes the cost really pretty negligible.

My gut feeling is that this beta tester just doesn't feel adequately appreciated. If many, many, "Thank yous," and a 75% lifetime discount aren't the right things to do, then what should we do?

Is there any sense to our thinking that everyone should pay something, even a very valuable beta tester, or is it OK to just give your product away?

If anyone's had a similar experience with a valued beta tester, how did you get them happy other than by just letting them have it for free?



Beta Compensation

asked May 26 '10 at 05:44
71 points
  • From this person's perspective are they "just a tester" or are they using the application in their own business? – Jeff O 14 years ago
  • @Jeff O They have been using the application for months, continue to use it and have been very candid about how much they've come to rely on it. – Ryan 14 years ago

8 Answers


I might have some food for thought. Maybe not a solution exactly, but at least something to think about:

"Other tests showed that work done as a “favor” produced much better results. For example, some lawyers were asked by AARP to provide needy retirees with services at a cost of about $30. The lawyers did not accept the offer. However, when asked to offer services at no cost, they agreed. Experiments also showed that offering a small gift would not offend anybody (the gift falls into social norms), but mentioning the monetary value of the gifts invokes market norms." - Dan Ariely's stuff out of Predictably Irrational You might be right about the person feeling they weren't adequately appreciated but that might be because you brought up money, and discounts. If you had just sent them a tshirt with your logo on it and a hand written note as a gift, you might have fared better. But it might be too late since you brought up the "taking care of them" in the original approach.

Not entirely sure if this could help. But the book and Dan (he's got some great free content out there might give you some more inspiring thoughts. And you might want to consider what gifts instead of discounts or things with monetary value easily assigned to them.

answered May 26 '10 at 07:24
Nathan Kontny
1,865 points
  • I think that Nathan has it right - transactional beta testing is one thing; respecting and appreciating them is another. Not sure if you can walk this one back, but talking to them might help. – Bob Walsh 14 years ago
  • Thanks Nathan. It's interesting to think about when and when not to apply a monetary value. We're about to start another round of application development that will involve some new beta testers. Obviously, we need to go about this a bit differently. – Ryan 14 years ago
  • +1: This is all so true. People who aren't QA professionals on your payroll don't test for the money, they do it for "love" (recognition, self-esteem, and other emotional intangibles). I would happily babysit for my niece's daughter for free, and would be delighted if she gave me some home-made brownies, but if she offered money... well, my consulting rate starts at $75/hour, and my professional resume doesn't list "babysitter". – Bob Murphy 13 years ago


Give them the service for free, forever. They will be your best advertisement and it's a "negligible cost" to support them. This seems like a niche business where relationships and your reputation seem like the only way to succeed. Chalk it up to marking and promotion costs and move on.

answered May 28 '10 at 01:55
Jarie Bolander
11,421 points


Why don't you name them as a partner and "MVP" or other such recognition outside of the money? Certainly if you are discounting it by 75%, going to 99% or 100% is just fine as well.

I think you have some relationship repairing to do here. Each side is having a tough time understanding the other and you need to come to an understanding, whatever that is.

Maybe add them to your blog or give them another kind of outlet on your site so they get recognition.

They provided a huge, valuable service and you can probably recognize that and satisfy the non-monetary issue for them.

This is of course a good lesson for setting expectations up front. Frankly, I am not sure why you are confused about their reaction. You left the door WIDE open on that one and this is your fault entirely. (in my opinion)

answered May 26 '10 at 12:44
Tim J
8,346 points


How about giving them 2 months free for every month they used it as a beta tester?

Ironically, this is giving them less but it may seem like more because you've set a Reference Price in terms of "time spent as a beta tester".

You could also point out to them that you're going to have an ongoing cost (however slight) to provide this service (server time, etc.)

answered May 28 '10 at 10:50
Clay Nichols
737 points


Wise customers don't want you to lose money because then you will go out of business and they will have to replace the product.

You should try anything else but lowering the price. Restaurant vouchers? golf umbrellas? amazon gift cards? set of coffee mugs with your logo? nice company shirts (never t-shirts) ? Get creative and the customers will like the thought you put into it.

answered Jan 28 '11 at 11:38
1,231 points


I think it's good karma to reward early adopters of your software but as you correctly point out you are a real company and they are a customer. They need to realize that you are doing this for a living and that your time and services cost money.

You did set yourself up with an ambiguous promise. Did you ask them what they think would be fair? Is it really unlimited free lifetime use of the software? Sometimes getting a customer to name reasonable terms can work out better than coming back to them with discount offers.

I don't know what your costs are in terms of hosting and support. Bottom line is if that number is very low or negligible then by all means give it to them for free -- it's not worth arguing about. Perhaps they can do additional testing of early releases, provide testimonials, etc. Otherwise, rather than a "discount" perhaps you can offer them the product "at cost." This means they just pay for your support and hosting costs for as long as they are in business and want to continue using your services.

answered Jan 29 '11 at 11:29
Oleg Barshay
2,091 points


In addition to Nathan Kontny's spot-on answer about the psychology of the situation...

If the discount was offered to the beta tester as an individual, he may not be permitted to accept it. Many organizations have rules about business gifts to employees. Some allow nominal gifts, with a maximum value of something like $25 per year, and others don't allow anything - not even letting a supplier give an employee a can of soda.

A 75% discount on the lowest level of Ryan's service would be worth $441 per year. That would violate every corporate business gift rule I've ever heard of except for Wall Street.

answered Jan 31 '11 at 13:35
Bob Murphy
2,614 points


Interesting concept of an external hardware device (data bridge), connected to a PC, that uses a website instead of a desktop application.

If they paid for the data bridge, they may feel the software should be included or at least a separate/one time fee. But you have a website, with services involved (hosting, backups, external accessibility) that they would not have (and may not want) with a desktop app.

Not sure what made them think they would never have to pay for the web service. If this person continues to promote your site, it may be in your best interest not to charge them.

answered May 26 '10 at 06:51
Jeff O
6,169 points
  • "We'd take care of them." is an awfully broad statement and easy for someone to interpret as free use. After all, how much could one person on a web service cost? I can definitely see that as an expectation and it is the OP's fault for not being specific or setting expectation. – Tim J 14 years ago
  • @Tim - in hind-sight, the possibility of fees should have been addressed. One of the benefits of having beta users is getting an idea of they would pay for your service. – Jeff O 14 years ago

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