How the latest tech products do early access beta's
I've searched high & low for the hottest beta access invites in tech to show you the dos/don'ts with early access onboarding. Here's what I found.
Firstly, let me get one thing straight, I'm a bit of an early adopter nerd when it comes to software products and secondly, I'm fascinated with their onboarding surveys and registration processes.
Yup, that's right "i'm fascinated with their early onboarding and registration processes" - it sounds darn nerdy and super dull but as a PM advising super early-stage founders creating digital products i spend a lot of my time during the early phases consulting in that hazy “0 to 1” stage of building, where ideas are unproven and products are in their most infant phase. Part of my work during the early validation phase is customer discovery. In short, this consists of learning more about the customer and their particular needs.
What I'm trying to create in this early phase of product development is an automated validation flywheel. Typically teams at this stage are constrained by both time and resources, therefore, the validation flywheel allows you to:
Learn more about your early adopters
Qualify potential customers
Optimise and inform your product development backlog
Automate the process to save valuable time resource
Through my research, I've found some great recent examples from innovative new software products which I can't wait to share with you below.
Firstly, before we get into the meaty part of my findings let's establish what an early access Alpha/Beta registration is.
If you're preparing for an upcoming product launch, there's nothing more valuable than building a pre-launch mailing list. A pre-launch strategy is designed to build hype, spread awareness, grow your email list, validate assumptions and continue your customer discovery efforts. Typically creators and teams look to generate interest prior to launch, usually in parallel to them actually building the product. This allows them to gauge the amount of interest in the product prior to release, establish a group of early users in order to test the product, perhaps from a usability perspective, iron out any bugs and generally get some feedback from users if this is something that is providing value and solving a problem.
On the face of it, it can look like a straightforward email capture process typically accessed via a landing page at the pre-release stage of a product - allowing prospects to provide their details in exchange to be notified when the first version of the product is ready to launch. Typically this is before the public release and during the Alpha and Beta phase of the software release process.
There are usually two approaches to the early registration process.
Registration: Provide your name and email address and you will be notified once an early version of the product is ready.
Registration & customer discovery: All of the above and also some additional details in the form of a questionnaire.
I'm a big advocate of option 2. I feel creators, makers, product and marketing teams are missing a trick when it comes to beta registration flows. How many times have you only been required to provide just your email address to add yourself to an early access or beta list? Too many!
Taking just an email address provides you with nothing but the user's email address at the end of the day. Wouldn't you rather know more about this future customer?
For example - let's say you are building an app that lists all the nearby outdoor gyms in your vicinity. Wouldn't you like to know the location of the people that are signing up so you know where demand is? how often they use outdoor gyms? what they look for in outdoor gyms? how they currently locate outdoor gyms? how did they find your site in the first place? what problems do they have when looking for outdoor gyms? what are their current solutions? and so on.
If you only ask for an email address you won't get the answers to these questions. Sure you could send an automated email with a survey after they have provided their email address, however, in my experience the completion rate is super low post-registration due to the added friction in the process. By asking for it up front - they have to complete it to get access. If they don't, then they don't see enough value in your product.
Qualify your subscribers
Let's face it, your product isn't for everyone in the early phases. You want to start with a small niche target market who need your product the most. If it's for everybody, it’s really not for anybody.You can't keep everyone happy so you need to be selective who you onboard first when the time comes. You don't want to dilute the value of your product by creating it for everyone. You're creating this product for a particular target market that have particular needs.
Your looking for quality users not necessarily quantity.
That means you have to prioritise which customers you can best serve now while growing a list of future customers that you can serve once you complete development of existing priorities.
Find just the right customers and build precisely for them.
A great example of this was by Superhuman and their early access program. The Superhuman team were laser-focused during this early phase with the goal to find the right customers and build precisely for them. That meant having to prioritise which customers they can best serve now, while also growing a list of future customers that they can serve once they complete the development of existing priorities.
The Superhuman early access process was designed to assess each prospect that registered to ensure the product could best satisfy their needs which was funnelled into two buckets:
Good customers - Superhuman is the perfect fit
Potential customers - maybe, but not right now
You can learn so more about your audience using this process - who they are, what's their particular needs, what current solutions do they use? What their biggest frustrations when it comes to x, how did they find your site, why are they interested to use your product and so much more.
I hope I've provided a reasonable case why there is a huge scope to craft a validation and qualification process. Next I'm going to jump in and provide some great examples I've found.
Lastly, a quick caveat. All the conclusions below are my own and have not been verified by any of the companies I mention and could be interpreted in many different ways depending on which way you look at them.
Right, let's start breaking them down.
Hey is an email client with a suite of new features that allow you to manage email better.
In this example, Hey is looking to get super meta by asking you to email them for early access.
Firstly, I'm not entirely sure how many other software companies could get away with this approach. It isn't exactly the most frictionless process having to open your email client, copy the email address, paste it in and then answer an option ended question, but this isn't any software product, it's received huge hype of the back of their somewhat outspoken founder David Heinemeier Hansson (aka DHH) and his tribe of twitter basecamp devotees.
However, I think there are a few reasons why they might have adopted this strategy instead of the classic email capture technique via a landing page.
By writing out your answer within your email client it might help provoke your feelings about email.
It's the classic high bar technique. Making someone jump through a hoop in order to obtain something. People tend to want it more (as long as it's not too much of an effort) because they have worked for it. They feel it's an application process and they want to be selected so they can feel unique and fortunate. I'm saying this because I'm the schmuck that falls for this technique every time.
In order to get early access, Hey asks the following: "tell us how you feel about email. Could be a love story, or a hate story. Could be long, could be short. It's your story, so it's up to you".
This is question provides insight into the things people enjoy about the email experience and also the stuff people don't like so much. It so open-ended it's inviting a broad spectrum of answers. Depending on the detail of the answers, this question provides a treasure trove of data about people's relationship with email - providing their team with topic clusters and patterns in similar responses which they can act on.
And we can't forget about the exclusivity. This is every early adopter's dream. Being one of the few to be selected to test an early version of a highly anticipated product and get that highly coveted short @Hey.com email domain before the masses join.
Insight into how you format your emails.
Insight into your pains and gains regarding email.
What you enjoy the most about email.
Provides validation on a number of points relating to people's experience with email.
Interesting stories about people's relationship with email that can be used for content (see small print).
What people think about the current email clients they are using.
The exclusivity behind having to apply to get access with a story.
I wouldn't suggest the email registration approach if you're just starting out without a following - it's unnecessary friction. A simple form on the landing page would work.
A missed opportunity to understand more about their future users and how they would improve the email experience.
My Mind is an intelligent productivity platform which allows you to store all the digital content you want to remember
In this example, My Mind kept it super minimal (Classic Tobias Van Schneider) and provided a clear call to action centred in the middle of the landing page. Boy does that "Invite Only' CTA look exclusive.
Once clicked, you are taken to an embed Airtable form consisting of 7 questions to complete in order to be added to the 'exclusive' early access list.
We will skip past question 1 & 2 as they are the standard name and email forms.
Your Twitter handle
Great question - firstly, with a productivity tool like this they are going to have a lot of productivity nerds like me on Twitter salivating over this. By collecting people's Twitter handles the My Mind team can view your bios - which usually provide a great indication of the type of person interested in their product.
This also allows you to validate your target personas. Are the folk who signed up aligned to our initial persona assumptions.
They could also potentially create lookalike audiences if they decide to undertake a digital marketing campaign in the future.
What's your current bookmarking tool?
Competitor analysis: My Mind is essentially a bookmarking tool , therefore, it makes sense to understand what their early adopters are currently using to bookmark content.
Where do you save your visual inspiration?
To understand the potential integrations that might be needed in future. For example, if you save your web images to another app My Mind might want to consider adding this integration to their app. They will measure the most popular and prioritise it within their backlog.
If mymind.com could be anything for you, what would it be?
To understand customer wants/needs. It could also be used as a qualification process to ensure they onboard the right users that align with their product. I.e. they might not add you to the early launch list if your needs are totally different from the core offering of the initial launch.
If there is one book you would recommend us to read, which one would it be?
Wild guesses here - perhaps to create content covering book recommendations. Trying to make the application form sound more personable instead of process and data-driven.
Creates a sense of exclusivity
Provides a good indication to the types of future users signing up
Can validate a number of assumptions relating to your audience type, expectations and competitors
Asking for Twitter handles can provide a lot of info about their users without asking them to provide it directly.
Gather sentiment on competitors tools. Question 7 only asks "What's your current bookmarking tool?" but it should also 'what elements of your currently bookmarking tool do you like the most' and 'what elements do you like the least?'.
One of my favourite questions to ask at the end of any pre-launch registration flow which I stole from Hiten Shah is "Lastly, would you be willing to participate in a follow-up call to discuss some of your answers in more detail?". Forms are all well and good, but actually reaching out and talking to your future customers is the holy grail. This allows you to dig deeper into their responses, establish a relationship with them, learn more from them, the benefits are endless.
It's always worth asking what people's current frustration or unmet needs are when it comes to the problem you are looking to solve. Asking a question along the lines of "What are some of your unmet needs when it comes to saving information?".
Ask why more by adding in conditional logic. Airtable recently launched this feature for their embeddable forms. Alternatively use TypeForm.
Amie is a productivity app that combines your calendar and to-dos.
In this example, the Amie landing page first asks for your email address with a clear call to action labelled 'Try it first'. Once you provide your email address you are redirected to a TypeForm survey with ~6 brief questions to ask.
Let's jump into the questions and start breaking them down.
Which mobile device do you use?
Helps gauge the demand for your product based on the device type of your audience. Why guess which mobile device type you should support first when you can ask your early adopters which device type they have.
Have you ever used your calendar as a to-do-list?
Amie is based on the idea that to create a habit and to be productive it's more efficient to use your calendar and to-do-list together. This question is probing to find out if people are already using their calendar clients as to-do lists.
If yes, How often do you do that?
So you have mentioned you already use a similar productivity system but how often are you actually using it to that effect? Is it just for the occasional yearly tax return reminder or are you fully committed to using your calendar as a to-do list? This question allows the Amie team to understand how many people are already using a similar system and to what degree.
If less than 3 or more times a day - Do you ever think of doing that more often? Why?
This question is a great use of conditional logic and digs deeper into the why. Why are they not using this approach more? Do they only use it for particular to-do items? what's holding them back from using it day to day? Do they use other tools and systems to manage their to-do lists as well as their calendar?
If no, why not?
It's certainly no surprise to the Amie team that everyone doesn't use such a productivity system (calendar + to-do), however, it's certainly worth asking this question and finding out why people haven't considered using a to-do-list and calendar combination? do they have a better system they are currently using?
What do you not love about your current setup?
Provides competitor sentiment by figuring out what elements of peoples current productivity system could be improved. By finding pain points early on the Amie team can address these within the product and ensure the same issues people encounter within their competitors products are addressed within Amie platform.
Which of these tools do you currently use?
This question contains a multiple-choice dropdown list of productivity apps which the prospect can select from. This allows the Amie team to see how popular their competitor's products are with their audience.
It's also a great way for the Amie team to validate any integrations they have been considering. Migration tools built into productivity apps are popular strategies to convince people to migrate across from competitor products with little friction involved.
What's your favourite emoji?
This question is a bit of a head scratcher. It could be to inject some fun in at the end of the flow or potentially feeding into some marketing content or fun feature within the product.
Gauging the frequency someone encounters the problem allows you to understand how much of a problem it is and the potential value this solution could bring to the end-user.
Good use of conditional logic. A dynamic questionnaire will always get better results. Dig deeper and get past the superficial surface-level fluff.
Using TypeForm provides more of a conversational flow instead of a long list of questions which seems overwhelming. This improved UX will likely increase the completion rate and reduce the amount of drop-offs.
Finding pain points in competitor products. This allows you to mop up the pain points within your solution and not make the same mistakes your competition perhaps have.
Once redirected you are welcomed with a message that states "you're nearly finished with the signup". I personally really like this approach as it's stating these questions are part of the registration process (i.e. a prerequisite to getting on their beta list). In some of the other examples I have tested this isn't the case. Instead, they have asked politely either after providing an email address or via email after the user has subscribed. There is no doubt the latter approach doesn't get nearly as many responses compared to making it a mandatory step in the registration process.
Use Hiten's golden question at the end Lastly, would you be willing to participate in a follow-up call to discuss some of your answers in more detail? I would follow up with the users who said they already use a the to-do-list and calendar combo and ask them to tell me more about how they use this system. Why do they use this approach over conventional to-do-lists? how has this improved their productivity? what tools do they use to do this? how could they improve it?
Embed the TypeForm within your site or add it as a popup. Directing subscribers off your site can cause people to drop-off due to confusion and lack of trust.
Pitch a is new and improved take on presentation software. The multiplayer of presentation tools.
This example has to be one of my favourites. Firstly, it has to be one of the best designed and fun landing pages to navigate, however, what I really like about it is the user journey. Firstly all you need to do is provide your name and email to get early access. You are then presented with a pop-up that mentions 'You're on the list! Want priority access?' - "well yes, of course I do!" So you click the 'Start Survey' CTA and you are taken to a TypeForm survey with 9 questions to complete.
Let's break them down.
What is your role?
Allows the pitch team to understand the types of role within an organisation that create presentations and decks.
Feeds nicely into future marketing campaigns and sales pipeline.
You can align the needs of a particular role within an organisation to the product and its features.
Which tools have you used recently to create or edit a presentation?
Competitor analysis. This question allows the Pitch team to gauge what their audience is currently using.
This question layered with the first question regarding role will produce some interesting insight. The types of role and what current presentation software they currently use. i.e. do designer tend to use InDesign and Sales use Google Slides.
Which of these other tools do you and your team use?
Provides insight into potential integrations with other software tools that might compliment Pitch. For example, a Slack integration to share decks with colleagues quickly or an InVision import tool.
What are your biggest frustrations with presentation software you're currently using?
Aligning the needs of your customer with your solution
Feeds the product backlog with potential new solutions and customer requirements to investigate
Provides customer sentiment on your competitor's products allowing you to avoid the same frustrations your competitor's products have.
What devices do you use to create or edit presentations?
For most digital products you need to know the types of devices your target market intended to use your product with. In Pitch's example, they might find a high percentage of their target market use a tablet to create and edit presentations on the go. Why guess which mobile device type you should support first when you can ask your early adopters which device type used.
What kind of presentations are you regularly creating?
Provides the Pitch team with template and asset inspiration. If it turns out a lot of people create pitch decks then the Pitch team can create a variety of pitch deck templates and layouts.
How many people work at your company?
Provides the sales team with potential enterprise leads. If they sign up to try the platform and enjoy using it they might convince others in their team to use the product. The sales team can use these leads to reach out and provide bespoke pricing for larger companies.
How many people do you regularly collaborate with on presentations?
Pitch allows multiple people to collaborate in realtime to create presentations (think Figma). This question allows the Pitch team to understand how many people typically collaborate when creating presentations. This could help the team figure out a reasonable amount
Great for pricing based on seats/users.
How frequently are you working on presentations?
Can help provide their team with an indication of their active user metric.
Assists with the pricing model. Frequency of use can help determine how much you can charge.
Streamlined user journey. Firstly, obtaining just name and email to register of early access and then asking if you "Want priority access" and then presenting the early registration onboarding questions.
A reasonable amount of questions. Too many and people will give up and drop-off.
Understanding of current frustrations with current presentation solutions.
Clear understanding of the type of presentations people create, what their role is and cadence.
Embed the TypeForm within your site or add it as a popup. Directing subscribers off your site can cause people to drop-off due to confusion and lack of trust.
Missed opportunity to ask for a follow-up call to discuss the participant's responses in more detail.
Superhuman is a blazingly fast email client with an advanced feature set that helps you better organise and manage your emails.
Although the Superhuman (SH) beta is soo 2019, I couldn't leave this example out. It's actually why I wrote this post in the first place.
The hype surrounding Superhuman on Twitter was extraordinary and I couldn't resist trying it out for myself. So I visited their landing page and entered my email address and clicked the 'Request Access' CTA and waited to receive my invite. Instead, I was redirected to a TypeForm survey which proceeded to ask me the questions listed below. This was my first experience of such an early access beta process and I found it fascinating. However, the excitement was short-lived after receiving an email from a kind Superhuman representative mentioning they don't support multiple accounts a unified inbox at this time. Gutted.
If you're interested to read more about the Superhuman registration and qualification process I would highly recommend this interview by TypeForm with Superhuman's Head of Growth.
Anyway, let's jump in and breakdown our last pre-registration flow.
Where do you work?
Good question for potential sales leads. What companies do these employees work for, industry, size, geographic reach etc.
And what is your role there?
Allows the SH team to understand the types of role within an organisation that are interested in using SH.
Feeds nicely into future marketing campaigns and value propositions. You can align the needs of a particular role within an organisation to the product and its features. Think bespoke landing pages based on professions. Superhuman for Product Managers, CEO's, Developers etc.
What is your work email address?
Typically work email addresses act as form of verification and weed out the time wasters who use bogus email addresses to get access. However, it could also be that Superhuman was initially intended for business purposes.
What devices do you use for work email?
Gauging the ratio of mobile to desktop use can prioritise your backlog and optimise for the most used device during the initial pre-launch build. If you are only building for desktop or mobile then this might also provide insight into whether you should consider supporting other device types.
What type of computer do you use the most?
Very similar to the previous question but this time whether you use Mac, Windows, Chrome OS etc. Different native app clients need to be built specifically for each operating system, therefore, there is a trade-off which ones you initially support from day one. The best place to start is with the OS most commonly used by your target market.
In what year was your computer built?
The Superhuman USP is speed, but even if the software is optimised for speed the computer's speed will have a large part to play. Older models with sluggish performance might impact the speed of your experience using the product.
Qualification questions like these are great to ask up front so you don't disappoint.
Does your computer have a solid state drive (SSD)?
Again, similar to the previous question, performance is key to the Superhuman experience. SSD is the modern storage hardware technology and can typically access data much faster than older traditional drives. This question could be used as a qualification step to only grant users with modern computers so they get the opportunity to experience the full power of SH.
What browser do you use the most on your computer?
Different browsers need particular optimisation. Creating the best experience from day 1 might require the technical team to make a difficult decision to only support particular browsers and their associated versions for the initial launch.
This could also be a qualification question to warn subscribers they only support a selection of browser types.
What do you use for work email the most on your computer?
This allows the Superhuman team to gauge the email clients people use for work. Business customers will most likely be a priority and to support business customers they will most likely want to ensure they can support the most popular business email clients.
Which mobile device(s) do you use for work email?
For most digital products you need to know the types of devices your target market intended to use your product with. In Superhuman's example, they might find a high percentage of their target market use either an iOS or Android device to check their emails. Why guess which mobile device type you should support first when you can ask your early adopters which device type used.
What do you usually do with emails that do require further action?
Provides insight into how people prioritise and set reminders when it comes to emails they need to earmark and action later. People tend to do this very differently and have their own personal systems. The SH team might want to understand the most popular methods and perhaps consider whether they reinvent this process or improve the current status quo.
What do you usually do with emails that do not require further action?
SH aims to get users to 'inbox zero' faster and most efficiently. Therefore, by understanding what people do with their read emails that require no action they can consider solutions like archiving and removing any unnecessary clutter.
Which of these features do you currently use while emailing?
SH provide a list of features which I would assume the vast majority of people don't use. Why? well the majority of these features which include follow-up reminders, keyboard shortcuts, snooze, templates etc are what i would assume a small amount of power users might only consider. However, this is SH initial target audience, so it's important to understand what they are currently accustom to.
What frustrates you about email?
Establishes current frustrations with the email experience people might encounter. What elements of people's current email experience could be improved. By finding pain points early on the SH team can address these within the product and ensure the same issues their competitor's products make are addressed within SH experience.
What excites you about Superhuman?
Gauges expectations. Prospects might have visited the SH website, read an article, heard something on social media or been referred by a friend - but are the expectations of what they heard or read actually aligned with the product and it's offering? This question provides the SH team with this insight.
Streamlined user journey. Firstly, obtaining just name and email to register of early access and then directing you to the early registration onboarding questions to complete your registration process.
Use of qualification questions throughout. This allows the SH team to segment subscribers and only onboard the users who will get the optimum experience and value from SH from day one.
Probing questions throughout to determine how users currently manage their email inboxes.
Embed the TypeForm within your site or add it as a popup. Directing subscribers off your site can cause people to drop-off due to confusion and lack of trust.
There are some technical questions within the survey that subscribers might not know to hand which could be picked up during a follow-up call potentially. Better prompts and microcopy to how you can find out the answer to some of the technical questions might also be beneficial.
Perhaps a few too many questions to complete. Too many and people will give up and drop-off.
Follow up: Always ask if users would be willing to participate in a follow-up call to discuss their answers in more detail.
Find the why: Add conditional logic to ensure you capture the full spectrum of responses and discover the 'why' behind participants responses.
Create exclusivity: Establish the feeling of exclusivity within the early registration process. When preparing a product launch, be sure to incorporate exclusive access to your best customers. They will likely become your evangelists.
Keep it lean: No one likes long questionnaires. Keep your questions as short as possible and ensure any questions you do ask provide value and help qualify and validate assumptions.
Be transparent: Tell them what is going to happen next - don't leave them hanging
No ghosting: Keep in regular contact with your registration list. Share sneak peeks on your progress, share what you're currently working on, ask for feedback and establish a feedback loop, share content, try AMAs, webinars etc
Learn more: Use this as an opportunity to find out more about your future users. Are they looking for a solution to this product? how much of a problem is it to them? what solutions do they currently use? what could be improved?
Streamline: Ensure the user experience is streamlined and straightforward. Avoid making your subscribers work too hard to register. Try to keep them on your site throughout the process. Provide a confirmation email after they have completed the process.
Opinion scales: None of the above examples included opinion scales (aka Likert scale). Likert Scales have the advantage that they do not expect a simple yes / no answer from the respondent, but rather allow for degrees of opinion, and even no opinion at all. Therefore quantitative data is obtained, which means that the data can be analyzed with relative ease. In addition to measuring statements of agreement, Likert scales can measure other variations such as frequency, quality, importance, and likelihood, etc.
Check out some of the TypeForm pre-registration questionnaires I discussed above and also some others which i didn't cover below: