7 Keys to Using Your Network to Test Your Product

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Flik NetworkThe testing phase of developing our iPhone app, flik, has lead to enormous strides in honing our product.  We’d like to think the successful testing was a result of diligence in our communication and persistence with our test users, but in reality we were just lucky to have the perfect test group.  How was the group assembled?  To loosely quote Vinny Gambini, did we “voir dire” potential test users to a point we were “more than satisfied”?  We wish we could say yes, but the truth is, our test users simply came from our closest network of friends and co-workers, Major League and Minor League professional baseball players and their wives.

Tracy and I are the founders of flik as well as being a baseball couple.  I have played professional baseball since graduating college in 2005, most recently playing in Triple-A with the Kansas City Royals.  Through 9 seasons, 31 moves, 4 countries, and hundreds of teammates, the baseball life has enveloped us in a network of players and wives who proved ideal as testers of flik.

FlikAppThe fact our test users either could throw 95mph or hit baseballs 400 feet or were married to someone who could didn’t make them great testers.  What has made our users so valuable is the feedback they have given us is:

  • Honest
  • Thorough
  • Existent

The last point is the most evasive.  “Yes, I’ll be a test user” is a far cry from “I’ve tested your product, and here are my thoughts…” If you’re anything like us as founders of a start-up, you go to bed at night (if at all) thinking of the thousand things still on your to-do list.  Your test users may not be starting a company themselves, but they’re busy, they’re human, and more than likely they’re doing you a favor.

Assembling professional athletes as your network of test users is not in the cards for all startups, but here’s here’s a list of the characteristics that made our test users great that you can easily strive for in your groups:

Representative of our target demographic

Be focused within your demographic, but as broad as you can within that focus.

1) Be realistic

Realize that not everyone in your group is going to be all gung-ho to help – hopefully they’ll love the idea so you don’t have to bribe them with pizza and beer like you did with your buddies in college when it came time to moving a couch or your apartment. Understand that a small percentage of that group is really going to give you honest, helpful feedback.

2) A sense of ownership

We have said our app has been born within the baseball community.  Our test users have taken that to heart and take pride in their feedback, as well as our app.

3) Close…and not too close

The likelihood of getting feedback may decline the further someone is removed from you, but the honesty of non-sugar-coated feedback will make up for it.  That being said, close friends willing to help will be your most valuable users over the long haul.

4) Would-be users

The testing process should be a win-win for developer and tester alike.  “Hey, can you test our product?” should not approach the annoyance level of “Hey, can you help me move into my new apartment on Friday night?”  We were able to “pitch” being a test user on our app, flik, as an opportunity for baseball people to get early access to a product they would find valuable.  In the end, we got great feedback, our users loved the product, and we were well on our way to a solid user-base.

5) Everyone has a +1

You may not have access to a large group like we did, but there’s ways to find groups – are you on a social sports league? book club? former colleagues? – perhaps join a LinkedIn group. Maybe combine all of these groups and then ask each of those people to recruit one trusted person, whether it be a spouse, family member or close friend

6) Scalable from within

Test users, as a whole, are going to get marginally less helpful as time goes on.  It’s human nature.  The best remedy for this?  Replace them with new, marginally more-helpful testers.  Within the baseball community, we were able to easily recruit new test users who satisfied these criteria by just asking our current network to reach out to their close friends.  This also set the stage for immediate scaling potential as we increased our user base.

7) Take care of your “people”

For the people who do play an integral part make sure you take care of them.  Whether it be in kind words and affirmations that they’re really helpful to you or by sending them $10 gift cards to a place they might like or even just taking them all our for a beer one night (or if you’re tight on money, order in – much cheaper!) Main thing is take care of your “people” because they’re the ones who are with you in the trenches, giving feedback and using a product that may or not be something they wanted to take part in.

Professional baseball players have been handpicked for the baseball skills they possess.  For us, together with their wives, they also proved to have exactly what we needed to refine our product and if you are creative, do a little brainstorming, and are grateful for the people you do find you’ll realize your group of test users will be perfect, too.

Chris Hayes

Chris Hayes is the co-founder and CTO of flik, a social mobile app where users share products and places they love through short videos. Chris holds a BS in computer science & economics from Northwestern University, was a national chess champion at the age of 12, and is a submarine-pitching professional baseball player.

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