As part of the launch process, new tech startups typically run a closed beta testing phase where a limited group of users can kick the tires of their new site. This period allows for startups to get discreet feedback from impartial users, while also testing how the product scales without launching to the whole world. As someone who likes to try out the latest shiny new thing, the last few years I’ve become pretty familiar with the methods tech startups use to dole out these beta invites, which many of us treasure.
Typically start ups will launch a one page placeholder homepage where users can enter an email address to get on the beta tester waiting list. Over time, the site owners will slowly start sending invites to the beta testers they have recuited. Typically, in addition to access themselves the initial beta testers are also given a limited number of invites (usually 5) that they can give to their friends. This process causes the test group to grow in an organic and manageable manner. This is the method sites like Gmail and Rockmelt have used to roll out their beta test phases.
Beyond making sure the site is functional and stable, these beta periods are also critical opportunities for start ups to build buzz about their new product. By severely limiting the number of people who have access to their product during this closed beta period, start ups create a false shortage as a way of increasing demand. The initial people with access feel special, and people without access want in. People want things they can’t have.
The invites that a beta tester receives along with access to the site are equally cherished. Again, this is basic psychology at work. Beta testers not only have the keys to the kingdom themselves, but they have the ability to give keys to the kingdom to others. For many, the invites are actually more important than getting access to the site itself. I myself am guilty of getting access to beta sites and quickly giving away my invites without actually testing the site myself in any depth.
Over the last few days, I’ve noticed a number of people post about a new startup called Yobonga on Twitter and Facebook. After seeing multiple posts, I clicked through and checked out the site to see what all the fuss was about. I learned that Yobonga appears to be some sort of mobile, location-based chat service with an exceedingly clever way to dispensing beta invites.
Yobongo’s homepage is pretty typical – featuring a few sentences about the product, a video and a form you fill out to get on the invite list. After signing up for the beta list I understood what the fuss was about. Yobongo is giving early access to their product to people who not only sign up themselves, but get three other additional people to sign up as well. It is basically a giant, and sustainable, pyramid scheme, designed to build buzz about the product. Below is a screenshot of the invite page.
So the buzz I was seeing on Twitter and Facebook wasn’t from people who tried and loved Yobongo, but instead from folks trying to recruit others to join the email list so they could get early access to the product. While I must admit to being a little annoyed by all the buzz I saw online, I have to acknowledge the cleverness of what Yobongo is doing. I hope the product is as good as the marketing behind it.