There’s a lot of importance placed on the launch of a new product.
From a fresh new startup to a new product, offering or service from a company or promoted via a marketing service, there’s a lot to be gained from the right initial launch.
Theres a lot of focused placed on big press success, or platforms like Product Hunt, Hacker News, or Kickstarter.
But there’s an important platform for early traction BEFORE you launch, in the form of BetaList.
There’s a lot to be gained from having a “coming soon” launch on BetaList, and UsersThink benefitted greatly from it.
But there’s a lot of things I wish I had known before I submitted UsersThink to the service, all of which I’d like to highlight below.
What the heck is BetaList?
BetaList is a site for getting your pre-launch startup/product/idea some initial exposure and traction.
It’s a handy way to help you solve the upcoming chicken-and-egg problem when you actually launch: getting traction for a launch can be hard without early momentum, but if you don’t have that early momentum how can your launch grow?
BetaList helps you find people who might be interested in your idea before you start, people you can then call on for help when you do launch.
Interesting backstory: BetaList was originally launched as a way to promote another startup, but the demand for a service like BetaList was actually much greater than the original idea.
Have you launched yet?
The whole point of using BetaList is to get exposure for a company, product, or startup that isn’t live yet.
In fact, if you’ve already launched then you can’t get listed on BetaList.
I’ve seen a few cases where people work around this (you could, in theory, put up a “coming soon” page the way I’ll describe below on a standalone page of your site even if you’ve launched, and just send BetaList to that, or rename/rebrand it to seem different).
But to be honest, at that point it might not be worth the potential boost, as it’s more helpful getting a listing on there to build initial momentum, less about capturing a little more after the fact.
It’s also against their terms, and while it’s certainly not illegal to do this, it’s important to understand when you’re bending the rules vs breaking them.
Is BetaList right for you?
It seems that most people who visit BetaList fall into three groups: folks planning to launch their own startup who want to get a sense of the landscape, folks looking for the next big thing before they become big, and folks who are just into new tech startups and products.
The launches that seem to do best on BetaList are B2C or B2B startups focused around the tech friendly crowd, or basically anyone that fits into the three groups above.
If you solve a problem for a startup, a tech company, or for people on the bleeding edge, you’ll probably be a good fit for BetaList,
Then again, Pinterest got early traction on BetaList, and in some ways they don’t meet the above criteria, so you should still think of BetaList as a way to lightly test the waters.
Here’s how to get the most out of it:
Follow these steps to get the most out of your BetaList launch.
Define your idea in 1 to 2 sentences
To be clear, this is always hard to do, even if you have a “simple” idea.
But people coming to your site from BetaList are mostly just coming to check out your landing page and see what you’re up to, not to dig into every nuance of your idea.
Failing to get this right will make it much harder to convince people to give you their email for future notifications, and when you launch.
Talk with a few people in your ideal target audience before you start building
It helps to do a little customer development before you put your idea on BetaList.
Outline a rough user persona for your product, who you think would benefit most from what you want to build, as well as outlining the type of pain you’re trying to solve, and reach out to a few people in your space, asking for a few minutes of their time.
The goal isn’t to fully define your product or what it serves at this point, but to gain a little more definition on it, as well as learn how users talk about the pain (so you can use that language on your landing page).
Also, this isn’t about selling, it’s about learning from them. Don’t forget that.
Take this step even if you’re solving your own problem.
This was the situation I found myself in with UsersThink, having built the tool for my own use.
Even then, some early assumptions I had were a little off base, and taking this step will save you from that hassle.
Outline what your product will do and offer
Write out a few short notes and ideas of what you’re going to offer with your product, and how someone would benefit from it.
If you have to choose, always pick showing someone the benefits they receive from your product, over listing the features you offer.
Narrow this to a handful of points that really stand out.
This stage really benefits from you having talked to a few prospective, since that knowledge will help clarify for you which parts of your solution, or their problem, really stands out for them. You can then highlight those on your landing page, and you’ll be more likely to get people to take interest in your product.
Come up with a name (and snag the matching domain name)
If I had to mention one downside with the BetaList process, it would be the need for a real name for your product.
It would be so much cooler if it was a platform that let you test ideas without the name being needed, but it’s best to know that you’ll have to take this step if you want to gain the benefits of BetaList.
For naming tips, check out our post on how to come up with cool project names without pulling out your hair.
Even if you don’t set up the landing page on it’s own domain (not a requirement, as you could use an already existing domain that you have set up), be sure to buy the related domain (as I talked about in the blog post).
Give a rough sketch for your landing page
You can sketch this by hand with pen and paper (what I did for UsersThink) or, better yet, use a mockup tool like Balsamiq or Invision.
If this is the first time going through this process, mapping out the rough layout and look of your landing page before you start building it can be especially helpful.
Even a rough prototype using one of the two tools above can be used to get feedback via UsersThink, which will help you in iterating and improving.
Setting up your landing page
Since you don’t need to have a landing page on the specific domain related to your product, you can just use a simple landing page tool like LaunchRock, Unbounce, or others like it, right?
BetaList requires that you have a custom template, and won’t let your landing page be made with those tools (they even mention those two by name as what not to use).
Since those services are easy to detect when they’re being used, don’t risk it.
For faster setup, I suggest either using a self hosted WordPress site, or a service more like SquareSpace.
With UsersThink, I did set it up on it’s own domain, using WordPress, and customizing the ShoeStrap theme since it had Bootstrap built into it, meaning it would be responsive.
And it saddens me that I have to keep saying this, but make sure your landing page works on all sorts of devices, because not all traffic will come from devices with large displays. More covered in this post from our conversion course.
If you’re stuck on visual inspiration, check out ThemeForest for a great selection of one-page bootstrap based themes.
Even if you don’t select one of these, it might give you some starting point ideas, and if you do use one, you can customize them to make them unique to your project.
The key isn’t so much stunning design so much as having a landing page focused around your idea, making it both easy to understand and compelling.
Focus your landing page to one conversion point
If BetaList is suppose to help you get early users, but you’re not allowed to have a product launched yet, then how are you suppose to retain those users?
Simple: ask them to leave their email address so you can notify them when you do launch.
Keep this as simple as possible. Have the CTA (call to action) for email collection be direct, letting a user enter their email right there, and informing them that their email is needed to notify them when the product launches.
Remove all field options other than email address. Nothing more. I’m hesitant to ask for even a first name, as you want to make the process as frictionless as possible.
What was weird was how hard it was to find a good email collection form plugin for WordPress. There are a lot of them out there, but most of them have serious problems (they don’t work well on mobile, high failure rates, etc.).
The one I use now, and would use for launching any future product with BetaList, is Optin Cat, and I highly recommend it.
(I had used another email collection method when I launched with BetaList, and looking back I think it caused a lot of errors that limited my potential reach)
At this stage, the only goal you should have for your landing page is to persuade and make it easy for a visitor to give you their email address. Don’t worry about any other goals.
Just make it easy and compelling for them to give you their email.
Use the “thank you” page for secondary goals
The ideal way to setup your email capture form is to redirect visitors who enter their emails to a “thank you” page.
On that page, not only acknowledge that you got their email, but also encourage them to take a secondary conversion action.
BetaList users seem to more heavily favor Twitter over other platforms, so this page might be a good point to encourage them to share your new listing via Twitter.
Make it easy for them to do so by writing a tweet for them (one that mentions your Twitter account for this project), and make it a clickable action to pre-populate the tweet with a simple share code generator.
It’s not likely at this stage to generate a viral loop, but it will give an extra boost of sign ups and brand awareness, and maybe even help with getting a little bit of press.
Test the signup process to make sure it works
Once you have all of this set up and ready, test the landing page sign up process in a different browser, or on a completely different device, such as your phone.
Use a secondary email address as your entry into the form.
Did everything go well? Did it all seem to work? Did the process flow make sense?
You’ll probably notice a few things that seem a little off and are worth changing after testing this process.
It’ll also help you catch any conversion killing errors, such as the form not working, display issues, redirect problems, or anything you wouldn’t want a user to encounter when you launch.
Get feedback on your landing page
Before you take the step of submitting to BetaList, you should do the one thing I see everyone wish they had done BEFORE submitting: getting feedback on the landing page itself.
You can follow up with the people you did customer development with, or get colleagues to tell you what they think.
This is also what UsersThink is perfect for: getting feedback on your pre-launch landing page.
I actually used UsersThink (the tool) to get feedback on the pre-launch landing page for UsersThink before I submitted it to BetaList, and by getting feedback, making changes, and repeating this process a few times, the page I launched with was greatly improved.
Ready to launch
By now you’re ready to get listed! Here’s how to get the most out of your BetaList launch.
Should you pay for an expedited listing?
There are two options for submitting to BetaList: free or paid.
You won’t be presented with these options until the end of the process, so it’s good to know the difference before you go into it.
The main difference between the two is speed.
The free option enters you into a queue behind all the other free options, which means it could take months before you’re listed.
With the paid option you’ll have your application and landing page looked at and either approved or denied within 1-3 business days.
Right now the cost for the paid “expedited” option is $99.
In my opinion, it’s worth paying for the faster option.
And to be clear, I wasn’t paid to say that :)
The paid option helps you get to your end result sooner: seeing if your idea can get any traction or not, and it won’t cause you to delay your actual launch of your product.
Wouldn’t it be awful to finally have your product ready to go months after submitting to BetaList with the free option, only then to have the BetaList folks reject it when you’re live?
Bonus tip: submit your startup on Sunday evening, so it’ll get check out and approved early in the week, without any risk of lower traffic levels due to a near weekend publishing time.
Things you need for the signup
Before you get started, you will need a Twitter account, as it’s required for the sign up/submit process. Not sure why, as there doesn’t seem to be any reason for it (you then have to give your email), but just another reason to set up a Twitter account for your project.
For your submission, have ready:
- The name of your startup (obviously).
- A one sentence pitch/summary. Make it clear, short, and to the point.
- Description. This is a little longer, so you have room to expand, but try to keep it to 50 words or less.
- Twitter username. While optional, you should already have a Twitter account set up for this, as part of your “thank you” page conversion goal.
- Product Screenshot. A screenshot of the top part of your landing page. Keep it in a 4x3 ratio, and make it large (but under 1MB in size), per their recommendations.
- Status. This is important to get right. If you’re not sure, select “Private Beta” to make sure you get through this stage. That basically means people can sign up for more info, but they can’t join yet.
- Location. If you’re outside the USA, you can select your country or continent. If located within the USA, you can select continent, country, or state.
- Markets. Think of this as categories for what you’re doing. The idea is to have up to 5 markets for your product, which will increase the likelihood of being found later on. Check out the complete list of markets for help in picking your top 5.
Take your time in prepping this, as it doesn’t hurt to go over it once or twice before you’re ready to submit.
Submit your startup (and stay calm)
Once it gets to Sunday evening, go through the steps above, pay the fee for the expedited review, and wait.
You’ll be notified via email when it goes live, or if there are any issues.
The majority of traffic from BetaList to your landing page will be on the first day, and it’ll trail off from there, with the second day being a third of the first day, and the third day even lower than the second until there’s barely any traffic at all.
During the early period when you’re live on BetaList, stay calm, understand that things will break or not go exactly as planned, and just fix any issues you find as fast as you can.
And don’t worry about promoting the fact that your startup is on BetaList, other than maybe retweeting the announcement from the BetaList account.
Remember, the whole point of this is for BetaList to generate more interest for you, not for you to generate interest in BetaList.
You’ll see a lot of accounts retweeting your BetaList listing, but for most of those they’re just bots that seem to retweet the BetaList RSS feed. Not sure why this is, but good to keep in mind when it happens.
What does BetaList success look like?
What will success with BetaList look like?
It could range anywhere from 30 to 300 people giving you their email, maybe some retweets or other social shares, and maybe a small amount of press attention.
You’ll also get some cold email from people looking to sell you things for your startup.
At this point it might be hard to know if it was worth it or not, but you might have a sense by now of how things went.
A week after launching
This is the point when you can more accurately reassess how well things did or didn’t go, and then whether or not to keep going with your project.
It’s hard to quantify this, so you have to just decide for yourself.
If you do decide to go forward, what you do next depends on what you were using BetaList for: early validation, to find interested persons for when your project is ready, or to get early users who you can launch to almost right away.
To be honest, listing your idea on BetaList might not prove anything in terms of validation.
While it’s awesome when a bunch of people say they want to know more, that doesn’t necessarily prove that what you’re building will work.
Likewise, not getting many people expressing interest doesn’t prove that what you want to do won’t work.
But if you took this approach, and think there’s merit to what you’re doing, then treat your new email list like a behind the scenes newsletter, and send out updates keeping those people in the loop on what you’ve done, perhaps once every two weeks.
Otherwise they will forget about you (trust me on that).
You could also reach out to each individual one by one for more customer development, such as via interviews and surveys.
They will probably be thrilled to help, and it’ll help you learn more about what to remove or keep in your project.
Finding interested people while you’re building
In this situation, you’ve been building your product all along, and you want to get a little bit of an initial user base before you officially launch.
Similar to the case above, expect you’re farther along in building your product, but maybe you don’t know exactly when it’ll be ready for launch.
Be sure to keep people in the loop via a once every two weeks newsletter, and/or use your new list for customer development.
As you get closer to an official launch, you can offer some or all of these people actual beta access (like what the BetaList name implies) for small and growing levels of user feedback.
Launch almost right away
In the case of UsersThink, the tool was almost 100% ready for launch by the time I was listed on BetaList.
This was less out of any specific strategy, so much as I had built so much of the tool for my own use before realizing it could work for others.
The aim with this approach is to have your product launch within 2 weeks or so of being listed on BetaList, so use of the paid submission is important.
It’s as simple as emailing all of the BetaList signups and sending them a link to where they can sign up/buy/join.
This is all about keeping momentum going after they find you via BetaList.
What it was like for UsersThink
We got listed on BetaList via the expedited listing option, received 340 visits from BetaList (that includes a secondary bump from the weekly BetaList newsletter), and from that 73 people left their email.
(I think the email number would have been higher without all the signup issues we had at the time)
Since we launched so soon after our BetaList listing, we got 3 sales within the first week of notifying those 73 people about UsersThink going live.
In our case, those 3 sales fully covered the BetaList cost, so in that sense the BetaList listing was profitable!
But more importantly, it gave us a little early validation, in the form of people giving us money, that our product worked, including the first sale within the first hour of notifying them.
So now I just need 100 sites like BetaList, right?
Not so fast.
While there are a whole bunch of other sites that are similar to BetaList, the problem is that none seem to have the same reach.
StartupList seems to be the closest to BetaList in terms of reach and draw, driving about a 4th of the traffic that BetaList did to UsersThink, including one sale.
But for the other “coming soon” type sites, not much else is worth your time getting listed on (and we’ll point you to a solution below).
BetaList vs Product Hunt, Hacker News, or Kickstarter
There seems to be a lot of “which is better, this or that?” going around right now in tech, especially in regards to these platforms that help you get early traction or users.
But I think that misses the point: BetaList is for before you really launch, and the others are more helpful for a more official launch (I’ve seen people use BetaList to help gather information and interest before launching a Kickstarter, so that example holds true).
Think of this more like a one-two punch: collect emails and early interest on BetaList, and when you’re live and ready to go on those other platforms, you can email those early believers, let them know about it, and ask for their support.
There’s been a lot more written about those three other platforms than BetaList, and those platforms are more helpful for the actual launch, but BetaList can help you create a little pre-launch buzz and interest, and even get a few early customers.
And all the rest…
After getting listed on BetaList, then Product Hunt, Hacker News, or after a successful Kickstarter, after all of that, then consider using a service like Startuplister to help you get listed on all the other similar sites.
Those other sites might all add up, in aggregate, to half a BetaList, and that way you can have all your bases covered.
Even though I just went through a whole guide on how to do a pre-launch (and part of your launch), I think there’s a little too much emphasis put on that initial launch, that it’s a “make or break” moment for your project.
Honestly, that’s rarely the case.
This guide should help you through the steps of using BetaList, but don’t worry too much if you don’t take off after that point.
Look at Airbnb:
If you launch and no one notices, launch again. We launched 3 times.— Brian Chesky (@bchesky) March 15, 2013
Sounds about right.
Here’s what it really looks like:
Post launch is the “Trough of Sorrow” part, and what you’ll need to do to have a chance of getting out of it is to work hard on the next steps, promote more, iterate on your product, get feedback (such as by using UsersThink), and work really hard in general.
Good luck! :)