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Beta users, beta readers, beta blockers!

stocksnap.io Jason Briscoe

My love/hate relationship with learning to value others’ opinions

I finished writing my first book a few months ago. Or rather, I thought I had finished it. As much as I wanted to be done with it, I did realise it needed at least an objective proofreader. But with my new-ish tech startup founder hat on I also realised it would be pure folly not to have a few beta readers take my precious, completed first masterpiece for a road test.

I only came to learn about startups, and LEAN thinking, and things like user testing three years ago when I left a twenty year career and accidentally found myself with a tech-based business after winning a startup weekend.

I won didn’t I? Got first prize, I did. Clearly the product was perfect. MVP? Most Valuable Product! I was sure I had the solution to a gnarly problem exactly right, and that if my customers said any different, they were just missing its brilliance. If I just told them why it was so perfect, they would see it straight away. If they didn’t see it, they were just being dim. The product was finished. I was ready to make some big bucks.

Wait, beta what? What could beta testing with actual users possibly teach me?

If I only knew then how much I still had to learn- about myself, as well as the power of the beta.

My beta users of course taught me a lot about the limitations of the first incarnation of my fabulous solution. Namely, they showed me clearly where it was not so fabulous. I have eventually come to appreciate the feedback that I got on it, and continue to get. I have even come around to valuing the iterations that have come as a result!

I have to admit, though, to intense feelings of frustration when things needed to change. I wanted to put my fingers in my ears and sing “la la la la” whenever a clearly spot-on and brilliant piece of insight came in from some beta user or other.

I had to understand why that was. I could no longer pretend I didn’t know the value of beta users and their input, so I had better learn to like it.

When I “finished” my book and had to go on the painful journey of waiting to hear back from my first readers, it finally struck me why I felt like I needed beta blockers (medicine to calm an anxious heart) so I wouldn’t be a beta (user) blocker.

I just want to be finished.

I am lazy and only want to do things once. It actually had nothing to do with not being able to take the criticism or thinking I knew better. In fact, I really loved the feeling of implementing a beta user’s suggestion and seeing my product improve- eventually. But that was after I had a good whine and whinge about having to take it out of its box and give it a tweak. And I only managed to do that after days, sometimes months, of procrastination.

Same with my book. I am just finishing up the second rewrite of the blasted thing following all of the valuable, thoughtful, and insightful feedback from my beta readers. And I think I can say confidently it is one million times better than that first draft simply because there were people who freely gave me their time and shared their big brains to make it better. But I have whined and whinged through the whole rewrite. I just want to be finished.

As a solopreneur, I can’t avoid having to carry an idea through all the tedious bits that follow if I want to see anything happen, whether it is a service, product, or indeed a book. This has been a steep learning curve and a major realisation for me. I had to have a good ol’ heart to heart with myself to make sure I truly believe I have it in me to overcome these characteristics that are in my DNA and to make it as an entrepreneur.

I concluded that I wanted and needed to succeed at this more than I desired the wash of idea dopamine that ended with me in a hangover of abject laziness. Time to get real and get working.

“…there’s just a tremendous amount of craftsmanship in between a great idea and a great product.” -Steve Jobs

I have snaffled up my beta readers’ brilliance and am busily crafting my way through this rewrite, and I really am nearly done- with this version. It will then go to my editor and no doubt come back with lots of red scribbles all over it. And that’s ok, because the feeling of satisfaction I am getting from the vast improvement in the book- my product in this instance- is more than worth the slog that will follow. Well, I know that now.

I was late in learning about beta anythings and only due to my accidental startup success. I have had to journey through from just learning it, to doing it, to valuing it.

Do you have a love/hate relationship with beta feedback, too? It’s worth digging down and figuring out what it is that gets up your nose about it. Really think your product can’t be improved? Take it personally that it implies that yours isn’t good enough, that you aren’t as smart as them? Lazy, like me? Once you can put your finger on that it becomes much easier to work through whatever the reason is and learn to love the criticism- it means you will have a much better product and be closer to success.

You can sign up here https://tinyletter.com/eshassere to receive news of the launch of my first book (really, it’s almost done!). I share my favourite tools for making it easy to get a grip on managing and leading your team so you can take it from adequate to excellent. Subscribers to my TinyLetter will receive a free pre-launch excerpt from the book.

I write about how I became the founder of a tech startup as a non-techie, over-40 female with no entrepreneurial experience, and all I am learning along the way. You can see more here: https://medium.com/@eshassere If you think this might be helpful for others on their entrepreneurial journey, please recommend and share by clicking the heart.