Building a Better Beta: Lessons from HBO’s Silicon Valley 


If Pied Piper was our client around the time they released their beta, we would have asked the following five questions: 

Who is your target audience? 

As seen in the show, Pied Piper is trying to compete with Hooli for a mass market audience. Hooli is the more established company, but Pied Piper’s technology is superior. The major obstacle for Pied Piper, though, is that their target audience does not understand the tech behind their solution. These customers do not have an engineering background. Instead, these are the tech users of the world who often trade security for ease of use. So Pied Piper’s target customer is really an average computer & file user who wants to make their user experience better. 

Who should really have been included in the beta? 

The Pied Piper team gets great feedback on their beta. The only problem? That feedback is coming from fellow engineers, and not their target customers: the people seeking a better user experience with files. Now, when Monica, the “average user” and possible target customer, didn’t understand the UX/UI functionality, that should have raised a red flag. And her feedback, that the product felt “engineered,” should have triggered a response in the team to fix that aspect of their platform. If they were to do another beta round, people who align more fully with their target customer profile should take priority due to the value of their specific feedback. The team needs more Monicas and fewer engineers involved.

If you could do the beta all over again, what would you change?

We would recommend going in with a plan in place to collect and measure feedback. There should have been some sort of spreadsheet or document outlining who was invited to participate, why they might be a target customer, ways they might help your idea spread, and what feedback they provided after interacting with your platform. In this case, we would also recommend digging further into the feedback collection process to hopefully discover what changes, specifically, they could make in order to transform the basic platform into a dream tool for their ideal customer.

How might you educate beta users as they interact with your product?

We’re certainly not recommending that demonic Paperclip-turned-Pied-Piper atrocity. No, we’re suggesting that team members each consider the following: if you had to explain your product to a seven year old, how would you do it? The answer to that question may be enough to understand how to explain your high-tech product in simple terms to a barely-computer-literate audience. Then, if you could frame it through the lens of their user experience, you could possibly answer several objections before they’re even posed. Of course, this constraint goes all the way across the board from the user experience to how the company itself is even discussed. Keep it simple, clear, and absolutely honest. 

What does it mean to be a “compression company?”

The team at Pied Piper use that phrase to discuss their technology and product time and time again. And we get it - the platform compresses files. Great. But when selling to their target audience, the words “compression company” won’t stick. The average consumer does not know what that is. They do not understand the inner workings of their machines, or even how their interactions work out on the back-end. They just want to know what’s happening when they interact with your product, and where their files are going. More importantly, they need to comprehend just what problem your platform is solving as it relates to them. Why? Because if customers don’t understand what it is you’re offering or what you can do for them, they aren’t going to care - even if your UX is awesome. 

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