Want to Join Our Private Beta? Pay Up

A small but growing group of startups now makes its beta testers pay to join their private betas.

“Paid beta” used to be a derogatory term for software that was shipped too early and with too many bugs. Now, however, companies like Mightybell and Cabana have decided to use small payments as a way to keep their beta programs small and focused.

If you are anything like me, you probably sign up for a few private betas per day, but would you pay to join a beta program?

Paid Betas

cabana_paidWhen social goal-setting service Mightybell launched, the team there decided to go with a very small fee for joining the beta: $1. Cabana, which wants to make building iOS apps a drag and drop affair, charges between $15 and $25, depending on whether you fill out a survey at the end of the check-out process.

Other projects, most notably the cult game Minecraft, are giving their early users access to their alphas and betas for slowly increasing prices as the project slowly comes to fruition. Indeed, in the gaming industry, beta access in return for pre-purchasing a game is relatively common. Those projects, however, then also give their early testers full access to the release version, while Mightybell and Cabana still plan to charge their users a subscription fee (or may end up releasing their services for free) once they have launched.

Why Cabama Charges for Beta Access

Here is Cabana’s reasoning behind charging a fee: [list]

  1. Business Validation– One of the most important things for a startup like ours to prove is that people are willing to open their wallets and pay for the services we provide.  This paid beta will help us validate that people are willing to pay at least a small fee for Cabana.
  2. Prioritize Early Users– We know some of people who have requested invitations are very excited to start playing with Cabana right away, while others just want to look around a bit.  As we continue to shape the Cabana experience we want to make sure we let the most active users in first.  This fee, while small, will help us prioritize active early users over more casual users.
  3. Better Support– We want to make sure we can properly scale to support any new users who join Cabana.  By limiting our flow of new users we can better ensure we’re not overwhelmed and can provide a great experience to all new users.
  4. Revenue – The beta fee is not going to, nor is it intended to, generate significant revenue, but as a young company all revenue is good revenue, and it will be a starting point to build upon. [/list]

No doubt, the Cabana team makes some good points here, Putting a monetary value on joining a beta will keep drive-by testers out, allow the company to support its early users and generate some revenue. Others, however, would argue that betas should be free so that as many users as possible will register and test the system.

It also makes sense for services that plan to charge for the final product to charge for the beta – that way, early users don’t expect a free ride all the way (Mightybell has made that argument).

Would You Pay?

Personally, I’m not a huge fan of paid betas. I’d rather test the service before I pay, but these paid betas don’t even offer a trail period. Even a token amount will keep many potential testers out (and won’t make you any money anyway) and change the expectations of these users (“Hey, I paid for this. Why doesn’t it work?”).

Image credit: Andrew Magill