Visit to Indiana Wesleyan

10 01 2008

On Monday of this week I took a trip to Marion, Indiana to visit the climbing gym at Indiana Wesleyan University. IWU was one of the first sites that agreed to test the rock climbing software, and I picked them because they were one of a few sites within driving distance of Purdue.

It worked out for me to sit in on a climbing wall staff meeting while I was there, which made the experience that much more productive. Prior to my visit I had received most of the product feedback via email, and while there had been some good suggestions, I was itching to talk to a few users face to face.

The meeting turned out to be more productive than I could have imagined, and for me it was a huge confidence builder. The employees were stoked about the software (well, as stoked as anyone could be about software), and after I got the ball rolling with a few questions, the suggestions started pouring in.

Some of the cooler ideas that we kicked around were integration with Facebook, avatars or pictures for each climber, and a climber rating system based on experience. We also talked about a feature to organize and score competitions, and hashed out the wall activity reports that I mentioned earlier.

One of the many priceless quotes from the meeting came after most of the above suggestions had been given.

Me: Is there anything else you wish the software could do?
Employee: Can it belay someone?

Truthfully, they were happy with the software…which made me happy. I’m looking forward to releasing the next version in a couple weeks, and am planning to stay in touch with the staff there. Marion is a relatively short drive from Purdue, so I’ll likely drop in again sometime in the next few months.

Are all beta testers early adopters?

1 12 2007

Last month when I settled on five beta testers I was unsure of what to expect in terms of participation. After all, four of the first five sites that I contacted were interested in trying out ClimbPoint. Were they just being nice, or were they genuinely interested in trying out the software? I figured out of five testing sites I might get two that would provide helpful, consistent feedback. Truth be told, I was a little uneasy that if all of them were totally on board I might be in over my head.

Well, so far it’s turned out that my intuition was right…mostly. Two sites have installed ClimbPoint and are using it for day-to-day operations. A third is planning on switching over after the Fall semester is over, and the other two…well who knows. I’m optimistic that all of the sites will eventually begin using the software consistently, but the relative success of the beta program so far (especially given the number of sites I initially contacted) has me thinking about the broader market.

Will everyone be this receptive?

I’ve gone back and forth on this question many times, and could argue either way. There are reasons that those who participate in beta tests wouldn’t actually purchase the software — namely because beta testing is free, low-risk, and low-commitment, but also because some people just like to wait to adopt new technology. The technology adoption lifecycle provides a good illustration of this point: there are early adopters, the early and late majority, and laggards in adopting any idea. Some people just need to be convinced, and some just need to see others using a product before they try it out.

Technology adoption curve

Beta tester != Early adopter

I’ll pause here to mention that I consider beta testers and early adopters as separate groups, because early adopters actually pay money for a product while beta testers get the product for free…hence my question in the title. I do think, though that only the first three adoption groups are likely to become beta testers — agreeing to beta test does indicate that there is more than a slight chance that a purchase will be made.

Anyway, given the adoption curve I can see why I might have some trouble selling this product to everyone right away. It takes time to convince the early majority to bite, and the late majority won’t buy until they know quite a few other people who are already using the product.

The bottom line

I keep coming back to the fact that four of five sites were interested, and that half of those have jumped in and given really positive reviews so far. Could it be that the type of people who manage climbing walls are also the type of people who tend to be early adopters? For now I’m trying to temper my optimism, if only for a month or two. In a couple months I hope to have version 1.0 finished, and then we’ll see how many sites put their money where their mouth is ;).

I’ll be interested to find out if the adoption curve really holds up and I get about a 10% response rate. I sort of have a feeling it will…