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Dogfooding for Beta Success

July 20, 2023
Patrick Woods
Co-Founder & CEO
Dogfooding for Beta Success
Welcome to The Observatory, the community newsletter from Orbit.

Each week we go down rabbit holes so you don't have to. We share tactics, trends and valuable resources we've observed in the world of community building.

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Here at Orbit, we know how effective and important Community is to organizations. We also recognize that for many companies the idea of building and launching a community can feel daunting.

What if, instead of only talking about Community with a capital C, we all led with the practical outcomes, starting small, and building out from there? 

In lieu of launching a full-fledged Community, programs (like a Champions Program) with a practical outcome can be a great way to create small, high-gravity micro communities that can help broader org-wide efforts.

We announced the Orbit Champions Program Manager beta in May. And while we originally laid the groundwork for this product to manage Champions Programs, we quickly realized that this kind of tool is useful for a number of projects to create communities of practice within an organization. For any type of program where there are applications, a linear pipeline, the desire to connect with members, and the need to manage that group or cohort as a whole, the Program Manager is incredibly useful.

With that in mind, as we came up to the launch of the beta, we decided we’d be the first to use the new feature set, and to build the product while building our own beta community - a community of practice. Here’s what we learned along the way.

😢 Beta Programs: the Old Way

Historically (including when Orbit first started) beta programs have consisted of a sign up form that populates a list, typically in a Google Sheet or an Airtable Spreadsheet. In most situations, the list would consist of very little information: a name, an email address, and maybe a company name, and sometimes the responses to a few additional questions to qualify the user.

As a company running a beta program, that means you have dozens, hundreds, or, if you’re lucky, thousands of people on this wait list. Then what? Do you let them all in at the same time? Do you give them access in their order in which they signed up? Probably not.

Most folks want to prioritize their waitlist based on various factors that qualify each person. Maybe you want to prioritize influencers in your industry, or those who have a meaningful title at an important company, or maybe the ones who have been active in your community for a long time.  

Prioritization is important, but with a spreadsheet and limited information, it’s difficult to quickly review and triage a list of hundreds or thousands of signups: you have to rely on educated guesses, looking people up manually, or spending money on software like Clearbit if you’re feeling fancy.

✨ Beta Programs: the Orbit Way

One benefit of using Orbit has always been the promise of seeing everything you need to know about a member in a single view. With our Program Manager, anyone across the company can see activity like what’s going on at different stages of the program, who is applying, and who might be a good fit. The reality is that the lead of any program might have some context when looking at a spreadsheet, but the ideal situation is that everyone in the org has that same level of context without the need for personal relationships with all of the applicants. 

For applicants to our Beta Program, we wanted to prioritize current Orbit customers and community members who are already running Champions Programs of their own. So on the form we created at, one of the fields we included was a space to link to an existing program. This allowed us quick visibility to assess all applications and quickly move people who were long-time Orbit users who already had programs up and running into the program. 

Similarly, we could assess applicants who may have been Orbit users but who didn’t have an existing program, allowing us to include them in the next cohort, to be slow-walked through the program. Finally, using this method we could see folks who had an existing program but who weren’t yet Orbit users, which opened up an opportunity for our team to reach out to them to learn more about who they are. 

Within the Orbit Programs UI, everyone at the company can quickly see the status of every member of the beta program, seeing who’s fully onboarded, who’s still working thru the onboarding checklist, and even which program members have been emailed recently and by whom. 

Because the data was all easily accessible to everyone in the company in a single view, all of these assessments could be done quickly and transparently. We could also be assured that no one was falling between the cracks as the program grew. Overall, this has been much more effective than working from an unwieldy spreadsheet. 

For any program, simplifying the application and vetting process would be a big win, but we’ve also introduced collaboration, visibility and consistency to the program member onboarding process.

Within Orbit’s Champions Program Manager is the ability to interact with each new program member’s personalized onboarding checklist to ensure that everyone has the same efficient, best-in-class onboarding experience.

Here’s what that looked like for us:

  • A templated, pre-written (by me) welcome message, that anyone at Orbit could send to an applicant, ensuring they would get the same experience as if I were manually onboarding them myself
  • A request for beta feedback (and for folks to be gentle, and know things might occasionally break)
  • Direction to join our Discord server to tell us about the program members were working on 
  • A link to schedule an onboarding session via Calendly
  • Instructions on how to create an Orbit account if the member didn’t already have one

‍Each program member gets their own onboarding checklist page, which looks like this: 

And in the app, we can see at the member level who has completed which items: 

Without this checklist, we would have experienced friction and been forced to reach out to ask members if they’d completed each step of the checklist - a process that doesn’t scale. With it, we had the confidence that everyone we spoke with had the same information, and we could track - in real time - who had completed which tasks. It allowed us to have a thumb on the pulse of a very important part of our user community and experience - something that previously companies would have to build out an entire tech stack to manage.

Point and Click

Entire companies—not just community managers—benefit from the data that’s viewable in Orbit. We knew we wanted to keep things as simple as possible so anyone at a company could spin up a program, so creating a new program with the Champions Program Manager is as simple as point and click.

Within Orbit we also have the concept of Quick Actions. When a team member is viewing individuals or groups, actions like adding or removing a tag or sending to a webhook can easily be taken. “Add to a program” is also, conveniently, a Quick Action. 

We used this feature ourselves for our beta program. We have several saved views, like “most active” or “have supplied feedback.” Using these saved views (and others) anyone in the company can quickly select “add to program” to include those folks we knew would be a good fit with no friction. For example, if Leia is on a sales call she can see contextual information about her lead - where they work, how long they’ve been active in the community, if they’ve attended events we’ve hosted, and if they’ve given feedback on other areas of the product. And if the person she’s speaking with is really interested in the beta or programs in general, she’s able to add them directly, rather than posting in a Slack channel or DMing someone who then has to manually add the prospect to the spreadsheet.

Frictionless collaborative customer engagement means your entire organization benefits. 

What We've Loved

While there were countless benefits to using the Champions Program Manager for our beta program, there were three that really were above and beyond for our team. 

Speed and ease 

It should come as no surprise that the process was faster and easier than the old spreadsheet method, but even we were surprised at how much easier and more delightful it was to use the Champions Program Manager to run our beta. 

The collaboration and transparent visibility across our entire team made the vetting and onboarding process easy to manage, resulting in streamlined consistency in our onboarding process as a whole. 

The speed and smoothness of the templated welcome and onboarding messaging was honestly a bit of a surprise - it worked even better than we thought it would. And because we were able then to spread that onboarding work around - without losing the consistency of the experience - it unlocked a ton of bandwidth. We were able to see firsthand how growing orgs could benefit from this as they scale their teams.

Full picture prioritization

Unlike the spreadsheet method for beta program prospects where little information is known except a name, an email address, and maybe a company (unless you and your team spend countless hours sleuthing around the internet), we were able to use Orbit to see a full picture of the prospect. For our beta, we could see information like who they are, where they work, if they’re already active, if they’re already an Orbit user, whether they’re active in the community, and if they have a program already, which were all things we were then able to consider when vetting them. 

For example, Applicant A was a top 10% participant on our Discord Server, they work at a small company but they’re very active. Applicant B isn’t as active, but could be a great case study possibility because of the large, well-known company they work for. Seeing these details in the Orbit view made it possible for us to make decisions on who we were admitting into the beta based on full picture data. 

Internal product feedback 

It’s an incredibly beneficial thing to dogfood your own product. We surfaced tons of detailed internal feedback, which we then actively used to re-prioritize our product roadmap

We uncovered some product updates and features that we moved further up in our timeline than originally anticipated because we were able to see the value that those pieces would bring to other teams using the tool (particularly for beta programs - more details on that coming soon 😉).

What’s next?

To say that our experience was a success would be an understatement. We set out to build a tool that would make launching and managing a Champions Program easier for businesses. We did that, but we did so much more. By using it ourselves, we quickly unearthed so many more opportunities that the Champions Program Manager would be ideal for, across entire organizations - from beta programs like ours, to awareness and referral programs for marketing, activation and feedback programs for product and R&D, retention programs for revenue, and more.

In fact, we’re already using it again for feedback on a new product that’s in R&D. 

If our beta program experiment has inspired you, let us know! We’d love to hear about interesting or unique ways you’re finding to use the Champions Program Manager. And if you want to start your own program, you can join the beta here.

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