Scaling Your Beta Product: How x.ai Reinvented the Waiting Game
November 17, 2016
If you’re not already using x.ai’s virtual personal assistant to schedule meetings, Brian Coulombe, the company’s Customer Acquisition Director hopes you will be soon. x.ai, as you may have read on this blog, makes scheduling meetings painless. Simply copy ‘Amy’ or ‘Andrew’ on an email and she or he takes over the mind-numbing task of scheduling.
Until this past October, the product was in a closed beta. It was so popular that Coulombe was forced to funnel would-be users to a wait list before they could be granted full access. You’re probably wondering why a company with a product as popular as x.ai’s would remain in beta for so long. Well, Coulombe knows they’ve only got one chance for Amy to make a first impression.
“Right now, there’s a lot of learning. We’re striving to get Amy to a point of 100% accuracy,” says Coulombe. “We don’t want customers missing each other, with a host at one Starbucks and their guest at another because the product wasn’t 100%.”
But, while the product was in beta, x.ai actively sought out new users – even if they might have to sit on a wait list for a bit. And it’s been Coulombe’s job to make sure x.ai signs up as many users as possible.
Since joining x.ai, Coulombe, a marketer by trade, has become significantly more data-driven. It’s a byproduct of the way x.ai does business and even a result of the product itself. Amy’s success and failure rests on her ability to act on behalf of the humans she’s trying to assist. If she misunderstands a piece of scheduling related data or can’t parse a cancelation, a human might have to intervene to properly annotate the data being fed into x.ai’s models. So x.ai takes every user interaction with Amy as a chance to teach her.
“Every new email that we get is a new data set, says Coulombe. “If you email Amy and say something a certain way that we haven’t seen before, that’s a new data point and is something our engineers take into consideration to improve the product.”
And because these new data points were so useful for the further refinement of x.ai, the company stacked its wait list with users anxious to use the product. With so much demand though, x.ai was forced to reinvent the wait list process in order to keep those waiting engaged. Here’s how they did it:
Using the Wait List as a Growth Tactic
By allowing so many people onto their wait list, x.ai created a bit of a conundrum for itself. How should they keep those waiting on the list still excited and interested in the product? Well, x.ai decided to let people game the system and serve the company’s marketing efforts along the way.
“We recognized that people signing up for access simply wanted some clarity on where they stood,” says Coulombe. “We worked closely with our engineering team to build this really sophisticated platform. It didn’t have much to do with the product, but it was essential to helping us acquire and retain would-be users.”
In the end, Coulombe realized it wasn’t enough just to give future customers clarity on where they stood in the line. They actually wanted to be able to influence their position. So Coulombe, along with help from x.ai’s engineering team, gave people the ability to influence their destiny, so to speak.
“Once you enter your email to join the wait list,” says Coulombe, “You’re brought to a page that shows you which wait group you’re in. From there, the page gives you the ability to move up a few spots based on a few courses of action.”
Those on the wait list can move up in line by either giving x.ai a shout out on social media and / or referring their friends and colleagues to register as well. And, for an added bonus, those who connect with x.ai on social platforms can move up even further.
“It’s all user driven, but it benefits both the users and x.ai in the end. The more people who share about us on social, the more who join our list and the cycle continues.”
Balancing Growth with the Right On-boarding Strategy
While x.ai’s wait list grew and Coulombe fulfilled his mandate of building as much demand as possible, he needed to maintain a careful balance.
“We definitely had to maintain a balance between the capacity we can handle in our beta product and the number of people we let onto the wait list,” says Coulombe. “We wanted to keep that wait list moving along. We didn’t want people to feel that they’ve been waiting for too long.”
To do so, x.ai sent those on the wait list regular communication to keep them excited. And as noted above, users could check their status whenever they wanted to. But, perhaps more importantly than telling users where they stood on the list, x.ai made sure those waiting were primed and ready to take full advantage of x.ai once the doors opened last month. (Now anyone can sign up for x.ai’s Professional edition.)
“During the sign up process, we make sure users are ready to go the second we can give them full access to the product. We set their time zone preferences and connect their default calendar so that once they come off the wait list all they have to do is copy Amy on an email, and they’re good to go.”
In an effort to revolutionize something as antiquated and mind-numbing as scheduling, x.ai has also managed to change the way potential customers wait for and are introduced to the product. Two pretty cool accomplishments for a company still in its early days.