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3 Tips for Turning Your Classmates Into Beta Testers Student entrepreneur David Chait shares his tips for gaining feedback from the diverse college community.

By David Donner Chait

WSJ

If you're a college entrepreneur like me, you likely run a lean, bootstrapped startup. Despite the many advantages of this approach, one thing we clearly lack is the funds to pay for market research. But don't fret, your campus is an unbelievable free resource that can help you test your concept at the earliest stages as you prepare to launch.

When I first founded Travefy, a tool that aims to simplify group travel, I knew that what seemed like an amazing idea to me, could easily be lost on a wider audience. As such, early concept testing was vital.

Related: How to Never Miss a Chance to Hype Your Startup

Luckily, we didn't need to look any further than my campus for the support and resources necessary. We tested our product on the campus' entrepreneurial community including a class called "Launching New Ventures" and the school-led incubator. The results have been fantastic: Deep, thoughtful and honest feedback that has provided the critical response necessary to get Travefy to the beta we want for launch.

Here are three key lessons I've learned that can help you take advantage of free testing resources on your campus:

1. Discuss your idea early and often for validation. From the moment of ideation through product development, you should continuously talk to potential customers (i.e., those on your campus) about your product area and the problem you're solving. Don't lead them on or pitch them, just listen to their views on problems and required solutions. For the Travefy team, this process helped us to refine our product as we learned that the true pain point of group travel was aligning date and location preferences.

Related: Want to Make Key Industry Contacts? Tap Into Local Resources

2. Campuses are big and diverse, get outside your bubble. Like my campus, which has a diverse array of undergraduate schools, graduate programs, community offerings and professional offices, your campus too has a diverse sampling useful to help you test your idea. We were able to talk with everyone from 18-year-old technophiles, to soccer moms and Nascar dads, to retired techno-phobes, purely by sitting in different libraries, eateries and coffee shops across campus.

3. Reach out to your on-campus startup community. For deeper assessment, like A/B testing, user experience and bugs, many people look to paid sites for assistance. But, for lean campus startups this may not be in the cards. So know that your campus' entrepreneurial scene has a pay-it-forward mentality and will gladly do the heavy lifting.

How have you leveraged the campus community to grow your startup? Let us know in the comments section.

David Donner Chait is a second-year student at Columbia Business School and the co-founder of Travefy, a free online tool that helps groups simplify their travel. He previously served as senior policy advisor at the U.S. Small Business Administration and worked as a consultant at McKinsey & Company. He holds a B.A. in economics-political science from Columbia College.

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