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November 07, 2016
by Derek Zumsteg

How Beta Helps Us Build a Better Product

We recently announced Simple Shared and, along with it, invited our customers to become beta testers for the product. Since then, many of you have been curious about the beta process, so we’ve enlisted Product Manager (and generally awesome guy) Derek Zumsteg to answer your burning questions.
Derek Zumsteg from Simple in a meeting with two coworkers

A month ago, we announced Simple’s Shared beta, available to our customers whose accounts are currently backed by our new partner bank, BBVA Compass. This is our first new product since the launch of Simple back in 2011, and we’re as excited as could be (and yes, it is possible to get excited about banking, if you’re into that kind of thing, like we are).

Since we announced Shared, we’ve fielded a lot of questions from curious customers who are wondering what the process is, and what they should expect. Today, I’m excited to share a look at that approach.

What is a beta?

A beta release takes something a company’s tested internally and puts it in the hands of ever-larger numbers of customers, like you. A beta release is a good thing for both our customers and Simple—customers get early access to the product and its benefits and have the opportunity to provide feedback, which in turn helps us build what our customers want. Beta testers are also able to show off those strikingly good-looking Shared cards before they go mainstream.

There were two big reasons to open Shared up in beta:

1: Banking can be complicated

As much as we test internally, our real-world relationships with people and money are so much more complicated and interesting. In trying to build something to help people be more confident in all kinds of financial relationships, we’re setting out into new territory.

2: Feedback is crucial

We’ve made hundreds of choices—large and small—in designing and building Shared. We wanted to create something special, and are already hearing how happy our employees are with the product. As much as I love my co-workers, we’re steeped in what we do every day. In order to get reliable feedback, we need to look to people outside of the company who are seeing our work and using the product for the first time.

Why is Shared different?

When we first discussed building Shared, our main goal was to give partners the same confidence with their money that we’ve given individuals. And just as we’ve never been satisfied with just copying what traditional banks have done, we set out to understand how people share their money. We started to talk to people about their problems and what they wanted to achieve, and immersed ourselves in the literature. We had to understand everything about how traditional accounts operate.

In our research, we found people didn’t understand their rights with a traditional joint bank account. They wondered, could they close the account, or remove the other person? Could their partner empty the account? What would happen if one of them died? We learned early on that to help two people begin to share money confidently, we’d need to use normal-human language to explain what will happen and how things work, not legalese. Meanwhile, we wanted to make creating a Shared account as easy as starting up an individual account. Choosing to open a Shared account is a big step for any two people, and we want to reduce, not create, stress.

Based on everything we learned in research, we built the first iteration of Shared, and began the alpha phase of testing with our employees. Through this process, we heard how the product worked, took feedback, fixed bugs, and also listened to their stories. We found that Shared helps people bond with their partners. We’re seeing that our partner stopped for groceries, which helps us feel grateful for them (and relief for ourselves) that shopping is taken care of. Or our partner texts us to put down the laptop and go eat, because they haven’t seen a lunch-buying notification. Hearing stories that what we’ve built is fostering better communication and conversations about their finances warms my icy-cold heart.

Derek Zumsteg from Simple standing in front of his computer

How does beta help Simple build?

Now that Shared is in beta, we’re asking our customers (specifically, those whose accounts are backed by BBVA Compass, our new partner bank) to try it, and give us feedback on what works (or needs work). Here’s how we’ll be acting on the feedback you give us. Let’s say that our beta testing customers are confused by Shared Goals. They’ll forward their concerns on to our Customer Relations staff who will be listening to feedback and passing that onto our team. The Shared team will then step back, re-examine why we decided to build Shared Goals that way, and come up with some additional approaches that our crack User Research team will then show to customers to see what works best for them. At the same time, we’ll be watching behind the scenes to ensure everything stays fast and reliable as more people come on, and as we add features for our beta customers. And, it goes without saying that we’re interested in your experiences, and would love to hear your Shared story as you begin to use the product.

As we continue to build Shared, security is our main priority; we know we must be careful with your money. Our product isn’t just another game or organizational app, it’s the service you bank with, and we work hard to protect you. We’ve exercised that same caution when rolling out and improving new features over the years—like Goals or Block Card— you can trust we’ll bring the same intentional roll-out to a full-blown new product. Shared is a whole different beast. It’s taken us a lot of patience and time, and to begin to launch something of this magnitude, designed for multiple people rather than individuals, we’ve had to make sure our back-end technology was ready for it, and now we’re making sure it’s ready for you.

I’m on the waitlist; what’s next?

Because we’re being cautious and making changes as we go, we can’t tell you precisely when any one person will get their invite. Part of making changes involves bringing in beta testers for specific things—maybe we’re improving the experience of iOS users. Maybe we’re working on Android users with large screens and more than one Goal. What we’re building and testing for is going to inform whom we bring on next.

So if you’re on the waitlist right now, thank you for being patient. We’re starting small, and with each cast our net will grow wider. Regardless of your mobile platform or account balance (or whatever thing we’re testing for), rest assured when we need folks like you, we’ll seek you out, and we always tap customers who have been with us longest first.

If you’re on the waitlist and your Simple account is currently backed by The Bancorp Bank, you’re in luck because you’ll be getting the opportunity to migrate your account over to BBVA Compass. (You’ll get an email to start that process.)

Where do I sign up?

If you’re excited about all this, and you’re not on the waitlist, what are you doing? Click the link below to sign up. This is your chance to help build the product that you want to use, knowing that’s what we want to make together.

Join the Waitlist

Disclaimer: Hey! Welcome to our disclaimer. Here’s what you need to know to safely consume this blog post: Any outbound links in this post will take you away from Simple.com, to external sites in the wilds of the internet; neither Simple nor our partner banks, The Bancorp Bank and BBVA Compass, endorse any linked-to websites; and we didn’t pay/barter with/bribe anyone to appear in this post. And as much as we wish we could control the cost of things, any prices in this article are just estimates. Actual prices are up to retailers, manufacturers, and other people who’ve been granted magical powers over digits and dollar signs.