Back in 2010, Marc Köhlbrugge was developing an iPad app called Openmargin, which let users share notes in the margins of ebooks.
Openmargin was just ready for beta testing, but Köhlbrugge didn’t have anyone to test it out.
So he devised a plan. He decided to create a very basic site called Beta List, which he then pitched to TechCrunch as “a curated overview of the latest beta lists across the web.”
The idea was that on the off chance TechCrunch decided to feature this fake site, Köhlbrugge would then feature Openmargin on Beta List and get himself some free beta testers.
He sent them a brief press release along with a link to the thrown-together site, which, at the time, looked like this:
To Köhlbrugge’s surprise, the trick actually worked. After only 12 hours, he got a response back from Alexia Tsotsis, co-editor at TechCrunch, asking for more information. And within a day, TechCrunch had an article up, and Köhlbrugge was getting hundreds of followers on the Beta List Twitter account he threw together.
Köhlbrugge quickly featured his Openmargin app on Beta List and easily got 200 people to sign up for the beta. Operation: Get-Free-Testers was complete.
In the meantime though, Beta List was actually catching on, with Forbes and other blogs picking up on the TechCrunch story. And Köhlbrugge decided to actually stick with it.
Fast forward a few years and Beta List is going strong, despite the fact it all began as a hoax.
For more on Beta List’s origins, check out Köhlbrugge’s post on Medium.