Ricavision shows how not to run a beta program

[Update 19-May: Ricavision responds.]

At CES 2007 (nearly a year-and-a-half ago) my Windows Vista Inside Out co-author Carl Siechert and I visited (separately) with Ricavision, which was pitching their Windows SideShow-enabled Media Center remote control. The idea is awesome. You can, in theory, browse your entire music collection on the device display and control music playback without having to turn on a TV or monitor. You can also browse your collection of digital photos. Unfortunately, they weren’t able to offer a demo. The demo unit had been damaged in shipping or something. But I was allowed to hold the (non-functioning) device.

A few months later, I contacted the company’s PR person asking about the status of the product and got a terse reply informing me his company no longer had the account and that the product had been delayed.

In the year since then, the company has made some truly bizarre decisions, which I outline in the extended text of this post. The story offers a case study in how not to treat customers.

Fast-forward to CES 2008. This time Ricavision has a large demo room in the high-end audio section of CES. I show up for a demo, and this time the prototype seems to work. The people are pleasant, and the company seems professional. I tell them I’m looking forward to reviewing the unit when it’s ready for shipping to customers. It should be ready in March, I’m told.

Fast-forward to April 14, when I receive an e-mail from Ricavision with the subject line "Ricavision needs Beta Testers for the VAVE100." It reads, in part:

Be the first to Test the VAVE100 SideShow Universal Remote Control, We are accepting Candidates for our Volunteer Beta Testing Program!!

Have a unit shipped directly to you before anyone else in the world, put the device through rigorous testing or simply watch performance in everyday situations. Provide Ricavision with your documented findings and keep the VAVE100.

Hurry, we have units for each global region but space is limited.

"Provide Ricavision with your documented findings and keep the VAVE100." Sounds like they’re offering to compensate testers who provide valuable feedback by letting them keep the test unit, doesn’t it? I clicked the link, filled in my contact details (which they already had from my business cards at CES 2007 and 2008), and sent the application off.

Nine days later, I received this e-mail from Ricavision:

Congratulations! You have been pre-qualified to participate in Ricavision’s exclusive VAVE100 Beta Testing program.  We here at Ricavision share in your excitement for the 2008 Summer release of the highly anticipated VAVE100 Universal Remote Control and are thrilled to have the high volume of early adopters eager to assist with our Beta Testing Program in order to deliver the highest quality product to the market.

Woo-hoo! Lucky me!

Attached to your acceptance email there are two forms that we ask you fill out …


The first form is the VAVE100 Beta Testing Order Form and the second form is a Credit Card Authorization form, both are required to complete the order request. Please be sure that both documents are filled out correctly and in their entirety as any incomplete forms will be rejected.

Credit card authorization? For a beta test?

The purchase price is $349.00 per unit plus shipping cost, delivery times will vary upon destination.

Seems a little steep, doesn’t it? And don’t even ask about the shipping costs, which start at $15.85 for the U.S., jump to $33.25 for Canada, and are $47+ (USD) for the rest of the world. And to top it all off, you have to fill in the credit card authorization form and submit it, but only 50 people will be selected from the pool of respondents.

In fine print at the bottom of the letter:

Return Policy: All returns must be received within 45 days from purchase date. Returns will be accepted under the premise that the device has moderate issues concerning functionality. Upon receipt of beta unit, a mass production unit will be shipped out to you.

And here’s the kicker. According to the Windows SideShow Team Blog, this same product is now available for pre-order at Amazon.com. The price? $349. Shipping? Free.

So, Ricavision solicits people to help with its testing, implying that those who provide useful feedback will get to keep the product. Instead, it charges testers full retail price plus high shipping costs for the product, and offers not even a hint of any compensation or even a goodwill gesture for those who participate actively.

If I were assembling a checklist of ways to screw up a beta test and piss off potential customers, I would basically just use this package as the template.

I didn’t send a credit card authorization form. I did, however, send an e-mail to my contacts at Ricavision requesting comment and received no reply.

Did you apply for the beta program as well? If so, how’s it going? Leave a comment below.

6 thoughts on “Ricavision shows how not to run a beta program

  1. Ed:
    You have every right (write?) to flay Ricavision in public for this nonsense.

    I have participated in many beta programs over the years. I have never paid for the privilege and never will. As you know, it takes a lot of time and effort to be a good beta tester. Companies need us more than we need them. I often think that my compensation – an opportunity to see something before it becomes public and perhaps to influence development – is inadequate to the effort I expend. Yet I keep on doing it anyway. It is part of the price we pay to keep up with technology.

    I participated in a Cisco beta program late last year. They sent me the network equipment they wanted tested at their expense and they never asked for it to be returned. How do you think I feel about them compared to Ricavision? You are right I have high regards for Cisco and low regards for Ricavision. Furthermore, I will not recommend a company that treats its beta testers so poorly to my clients.

    They really stuck their foot in it with this one.

  2. Ed, I received the same emails from Ricavision and passed up beta testing their VAVE100 remote for the exact reasons you stated above. I totally agree not a way to run a beta program. Very disappointing 😦

  3. I also received the emails for the beta, I guess fortunately I wasn’t accepted because all the slots were full. I have beta tested many, many products, some were even remote controls you may be familiar with, but I never heard of a beta test that required its participants to pay to play. Some beta tests did require a credit card on retainer to ensure the return of the prototype/test unit, but nothing was charged unless you didn’t return it. Could that be what they were intending?

    I think the beta test was intended more for dealers since I have received followup emails for their – “VAVE Family Remote Control Concensus Contest and be entered to win a free VAVE100”, which was targeting dealers and resellers.

    Still its a pretty shoddy way to run a beta.

  4. I also passed on this “opportunity” when I read the details in the acceptance letter. The best part is the return policy: If you take them at their word, the returned unit must be received by Ricavision within 45 days of the purchase date. That presumably includes any delay time between the time you place the order and when they get around to shipping it, as well as shipping time in both directions. As stated in the letter, you must submit the forms no later than May 15, and the beta program runs through July 1, so if you actually test it from June 1-July 1, as they request, you won’t qualify for a return. And what do you get if you do return it in time? A production unit. If the letter is to be believed, you can’t get your money back, no matter how bad the product turns out to be.

    I’d consider buying from Amazon or other online vendor — cheaper and a reasonable return policy — but I’m so disenchanted with Ricavision after watching them stumble around for the past year and a half that I plan to boycott this product and company altogether.

  5. Hi, I became a beta tester and I have never made a test like this before. I have just bought my first Media Center PC and found that this remote looked great and I wanted to try out Sideshow. I also didn’t understand why I had to pay for testing, but I payed.
    Now I haven’t heard from Ricavision for many weeks and I have heard from another beta tester that they have financial problems 😦
    I was on 3 weeks holiday when the remote arrived and I waited many days for my remote to come from the danish customs, I had to pay close to 100$ in duty 😦 I will now try to return the remote and hope to get my money back if they can’t promise me a production version. The other beta tester got his money back.

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