With uTest, U Find Software Bugs, U Save

There’s no such thing as a flawless software application: the only question is how many bugs its developers had time to catch and fix before release, and how many will be discovered by customers. And with software being written today for so many different platforms and operating systems, from servers to desktops to mobile devices to Web browsers, it’s becoming harder and harder for software companies’ in-house testers to try out their creations in every context where businesspeople or consumers are likely to encounter them.

That’s why more software makers are outsourcing all or part of their quality assurance (QA) process to specialized testing firms in places like India and China. And it’s why a new Boston firm called uTest thinks it can make it big by building a global community of thousands of freelance QA testers, available to test software at a moment’s notice in any environment where a program is likely to run.

Need to see whether your new Web service works on the Safari browser for Mac users in Germany? No problem—uTest, which has been serving a couple of dozen pilot customers since April and opened its doors for general business yesterday—has testers there who can try it out. In fact, the company has assembled a network of more than 8,000 testers worldwide—some 10 percent of the world’s entire population of professional software QA testers, according to uTest CEO and co-founder Doron Reuveni.

“QA is a big business,” says Reuveni. “Applications today need to operate in complicated combinations of platforms and networks, and hiring a staff and building an infrastructure for doing software testing internally is not always cost effective. The fact that we have access to such a large community of professional testers has allowed us to take that big business and provide it on demand.”

An “on-demand” approach gets around several of the inefficiencies built into the traditional software testing business, in Reuveni’s view. For one thing, most QA outsourcing deals require a long-term contract. But by doling out bug-finding work through uTests’s software-as-a-service platform, software makers only have to pay testers when they’re actually working toward a new release.

And QA often suffers from its own lack of QA: software companies usually have to pay up on their outsourcing contracts whether or not they’re getting back a lot of high-quality, actionable bug reports. But on uTest’s platform, clients accept or reject each report manually, and are only charged for those they accept. “We like our customers to pay solely for performance,” says Reuveni.

Reuveni and co-founder Roy Solomon started uTest last year to prove that this new, more flexible model could save software companies money and time. They’ve collected $2.2 million in venture funding from the Massachusetts Technology Development Corporation and Connecticut-based Mesco Ltd., a private financial advisory boutique that previously funded Greenfield Online, an online community of paid citizen panelists who provide feedback on consumer products. And they recruited their own community of QA testers by putting the word out through Facebook, LinkedIn, and key blogs frequented by QA professionals.

Testers who put in a couple of hours of work each day can make $250 to $300 a week, Reuveni says. UTest makes money by taking a slice of its clients’ per-bug payments. The percentage kept by uTest—like the per-bug fees themselves—varies according to the number of testers assigned to each software release, the type of application being tested, and other factors.

You might think that the pay-per-bug model would give some uTest clients a way to find out about important problems and then evade paying for the bug reports simply by rejecting them. But during uTest’s pilot period over the last few months, the model has worked well, with a very low percentage of reports being … Next Page »

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Wade Roush is a freelance science and technology journalist and the producer and host of the podcast Soonish. Follow @soonishpodcast

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