Startup guru Paul Graham is known for saying “make something people want.” This mantra resonates with entrepreneurs everywhere, and yet the simple concept is harder to execute than it seems.

To help startups unlock the elusive user mindset, Erli Bird connects fledgling companies with early adopters. The platform puts early stage companies in touch with people interested in trying out their products.

Founder Michael Siegler says this solves the chicken-and-egg problem for startups.

“One of the biggest problems for every startup is finding initial users and ensuring that you’re providing a valuable product/service that actually solves a problem,” he said. “Many startups invest thousands of dollars and never achieve a user base large enough to test an idea. Other companies spend months in development without ever connecting with customers and, upon launching, quickly find out they’ve made big mistakes or solved the wrong problem entirely.”

Erli Bird promises startups the opportunity to collect constructive feedback and react accordingly to create a more compelling product. And it promises users the chance to participate in the entrepreneurial ecosystem and have exclusive access to companies before they go public.

“Early adopters love to discover innovative new technology and have their voice heard,” Siegler said. They love to have an impact in building a company and get a chance to meet and influence real startups and the people building them. This experience is something that’s missing and very different from the glamorized idea that many people have of the startup world.”

Erli Bird companies are featured on the homepage for a few weeks. During this time period, 25 to 500 slots are available for beta testers. Participants receive points for signing up and meeting objectives, which are redeemable for prizes chosen by the startup, like gift cards, promotional items, discounts, or freebies. 

The inspiration for Erli Bird came after Siegler was not accepted into Paul Graham’s Y Combinator program. The rejection got him thinking about the challenges of finding the startup “secret sauce,” and he began asking his founder friends if they would be interested in a service that let them put their app, site, or gadget in front of quality users without fear of backlash or failure.

Since June, Erli Bird has accrued 15,000 users and worked with an elite group of startups. Members of incubator programs, like TechStars and Y Combinator, as well as venture capital portfolio companies, have used Erli Bird to test out ideas and new features.