Beta Test Banter
The Real Life Ventures and Adventures of Trey and Batman
by Trey Nosrac
Long curtains fluttered below high ceilings. China cabinets stood guard on hardwood floors. You could feel the ghosts, good ghosts. The interior of the farmhouse could have been a movie set for an episode of Sherlock Holmes on Masterpiece Theater, an old version, not the new series where Sherlock has a cell phone and DNA testing.
My new horse partner now shared the house with this mother; a sweet, tidy woman of 77 named Ann was between heart surgery and a hip replacement. She was sleeping upstairs while her son, Tom, a recent retiree from the digital wars, sat on a cane-backed chair at the table of the large oak dining room set. He was wearing a crisp blue t-shirt and cargo shorts. He was suspiciously trim for a man in his fifties.
He was working on a harness racing project on his iPad.
I was working on my second beer on the blue sofa against the wall. I was also on my cell phone, nervously watching my screen for the results of a photo finish on the third race at Plainview Racetrack.
The dining room and living room were mission control for an odd project where I would aid and abet. Every few minutes he leaned back from the screen of his electronic teepee, gave a sniff, took off his reading glasses, put them back on and then again leaned into his task.
The photo finish did not go my way. It never does. I punched off my phone and snapped at my new partner. “What the hell is this secret plan, why did you buy a yearling, and why all the hush-hush?”
“I’m creating drama for a new product, it’s a slow reveal.”
“What friggin product?”
“A use of your sport.”
“Well, that explains nothing.”
He closed his iPad, and said, “The horses, people, accessibility, drama, and gambling are enough to make me believe drawing new people is possible – there is a chance.”
“That sounds like a Silicon Valley Super Sales campaign to secretly infect minds.”
“Absolutely not. For this project, we do not sell, we give.”
I sighed, “You’re supposed to be Batman, not The Riddler. Let’s go with English and without cryptic messages for a few minutes.”
He gathered his thoughts and said, “Okay, building a following for a niche sport is not easy. It never was easy, and it never will be easy. Harness racing has the same problems as everyone else. Do you think chess is booming, bowling alleys are gold mines, or car racing is a good investment? In the bigger world, these sports barely have a pulse.”
I held up my phone, “We’ve got gambling. In fact, I just made a $50 deposit for the harness horse racing cause.”
He spoke softly, “The gambling money will erode.”
His tone made me fear he knew the score. I didn’t push back.
“Trey, if this project comes together, money will not be the only driver of interest – we will be.”
“I want to gently invite a very specific audience to take an adventure with me, to take the trip in privacy and at their own pace. We are in search of a select group with enough curiosity to give us a look. I am looking for access to a thousand people who do not know the sport or do not understand the nuances. They do not pay for a ticket to ride. There is no ask of my audience. This beta test will be a gift.”
“The yearling, they follow it?”
“Yes, and they can follow it in many ways, ways that were never before possible.”
I fake slapped my forehead, “Giving your money away, gosh, why didn’t I think of that?” I snapped my fingers, “Hey, here’s my plan, it’s not mysterious, just give me the money and skip the bullshit.”
He shook his head and said, “You don’t want that, that’s not a challenge, I know enough about you to know that you always want to try something unique.”
I rolled my eyes, “Unique has not always been kind to me.”
“Yes it has, you’re one of the lucky ones. In your heart, you know that the next best thing to playing to win is playing to lose. You go up on the wire. The money is a sideshow.”
“Sideshow? My money is a freak show, a very small freak show. Your money is a freak show, a very, very big freak show. So, when do you pull the trigger on this insanity?”
He nodded at his closed iPad, “That’s exactly what I was wrestling with today. Timing is important, very important. Originally, the yearling we bought last month was going to be our test horse. It still may be, but it’s such a long time between the sale and the first race. I’m worried about our viewers, about keeping interest that long.”
I nodded, “Yeah, from November to July — eight months of nothingness with a baby horse is for crazy people. I know, I’ve been crazy a dozen times.”
He said, “Well, it is not nothingness, and it is not crazy, but it is too long. I want to cut the time for new visitors in half, maybe start the project around March.”
I clicked my fingers next to both of my ears in excitement, “What if we give your audience a promising horse that didn’t race at two? A 3-year-old would race sooner, and race more often.” I kept clicking like a lunatic, “I know a horse that would be perfect.”
He smiled and shifted gears, “Let’s work on two tracks.”
I winced. “Was that pun intended?”
“No pun intended.” He continued, “You line up the horse and a trainer. I will create a pool of new visitors, maybe the community of people dealing with Parkinson’s disease.”
We gave a fist bump to seal the deal.
I asked, “You sure I can’t just have the cash?”