It was 1989 and Microsoft was facing down a daunting three pronged product strategy: first to continue evolving DOS, second to garner support for the nascent DOS based GUI environment named “Windows” and third building an entirely new operating system with then partner IBM called “OS/2”. How can the company possibly deliver application software for all three operating systems?
Ever vigilant of competitors strategies and tactics, Microsoft noted the seeming success of Apple Computer’s “Evangelists”. A team was quickly assembled to answer this Apple threat, and in what would be become a common Microsoft tactic, made the role it’s own by tweaking the title to “Technical Evangelist”. This team was called the Microsoft Developer Relations Group and was Microsoft’s first evangelism team. I was part of this team and the lessons we learned way back then continue to be applicable today.
From the beginning Microsoft’s Technical Evangelists were very different than Apple’s team. First and foremost, we were all developers. We had coded apps for Windows, Unix, workstations, mini and mainframe computers. In contrast most of Apple’s Evangelists were MBAs and were non-technical. Secondly, our evangelists were laser focused on helping partners deliver their code, gain distribution in the channel and market their products. Apple Evangelists, in a weird bit of foreshadowing, delivered an “experience meeting” more like a big tent revival. As the other Japanese American technology evangelist in the industry at that time, I was always hearing comparisons to Apple’s Guy Kawasaki. Although he and I had the same goal, to lock up ISV platform investment, we employed very different tactics. During these early days of evangelism I heard many times that “Guy was here last week…” then “.. you guys are very different…” and most importantly that “… we’ve decided to do the Windows version of our app first”.
I’ve never forgotten this lesson. Every Evangelism, Ecosystem and even Business Development teams I’ve built are made up of articulate, driven, technical, and entrepreneurial individuals. My BlackBerry Developer Evangelism team is yet another example of hiring to this model. Many of my current team have run their own startups and are already identified as industry luminaries in their area of specialization. Ok, a few of them also have their MBAs, we try not to hold that against them.