Great Vision, Great Execution

I may be BlackBerry’s Evangelism Team’s Sensei, but I’m not the Sensei of all things smartphone or even mobile devices.  Lucky for me, I get to work every day with colleagues who literally invented the smartphone category.  For example, I just had dinner with colleagues from the Enterprise Products team at BlackBerry and gained insights about how the requirements of operating mobile devices connected to the Enterprise lead to what we think of as core BlackBerry strengths re: security and manageability.

What I’m struck by as I’ve learned more about the evolution of BlackBerry’s Enterprise products is how the team’s very forward looking initial product vision continues to make product feature decisions easy to make even in today’s BYOD world.   In fact, it appears to me this makes BlackBerry the most “BYOD Ready” platform on the market today, yet “BYOD” wasn’t on the radar when the team crafted their product vision many product cycles ago.

What can we learn from this as Evangelists?  As a team, a strong shared vision and mission provides clarity for the team every day, but especially in moments of crisis or indecision.  At BlackBerry our team’s mission is to “Make BlackBerry the best business partner for App Developers.”  Period.  To begin with, this means many different things to us, like are we making things easier, faster and more profitable for our developers?  Are we helping them see additional opportunities worldwide with their apps?  You get the idea.

Up front clarity of vision and mission enables you see more clearly your desired end point, hence, helps you reach your destination faster and with fewer detours and false starts.

What’s your team’s vision and mission?

Don’t stop believing

Not to worry, I’m not going to launch into Journey’s power ballad….

It appears that the negative coverage is now increasing on my old friends in Windows Phone.  I joined the BlackBerry team just over a year ago, and in that time one skill I’ve “exercised” is to read the recent coverage of BlackBerry, process that information and to simply continue executing on the path we’d already charted.  This is something that a good Evangelist needs to do, believe in your own technology.  In the face of such constant, negative and well, sometimes actually quite amusing coverage, how do you keep the team moving forward?

Focus on what you can do, not what you can’t control.

It’s easy to get caught up and react to negativity.   So, early last year we learned that we had to carry our message out to developers ourselves.  This lead us to launch our now infamous 44 city BlackBerry Jam World Tour.  We could control our own messaging only if we could deliver it directly to developers without someone else’s spin or agenda.  We counted on this core of developers to carry our unfiltered message out to their community.  It seemed like a good idea and really was the best option available.  So we did, simple as that.

Another example was fighting the “vaporware” problem.  Being a former Microsoft Technical Evangelist, having to manage an Ecosystem to a new set of target dates was something I, er, was used to doing?  Anyways, we couldn’t control the speculation about “if BlackBerry 10 would ever ship” but what we decided to do is let developers experience it first hand.  We launched the biggest seeding program of it’s type in the industry.  Developers could monitor our progress build to build, SDK release to SDK release and see that BlackBerry 10 was real.

When you’re facing a situation like we’ve faced at BlackBerry, set realistic expectations with your team and management &  know it always takes longer than you think for your message to carry.   But the most important thing is to actively go out into the Ecosystem, tell your story and watch something great happen.

Old School Rules!

Hal Berenson, former Microsoft Distinguished Engineer, writes an amazing  blog about his insights into past and present goings on at our former employer, but in this post he drills into what’s gone wrong with Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 evangelism.  I have to say, I totally agree with Hal, the WP8 evangelism approach of Apple-like secrecy was plain wrong, and ignored all the hard won lessons of the MS Evangelism Playbook.

As one of Microsoft’s original Evangelists and co-originators of the PDC and founder of WinHEC, the former Windows software and hardware ecosystem conferences now defunct, sharing as much technical information as early as we could was instrumental to building support for each release of Windows I worked on. I talked about this in an earlier post, how evangelizing products early paid off for Microsoft and now BlackBerry.  Hal focuses on the feedback angle, realize at Microsoft we had smaller and NDA only feedback sessions sometimes years in advance of the PDC to fully brief and gather feedback from the ISV community.  These were the little known Microsoft Systems Design Review series and more granular feature level design reviews we convened with key technical leaders in the industry.

At BlackBerry being open and working with the app development community early as possible has already paid dividends for BlackBerry 10 with record early support.  We see no reason to change our approach, if the rest of the industry continues down the secrecy path, so be it.  I’m happy to run this key tool from the old evangelism playbook, time tested with proven efficacy.

Evangelism question time #1

First, thank you for all your comments, feedback and questions.  I’ve really enjoyed hearing from old industry colleagues and new friends in DevRel roles around the world.  Thought I’d share some questions we’ve discussed that I think are of general interest in a round up post.

We don’t have the resources to build an Evangelism team like BlackBerry’s, can I hire a Community Manager to run my developer program?

Well, maybe.  Developers can spot other developers in a heartbeat, they can also spot someone that’s not a developer  just as quickly.  If your community manager is a developer and has participation from your Product Development Team, this may work but I’m assuming that you’ve built out an SDK, developer portal, blog, forums (yours or Stackoverflow and their ilk), Twitter and Facebook presence as prerequisites.  Your team needs to build a thoughtful and targeted key influencer program to help you scale out your message.  Evangelism is active and participatory, so, you should build a company wide understanding of your engagement model because everyone is an evangelist.

What about breadth vs. depth programs?

The funny thing about this, I get a lot of pings from former ‘Softies on this one.   This question is a classic “can I have my cake and eat it too?” resource investment problem.  Simple answer, I didn’t find the silver bullet at BlackBerry,  we bit the bullet and did both to the best of our abilities and resources.  Mind you, BlackBerry took ecosystem building seriously and invested on the order of a 10X increase in investment over anything RIM had done before but still pales in comparison to investment levels at my former employer.

Should we charge for our Developer Program?

We decided that information and SDKs should be free, however “App Certification” is paid (our Built for BlackBerry program).  I believe the time to “Hello World” is criticalonce you’ve captured a developer’s attention, so for BlackBerry we’ve focused on speeding and simplifying our programs as much as possible and still have more work to do here.

Come on, your other posts about what tactics and strategies you used are the same as everyone else, where’s the secret sauce?

Well, really there is no secret sauce, perhaps a quick summary will help.  Your single most critical success factor are the people on your team, they have to all be great hires.  All my Evangelists must be interviewed by me and Alec and have the key skills, background and “intangibles” we’ve seen in our high powered Evangelists.  Next is consistency, both in your approach on engagement, but your product design must manifest what you’re evangelizing to the community in terms of value prop and experience.  Does your firm  believe your ecosystem is strategically key to it’s success?  Believe me this commitment, or lack thereof shows through to developers and won’t invest if they feel you’re making a temporary investment.  Be approachable, the “anonymous evangelist on a forum” persona is a recipe for failure, people respond to people.  Yes, we’re in the technology business but Evangelism is a People business, it really is about hearts and minds.  Have fun, take risks and be memorable.

What do you think of what “fill in competitor name here” is doing with their Evangelism program?

Most often I get asked about my former employer, and the honest answer is I don’t know and you’ll have to do the research and form your own opinion.  If you’re asking me to benchmark what we do vs. others, something I learned at my former employer and my read of the Steve Jobs biography is that Apple also observes, adopts and “owns” strategies and tactics we all see in play developed by others in the industry.  You should too.

 

Fun with statistics

In the run up to our launch in the USA, I suspect discussion of  the number of Android titles in BlackBerry World will again surface.  First a bit of history to frame my thoughts here.

Historically platform changes have always been a high risk/reward proposition, and the industry continues to exhibit behavior described by Geoffrey Moore in his classic Crossing the Chasm.   Using Moore’s terms, to encourage  “pragmatists” to adopt lead to creation of a  two part platform introduction strategy.  First, focus all evangelism on the new platform to attract the “early adopters” and secondly supply tools or a porting layer to enable a move from the incumbent platform to the new target to decrease risk for the “pragmatists”.

Does this work?  Yes, over the many platform changes I’ve overseen on the PC use of porting tools/layers have been effective tactic, but I’ve not seen as an effective implementation and execution as we’ve done at BlackBerry.  While the speculated number of Android ported apps in BlackBerry World grossly overshoots the actual numbers, what’s important is the number of “pragmatist” partners who used the porting layer to ship a BlackBerry 10 app for launch with minimal risk.  Based on observed BB10 results/downloads these partners are now working on native BlackBerry 10 Cascades apps that fully integrate with the BlackBerry Hub, for them, the porting layer served it’s purpose.  This is a textbook example of the platform change strategy in execution and over the coming months we’ll all enjoy this second wave of  native BlackBerry 10 apps.

Every year, we’re getting… younger?

At BlackBerry Jam Europe, I was asked what was surprising to me about working with the BlackBerry developer community over the last year; and I replied how rapidly the average age of developers is decreasing.  This observation is supported by both market research sources, and what I have observed first hand.

Last summer on the BlackBerry Jam World Tour, part of the event was a “lightning pitch” contest.  We usually had ten to twelve developers participate; they had five minutes to demo and pitch their app to the crowd.  What was notable is that the youngest winner of a lightning round was sixteen years old!  The youngest “pitcher” that participated was 13!  There were many exceptional young people who competed, all of whom had demonstrated advanced programming skills, and were not afraid to speak in front of audiences of several hundred people.

At our events I speak with college students who have already published multiple apps on multiple platforms.  What’s fascinating is the degree of sophistication they possess; they tell me about analyzing download and sales data and how that lead them to localize their apps to better target other countries.  Others instrument their code to see what their customers are really doing with their apps.  I had a group this week walk me through all the different business models they’ve tried with their apps, from free w/ads to paid and even in app purchase and how they’ve optimized the revenue potential of their apps, this is phenomenal.

I always leave our events inspired by the passion and creativity of the developers I meet.  But these young developers who have developed such great technical and business skills so young, I can’t wait to see what they are going to do next.

Anatomy of a developer mind share turnaround

Today at BlackBerry Jam Europe 2013, my boss Alec Saunders (VP BlackBerry Ecosystems) announced that several leading developer research firms have reported a 28% to 38% developer primary target of BlackBerry 10.  To understand the magnitude of this reversal of fortune one must realize that during January 2012 NPS reports showed a developer sentiment of -40 for BlackBerry overall, so we achieved this turnaround during a single year with highly charged events occurring like the CEO changeover, network and financial issues.

I’ve previously discussed how operationally we quickly innovated on various well known evangelism tactics as a team and how that both focuses and unifies the team.   This also enabled us to try different tactics and strategies running simultaneously.  However, to achieve the developer mind share turnaround we need to take a year long look back.

First: While our team monitors and highly values third party research,  nothing beats actually talking to developers yourself.  Research inherently lags actual developer mindshare, our entire team “talks” to developers face to face and via popular forums constantly.  As I’ve always said, developers will tell you what they want, you just need to listen, then act, quickly.

Second: Consistency of strategy and message.  This must be based on real capabilities of your platform and tools.  While we’ve refined our developer message to “Beautiful, Integrated & Social” we started the year with a bit wordier and more conceptual version of the same messaging.   Your SDK must enable your developers to embrace and implement the key features and technologies that make your message a reality, they quickly dismiss any “marketing only” platforms.

Third: Live your own value prop.  Your own apps or features need to consistently manifest the same qualities that you are messaging to the developers.  At my old employers this was called “dogfooding”.

Fourth: Early access.  I’ve already talked about early evangelism in a previous post.

Fifth: Have fun!  Alec, Marty and Chris made the now infamous rock videos to just have fun with our developer community.  This is the true ethos of our approach to evangelism, to enjoy working with the community and share the love.

One last thing, read an analysts take on our approach to developers that he witnessed at our European conference today, said it better than I am able to.