Design Think in action

Dusting off the Ecosystemville console… I thought I’d share a great post by a member of my past Developer Evangelism team, Demian Borba. He’s now a Product Manager at Adobe and well, is doing great stuff there!  Read Demian’s insightful post here.  How can you apply Design Thinking best practices to your product?

Advertisements

How’s it going? Better than we ever admitted.

Up until this week, we’ve reported that our BlackBerry 10 App Ecosystem was the fastest growing for a new smartphone OS launch, namely 70K apps at our announcement, and 100K a month later by the time actual phone hardware shipped.  This week, we announced our growth rate continues, we’re up to 120K Z10 apps available in our BlackBerry World catalog today.  Impressive work by our great Ecosystem, 50K apps added since BlackBerry 10 announce!

This however is only part of the story.  Yesterday my boss Alec Saunders disclosed the other half, when you combine all the apps the team acquired last year, it’s over 250K apps for BlackBerry 10, BlackBerry OS (our old OS) and PlayBookOS!  This is in one year, with the same team, both launching a new platform and continuing to work with existing app developers.

What did we learn during this last year?  I’ve already covered many of the lessons here on my blog, but in this case much of the credit for BlackBerry OS goes to our great worldwide BlackBerry Developer Community, who’s commitment to share their BlackBerry OS expertise with others was truly outstanding.  Many of these Community members are part of our BlackBerry Elite, recognizing the top BlackBerry App Developers around the globe.  So, without working closely with our Developer Community, this last year would never have been possible.

Investing in your community pays multiple dividends.  They are your best advocates and Evangelists, and by investing in them, they will reward you with strong support like we saw at BlackBerry.  Do you have a Community recognition program?  If so, do you talk to them every week?  And more importantly, are you listening, they’ll tell you how things are really going out in your Ecosystem.

Customer, Customer, Customer

This week I traveled down in Palo Alto to attend Relay Ventures Strictly Mobile event thank you to John Occhipinti for inviting us to attend.  The event featured CEO speakers and panelists from Education, Healthcare, Connected Home and Enterprise mobile startups, I noted that one common theme kept being discussed throughout, focus on delighting your customer first & the business model will sort itself out.   In essence customer focus is paramount, without them there is no product or service.

The speakers ranged  from Sal Kahn, founder of Khan Academny, to Ken Gullickson, COO of Evernote.  Sal talked about how even today he is recording new lessons, one or two a day that are requested by email and comments from Kahn Academy students.  Sal described how he just focused on lessons and rudimentary tools before  he had figured out how to run Kahn Academy as a financially sustainable entity.  By keeping focused on what his “customers” ask for, his team of only 40  have acquired a base of  nearly 50 million students/learners.

Ken Gullickson talked about how Evernote keeps improving the basic “free” product and in doing so have reduced customer acquisition costs.  This is  because they see strong evidence that a sizeable percentage of customers who stopped using their free version takes a second look at Evernote.  By the time they do so, Evernote has added even more customer requested features and improved ease of use, hence, they’re  likely to cause the customer to stick, and their data supports this insight.  Ken literally made the point “worry about getting the product right first, it will naturally lead you to the right business model”.

Update: As I’ve been reminded by some old MS buddies, another key lesson from Ken’s talk is what we used to call “shipping is a feature” i.e. knowing when to release the product when it’s good enough and having the discipline to do so is a key skill for any product/service team.  Thanks for the reminder guys!

Too often we get caught up gaming the business model, monetization strategy etc. and forget the basic premise that a happy customer is the overarching goal, we all know what happens in social media in the hands of a not so happy customer.

So, my take away as an evangelist is to always remember that if your startup is wondering about what the right thing to do with your API, your newest program or feature in your tools, as an evangelist you’ve got the best feedback loop in town, your customer, i.e. your developer ecosystem.  Ask them and listen to what they say you should do.  It’s always easier to “sell” something that your customer helped you design be it your product, your platform API or programs, your results will speak for themselves.  Focus on *your* customers.

When is the last time you harvested your forum feedback?  When’s the last time you asked a question on your own forum?

Focus, Focus, Focus on core value

In my Evangelism role I speak with developers and start ups all day, but when the start up is being run by an old friend, I listen carefully.  I’ve had the unique opportunity to observe my friends thoughts over a few years about developing a product or service based on his unique expertise and background over lunch or coffee.  During this time his thoughts evolved from a series of observations, to an idea, and now into a product that’s currently in development with a bunch of eager customers he and the team have already lined up.  What I’ve learned from him is another lesson of the power of focus.

Starting originally with observations of  classic  IT operational problems in big data centers,  my friend and his partners iterated through a bunch of product ideas, beginning with using streaming media and voice communications to monitor IT operations staff.  While doing this they came to a realization that they’d identified a powerful insight that’s driving their product’s core value: most problems they’d encountered are time based with location information and “who did what” being key data items.   Exactly the kind of information that a mobile phone can provide.

Turning a classic IT problem inside out, rather than using traditional data gathering  methods, they use the smartphone as the device that captures and encodes this information for their customers, turning what was a previously error prone and “after the fact” data collection problem into a real-time event creation captured using “point phone at thing (location, document, etc.), push button on UI, done”.  It’s a brilliant application of using the smartphone in a novel way.  By generalizing their observations after talking with a myriad of potential customers, they’ve actually moved to a different initial target market than IT operations.

He’s also applied some Evangelism principals we’ve discussed: like talking to customers early (evangelize early), he’s iterated rapidly on the core ideas (agile), he’s built a lean team (hire to your profile) and now he’s broadening the feedback loop (lunches with dudes like me…).

Looks like a success in progress, because the team is building an innovative product with a laser focus on maximizing via their core value.

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.

Where o where are my mobile developers?

As I pack to go to our BlackBerry Jam Europe, I’m reminded that there’s always a debate over how many developers there are in the world.   I’ve seen over the years refinements of developer trackers and developer census, I’m not going to begin to try to slice and dice that data in this post.  But, this counting gets even more controversial when you begin filtering for categories, like maybe mobile developers?

So, I have an interesting different set of metrics to share.  To meet with developers where they live, over the last year I traveled literally around the globe.  Several times over.  In addition, my  BlackBerry evangelism team (not just me…) logged 2.5 million miles.  And if you consider that I have my team spread out home based in 19 tech centers around the globe, and we did 44 developer conferences in over 30 countries you may think I have it covered.  Last year when I started at BlackBerry, this is exactly what I would have believed.

For completeness, what’s the number of countries in the world? The Internet tells me that the UN has 192 members and that the US State Department recognizes 194.  So what percentage of these countries has a developer that’s submitted an app for BlackBerry 10?  10% maybe?  That’s close to the number of countries my team reside in.  Being generous, maybe as high as 20%?

The actual number is 55%!   We have seen apps submitted from 106 countries from around the world.  Analysts have claimed that all our apps are all coming from former BBOS developers.  Not true, at launch we already have much broader global developer support for BlackBerry 10 than BBOS.

Everywhere I go, I meet with Government and University officials.  Countries big and small are all investing in Computer Science curriculum, and this is confirmation that it’s working.   Mobile software development is truly a global phenomenon.  Opportunity calls. Are you ready?