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?
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?
Today I read a tweet, that lead me to read a great blog post, that lead me to think once again about a subject that I’ve discussed once before. Although the subject of the blog post is “Who’s responsible for sales?”, when you read this just do a mental cut and paste and substitute the word “Evangelism” for “Sales”.
In a company with a core platform offering, the same “we’re all in this together” mentality is required to build, evangelize, sell and support your API to developers much earlier in the cycle than putting your product in the hands of your first customer. In many ways, if you don’t think about the developer community as customer number one, you’re probably going to have a hard time offering customer number two, the consumer, any sustained differentiation.
I’ve touched on this once before in a previous post, bottom line, if a platform orientation is critical to your product or business success, then everyone on your team, better yet, your whole company, is an Evangelist. While I’m an Evangelist all day, everyday, your whole firm needs to view developers as strategic partners, and your most important early audience and hence, treat each interaction with them as an opportunity to Evangelize. Who knows, they may like what they see and turn into the best Evangelists of your platform. This approach worked for us at BlackBerry, and I know if you’re committed, will also work for you.
Thanks for all the kind email today from industry friends around the world both old and new, yes, BlackBerry’s back in the fight as evidenced by today’s quarterly earnings report. I for one am glad our BlackBerry CEO Thorstein Heins could actually say the word “profits” in a sentence today.
That said, reflecting back on a year ago and the situation at hand through the lens of an Evangelist, what did we accomplish in an open letter:
1) Built a world class Evangelism team. This includes our HQ technical team, marketing and operations, as well as my WW team of Technical Evangelists. As I’ve stated before, the team must be strong, and ours is built of achievers.
2) Imbued in ourselves and our community a shared sense of purpose. Yes, it started with the Team BlackBerry Developers, but, we worked together with this strong core to “grow the bubble” of “those in the know” about BlackBerry 10. One piece of evidence, over 55% of our sales are to folks moving off one of our competitors platforms. We also saw that the developers on these other platforms began targeting BlackBerry 10 months ago, it’s true, developers are the early indicator of platform health.
3) Continue to invest and innovate. We don’t plan to let up on the gas pedal, I’ve discussed the team innovating rapidly, this next year will not be any different, we’ve merely entered the next phase of our plan and will continue to drive innovative approaches.
4) Shipping is a feature. My final big thank you is to our colleagues in Product Engineering for working the late nights & weekends, hope we did you guys proud. Thanks for all the SDK releases, this was key for all the early developer engagement.
Thanks again, it’s been a great and at times unbelieveable year for the Developer Relations Group at BlackBerry and we look forward to seeing you out in the Ecosystem.
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?
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.
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 critical, once 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.
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.