Evangelism lessons, from my Grandmother

Here are a few things I learned from my Obaachan (Grandmother in Japanese) who sadly passed last year at the age of, 110.  No, that’s not a typo.  One hundred and ten.  No condolences please, she lived a long and happy life.  So, a few life/Evangelism lessons I learned following this nearly five foot tall woman around all my life.

Get out – we spend a bunch of our lives behind the keyboard or at meetings sitting in rooms or in the car heading to… another meeting.  She’d be up puttering around in the garden or doing folk dancing.  It didn’t matter who the “folks” were, you name the culture, she’d try it. The only time I ever saw her sitting down was eating or playing cards with her card circle.  Yeah, I didn’t learn this lesson very well myself…. but get out, meet face to face and do your thing.

Be up, with people –  As Evangelists we deal with people, really not technology.  My grandmother was relentlessly positive and always collecting people.  Malcolm Gladwell calls these people “connectors” and by his standard she was a mega connector.  I swear she invented the concept of “meetups” in her kitchen, she could pick up the phone and make things happen that were fascinating and amazing.  Evangelists do this everyday online, on conference calls on webcasts…

Own it – We all try to make our work interesting to others, well, make it interesting to you first.  She’d take something ordinary and turn it into something of her own with surprising results.  A flowering cherry tree she had me plant as a kid in her garden I noticed while in college had fruit!  Apples, cherries, I can’t remember what else.  She grafted so many shoots on it that she couldn’t remember it originally was a cherry blossom tree, it was now in essence an “Obaachan Tree”.  Are your demos just the SDK sample code, if so, you really should make them your own.

That’s it, file this in the “are Evangelists born or is it something learned” chapter.

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Who’s responsible for…. Evangelism?

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.

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.