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.
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.
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.