Business development and technical evangelism were meant to be together. After several candle-lit dinners, business development and technical evangelism should get married, settle down and have a baby. Why? Because technical evangelism is best when combined with business development.
In this article, I will introduce a new way of approaching technical evangelism which combines these two worlds, I call it: “Platform Evangelism.” My goal? To help you greatly improve your efforts to attract developers to your platform and improve how you allocate your developer marketing time.
Platform Evangelism, when done well, costs absolutely nothing and can achieve significantly greater ROI over “regular” evangelism. Furthermore, many technical evangelists can become Platform Evangelists with only minor changes. Intrigued? Read on!
Similarities Between Business Development and Technical Evangelism
Before we can get into the mechanics of how Platform Evangelists think, we need a quick recap of BizDev: Business development is about partnering with other organizations to get better results by working together. The ultimate objective of business development is to create indirect sales e.g. “If we promote our products to each other’s our customers, then we both make more money.” The topic of business development is deeper than that, so if you want more, I recommend reading The Sumo Advantage.
Technical Evangelism, on the other hand, is about teaching developers how to use a developer platform. By training developers how to use their platform, evangelists usually hope to eventually create sales. A developer who has been trained on an API may eventually use that API themselves, recommend it to others or even talk their employers into paying for it (Ka-Ching!). Most technical evangelists spend their time writing content, producing sample applications, speaking, running workshops or helping out at hackathons.
Now for the gold: A Platform Evangelist spends their time in a nearly identical way to a technical evangelist…BUT! Instead of writing content about their platform, they write content about their platform AND how to connect it to other people’s platforms. Platform Evangelists organize and run workshops too…but they run workshops WITH technical evangelists from other organizations. Platform Evangelists write sample applications, BUT they write them in order to bridge their platform to other popular platforms. This distinction is a big deal.
The Utility Of Developer Platforms
It is a fact that social networks grow in value based on the number of connections within them (their density). As a result, a person with 10,000 friends is much more more influential than someone with only 10 friends. The same is true of developer platforms.
In developer platforms, the utility (value) of that platform is directly related to how easy it is to connect it to other platforms. If I, as a developer, can’t get your platform working with my favorite APIs and cloud services, it won’t be much use to me. Therefore, “bridges” between platforms are important and it is the job of the Platform Evangelist to build them.
A great example of platform bridging is the recent announcement from Twilio SIGNAL 2016 that Particle will be shipping a developer kit powered by Twilio Programmable Wireless. By launching this developer kit, Twilio and Particle have put into place a powerful “bridge” that makes it easy to transition developers between their communities.
Case Study: Raspberry Pi meets Amazon Alexa
Recently, a former colleague who joined Amazon.com to work on Alexa voice services released an article about how to connect the Raspberry Pi to Alexa. The results were beyond what anyone had anticipated. Within a few days, the project was covered by the BBC, reached the front page of Hacker News and trended for several hours in the Facebook news sidebar.
Why exactly did this have such an impact? Simple: This sample application and code created an easy bridge between two massive developer communities who were not connected previously.
Millions and millions of Raspberry Pi users were suddenly enabled to connect to Amazon’s Alexa API and hundreds or thousands(?) of Amazon Alexa API users were able to use the Raspberry Pi. Now that is great Platform Evangelism.
Other People’s Developers, Other People’s Evangelists
Smart people who have their lawyers on speed-dial have a saying: “There is nothing better than spending other people’s money!” This is true. Great developer platform companies have a similar saying: “There is nothing better than engaging other people’s developers and evangelists.”
A Platform Evangelist knows that there is tremendous talent floating around out there in the ecosystem and, to succeed, they are going to need to access it. If they are exceptionally skilled, they can gain powerful evangelist allies who will help them greatly expand their ability to market by evangelizing for them!
As a corollary, you may be familiar with Joy’s Law: “No matter who you are, most of the smartest people work for someone else!” Now prepare yourself for Rex’s Law: “No matter who you are, the best developers and evangelists are working on someone else’s developer platform!” Platform Evangelists make it their mission to engage those developers and evangelists on their own platform at every opportunity possible.
Platform Evangelists therefore, evangelize to other evangelists.
Platform Evangelism vs. Technical Evangelism
Platform evangelists think on a platform-level, while technical evangelists and developer advocates work on a developer-level. Instead of spending all their time talking directly to developers, platform evangelists also talk to other evangelists and platform companies looking for ways to partner for mutual benefit.
Like a business development person, platform evangelists are not looking for a sale. They are looking to work with other platforms to create indirect sales (e.g. platform adoption by a developer) in the future. The goal of the platform evangelist is to access other people’s developers and engage other people’s evangelist talent by offering the same in return.
Platform evangelists don’t need lawyers or extensive contracts, usually what they do is mostly free. Most of what they do requires little or no contractual obligation. The possible harm that can be done through mutual marketing efforts is relatively limited. Because no actual money or IP value is being exchanged, platform evangelists can get a lot done with very little bureaucracy. Just a handshake or two is all it may take.
Platform Evangelists know that great content is immensely valuable. They invest in great partner content to kick off long term relationships. They organize and invite other evangelists to their own events hoping to have the favor returned in the future.
Platform Evangelist Checklist
Now for a bit of a reality check in regards to how your company stands in relation to Platform Evangelism. Go through the following list of questions, how many of them can you honestly say “yes” to? If the answer is zero, you may have a lot of green field to explore!
- Do you have sample applications referencing other people’s APIs on your website?
- Have you ever written a blog post on the website of another platform company?
- Have you ever hosted a joint workshop with another platform company?
- Have you ever engaged in co-marketing (email, Slack, Twitter) with another company?
- How many evangelists from other platform companies know how to use your platform?
- How many evangelists from other platform companies would evangelize your platform for you?
- Has another evangelist written an article, sample app for your platform ever before?
- Do you have a formally structured innovator or helper program for your best developers?
- How well connected are your best developers to one another?
Investing vs. Spending On Developer Evangelism
I want to leave you with one closing thought: Are you investing your marketing dollars and time or are you spending your marketing dollars and time? This is a key question.
If you are investing your dollars, every dollar you spend is going to turn into $10 somewhere down the line. If you are spending your dollars, you are always paying $1 for 1 unit of value each time. No matter how much money you spend, the most utility you get from a dollar is one dollar worth of value in return.
The same is true of your time as an evangelist. If you spend one hour writing an article or sample application and 30 people read it, what good was that hour? If you write an article about your ally’s API and get it featured in their newsletter that goes out to 300,000 developers, was that not a much better use of your time? That is the power of a platform approach.
Platform Evangelists always invest their time. Investing or Spending, which are you doing?