Reaching Out: A Key Habit For Ecosystem Evangelists

Hello, my name is Rex St. John and I spent the last 4 years traveling the world developing global ecosystem at Intel Mashery and Intel’s Makers and Innovators Group. As a result of my work on developer ecosystems, I have created a framework (tactics, habits, philosophies, strategies etc) for effective ecosystem development for hardware, API and cloud services.

I wanted to take a moment here share a habit that I believe every ecosystem development manager and technical evangelist should have in order to achieve maximum success in their job. Once you learn to do this and ingrain the habit on yourself, you are going to see your ecosystem development and evangelism results skyrocket!

The Habit Of Reaching Out

Ecosystem development managers and evangelists are very similar to CEOs: Their #1 job is recruiting the top talent in the industry, from all around the globe to their particular platform. As a result, great ecosystem managers should always looking to find and establish communications with the best they can get. The reason? Because you need the very best individuals and teams from around the world to use your platform so you can grow, improve and win! 

There is, however, one catch before you can achieve ecosystem nirvana: The thing that stops you from locating and developing these partners is…drum roll not having a systematic habit for automatically finding and reaching out to high-value partners on an ongoing basis! And that is what this article is here to help you learn how to do!

A few years ago, I ran across a very interesting platform extension for the Intel Edison from a new company who had posted their draft designs on Twitter. Not knowing what to do with this particular developer, I showed the project to my manager at the time (Delyn Simons of Intel Mashery). Her response? “Reach out and talk to them!”  Four years later, this particular developer was among the most productive and valuable members of the Intel Edison ecosystem and ultimately went on to produce products which made them the #1 seller of the platform in their particular geographic region.

In my experience, 85% of the time that I have located a developer, partner or small team who I considered to be in the top 5% of the industry, I found that I was the only person from any company that partner was talking with directly. Let me repeat this jaw-dropping statistic: Most of the very top talent out there in the wild has little, if any, direct internal support, relationship or contact with the hardware, software or cloud platform companies on which they rely. 

Once you realize the extreme leverage and value a single top partner can deliver to your organization, this statistic becomes even more fascinating. I have seen situations where a single partner, even a very small team, was absolutely critical to the success of a platform or plugged a gap which was impossible for anyone else to fill. I have seen a small team, with one project, deliver millions of dollars in value to other customers in the space of a few months for only a few thousand dollars in direct spend.

All that power and more can be yours for free…but only if you reach out. 

Attitude Change: I Can (And Will) Talk To Anyone, Anywhere, At Any Time

Reaching out begins with adopting a new attitude. Instead of: “Can I talk to these people? Do I need permission? Should I make a Power Point deck first?“, you need to change your attitude to: “I Can And Will Talk To Anyone, Anywhere, At Any Time.” 

By mining Twitter, LinkedIn and aggressively reaching out whenever I read about an interesting project I have developed some tremendously useful relationships. In desperation, sometimes I have even had to resort to filling out those “Contact” forms on otherwise opaque corporate websites and had to wait weeks or months for a response. Frequently my efforts have paid off for me in ways I could scarcely imagine…all because I reached out. 

I have found that, generally speaking, everyone will talk to you. Even famous people. So don’t be afraid to try. Go ahead: Swing and miss! Reaching Out is nearly always “Low Risk / High Reward” in nature and most of the risks can easily be mitigated.

Once you have decided that you can and will talk to anyone, anywhere at anytime…the very next habit you need to develop is automatically doing this whenever you see something cool.

This leads me to my second recommended attitude change: If You See Someone Doing Something Cool On Your Platform, Always Try To Talk To Them, Offer Help…Even If You Don’t Know What To Say! It might not seem natural at first…but you must reach out!

If you don’t know what to say, try something this: “I saw your project X and thought it was great. Anything we can help you with?” 

How To Reach Out

I tend to encounter most of my new ecosystem partners in a “passive way.” I don’t go looking for them actively every day, instead I have created systems for them to get in front of me organically. Rather than devoting time during the week specifically to go searching for new partners, I follow blogs, tune my Twitter account, use tools like Warble Alerts and do what I can to have a steady flow of new potential ecosystem partners delivered to me that way. Twitter is, by far, my #1 tool followed by LinkedIn.

Once my feeds are all tuned, I simply pick through the steady flow of opportunity as it comes my way, adopting the attitude that if I see something cool, I will talk to whoever made it. This filtering is something I do habitually on an ongoing basis, over time it has paid off tremendously. You can’t force something great to appear in your Twitter feed or inbox, let it come to you by creating a system for that to happen.

Warble Alerts, in particular, if configured properly can yield amazing results if tuned to report the right keywords and hashtags as reports into your inbox. When I was working on massively global products, I would simply have Warble Alerts send me a daily report of all mentions of my product names. Using this technique, I have been able to find numerous new partners as they post their interesting projects online.

Once I find a new potential partner, I simply email or Tweet them and set up an initial 30 minute discussion. Depending on how that goes, I move to an NDA process and then begin networking them into the company and matching them to beneficial resources they might need help with.

Roadblocks To Reaching Out, How To Navigate Them

One roadblock to great ecosystem work is that many times, organizations large and small tend to clamp down on “official” relations between employees and external partners. There are a variety of logical reasons for this including privacy, trade secrets, competition, roles & responsibilities and internal political territories.

The implicit message can be very strong: Do Not Talk To Outsiders Unless We Tell You To Or It Is Your Assigned Job. The problem with this “Clamping” is simple: Most relationships with ecosystem partners start out best as informal relationships that develop over time into formal ones. If you allow yourself to be scared into introversion, you are not going to develop a great ecosystem.

Reaching out can feel downright rebellious in many situations. However, as an ecosystem development manager your reality is different from most everyone else at your organization: You must constantly be reaching out and developing your pipeline of informal relationships or you will fail at your job. Even if no one tells you to do this or gives you explicit permission…you can’t afford to do otherwise!

I have a cure for people who need permission to do things proactively. Are you ready? As of this moment, I, Rex St. John, grant you unlimited permission to reach out and talk to whoever you feel like talking to whenever you want to do it. Feel better? Great.

Informal Relationship Development

Reaching out should initially kickstart the process of what I call “informal relationship development.”

The process of developing informal relations frequently takes months, it is a very different process than what most people at large organizations tend to follow when deciding to go about such activities. As long as you are not disclosing trade secrets, taking proper care to establish the right agreements, not violating NDAs, not talking to partners explicitly forbidden to you, disclosing sensitive information, committing ethics violations or aiding competitors – you should cautiously take the initiative and empower yourself to do this work on an informal level without making a huge stink about it. It is an extracurricular activity, enjoy it.

I have seen, time and again, that very waterfall-oriented programmatic thinkers tend to place a huge degree of importance on the act of talking to someone outside the company. They can’t get out of bed without organizing 7 recurring meetings, building spreadsheets, filling out SalesForce, giving fancy presentations to 12 layers of management and signaling to everyone in their team in 50 different ways that they are doing this monumentally important work of talking to people outside the company.

My advice is simple: Skip all that bullshit and just reach out.

While these activities may “feel good” and provide you with a great sense of importance, they do nothing to actually improve the productivity of your ecosystem development work and, more than anything, tend to impede your velocity. If you want to be patted on the back constantly by your co-workers for doing ecosystem development, get over it. 97% of the most effective work I have done in ecosystems has occurred below the surface and it was always better off that way.

Summary Of Key Points

  • To build a great ecosystem, you must reach out
  • A single ecosystem partner can be provide phenomenal value for free
  • The world is filled with extremely talented ecosystem partners whom no one is talking to
  • Reaching out is nearly Low-Risk / High-Reward, do it!
  • Create a system for reaching out to automate the process, make it passive using Twitter and Warble Alerts…let the ecosystem come to you
  • Reach out automatically whenever you see someone doing something cool with your platform, if you don’t know what to say just ask how you can help
  • Don’t be afraid to reach out, even if you feel organizationally constrained
  • If you need permission to reach out, I, Rex St. John, grant you unlimited permission to talk to anyone, anywhere, whenever you want forever. You’re welcome.
  • Start all relationships informally and keep them informal until you are certain you are ready to introduce them internally
  • 97% of ecosystem work should happen below the surface, get used to it

Happy Reaching Out!



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