“From our perspective, a blog post can wait a few days but our app partners have deadlines to meet and we’re there to support them.”
For our latest ‘What I’ve Learned…” interview at OpenChannel, we sat down with Sid Maestre. As the Head of Developer Evangelism at Xero, Sid leads a team of Developer Evangelists who support integrating with Xero, create developer content and spread the word about Xero’s Developer Program. Xero is beautiful, easy-to-use online accounting software for small businesses and their advisors. It has more than 1.2 million subscribers in over 180 countries and the Xero App Marketplace seamlessly integrates with more than 600 apps. Xero was ranked #1 by Forbes as the World’s Most Innovative Growth Company two years running, won Technology Provider of the Year at the 2017 British Small Business Awards, and was rated by Canstar Blue as Australia’s best accounting software (2015-2017). Prior to joining Xero, Sid was a Developer Evangelist at PayPal and StackMob and has more than a decade of experience in application development. Sid is leading one of the most successful B2B app platforms out there today and he sat down with us to share what he’s learned along the way….
OpenChannel: What are the most important factors when building an API and on-boarding experience that developers will love?
Sid Maestre: Developers want to understand what’s possible with an API before they start writing any code. That means making your API documentation, how-to guides, and SDKs accessible and removing any barriers like forcing them to register just to access them.
Once they register, offering some way to actually make an API call and see the response without writing any code can help. Xero has had an API previewer for years and recently added a Postman collection as another option for developers to try out our API.
You have to help developers get their first app up and running as easily as possible. We do that by letting developers create what we call a “public app”. They can begin building their app right away with our client SDKs. We currently support eight different programming languages.
OC: What do you do to increase the end user adoption of those developer apps?
Sid: We have a review process to ensure only high-quality apps are launched into the Xero App Marketplace. We’ll help developers categorize and tag their app for different industries and verticals so it’s in front of the right subscribers, out of the 1.2 million that Xero has. The apps have to be easily discoverable by users.
One of our big initiatives this year is to deliver a new app marketplace experience to our users. The end game is to ensure small businesses are using the right solutions to fit their business needs. We are experimenting with ways we can do that.
We also invite our app partners to Xerocon where they have the opportunity to exhibit and meet our accounting partners. Accountants come here to learn more about the best technology to use in their practices and gain insights in order to be able to effectively recommend apps to their business clients. Accountants are a big part of our ecosystem.
OC: You also mentioned app certification, how do you manage that process?
Sid: We have a team of developer evangelists located around the globe. We placed them geographically so they’re always available to help our app partners through that review process. The whole process is a very collaborative experience.
We provide a checklist before they start the certification process. These are the minimum requirements to become certified but we go beyond that by creating a dialog with the app partner. Together we look for ways to build a better experience for our shared customers.
The certification process requires investing significant time and resources, but we know the investment pays off as it gives us the ability to provide our users with higher quality app integrations in our marketplace.
OC: How do you manage the time and resources of your developer relations team?
Sid: We’re always looking for ways to scale our efforts as a team. Our developer experience engineers are adding self-service capabilities into our developer portal to automate tasks our developer evangelists do today.
Our developer relations team always have a lot on their plate. You want to do everything, but given the choice, our app partners take precedence over developer outreach. From our perspective, a blog post can wait a few days but our app partners have deadlines to meet and we’re there to support them.
All the evangelists have technical backgrounds and we focus on making an impact with technical work. Internally we educate others on the right time to bring an evangelist into a conversation. It is generally at the stage where their questions are about our SDKs, APIs and best practices.
OC: What are the most important metrics that you track?
Sid: We’re interested in the number of connections app partners are making to Xero. Seeing month-over-month growth in connections signal that customers find the integration useful. We can confirm this by looking at the app ratings and reviews in our marketplace.
We are also interested in developer engagement. Tracking what developer content is getting significant traffic. For example, we can see which SDK pages in our developer portal are most popular or how active are developers around our repos on GitHub.
OC: App reviews can be difficult, how do you manage app reviews on the Xero App Marketplace?
Sid: We have a community team that monitors the reviews. It’s important because if any disputes arise around the validity of feedback, we want those to be handled by a real person.
We monitor for negative reviews and reach out to the app partner to find a way to resolve that negative review and maybe even turn it into a positive one.
Thankfully, the positive reviews far outweigh the negative ones. Review systems aren’t perfect and we strive to balance the needs of our app partners while still giving our customers a voice about their app marketplace experience. Knowing what their peers think about an app will definitely influence an accountant or small business owner’s buying decision.
We give app developers the ability to reply to reviews. Sometimes there’s a simple resolution and we want to give our app developers a voice in the review process as well.
We also encourage app developers to reach out to their customers and say, “would you mind leaving a review? It’s going to help with our visibility in the marketplace”. From my perspective an app with no ratings is at a disadvantage when compared with apps that have customer feedback.
OC: You founded the popular Bay Area Mobile Meetup, how important are events, conferences and meetups when building a developer ecosystem and app marketplace?
Sid: It’s important but you need to work out your event strategy and it has to support the team and company’s wider mission.
We started doing more live events last year as a way to connect with our community. We want to bring in new developers but we also want to get that facetime with our existing developer community. This year we’re looking to do a developer roadshow through Melbourne, Auckland, Singapore, London, San Francisco and Denver.
We also piloted a three month developer challenge last year. Instead of doing a single live event for 48 hours in one city, we decided to do a virtual hackathon for three months. We had a great response that yielded 36 app submissions.
OC: You publish your developer roadmap, how else do you instill trust in your developers?
Sid: We didn’t invent the idea of creating a public Trello board for our API roadmap but the feedback has been great. Developers need transparency. We have product releases that sometimes impact our app partners and we’re always communicating well in advance of those releases. We keep a clear line of communication.
We also have the Xero partner program that clearly outlines the requirements and benefits of partnering with Xero.
OC: What other platforms or ecosystems do you admire?
Sid: Shopify has done a really great job. They’ve delivered an intuitive product that businesses love. They could have stopped there but they opened up a massive opportunity for developers and designers to create tools and themes for their customers.
The Shopify App Store takes their core product to a whole other level beyond something that Shopify could build on their own. It’s an ecosystem that makes their product so powerful.
OC: What’s something you’re good at or love to do that most people don’t know?
I played in cover bands through school rotating between bass, guitar and keyboards. My original band, Detsky Mir, was with a college classmate. We composed songs using drum machines and synthesizers and hit our peak when we opened for Devo. My band broke up not long after but the singer and I reconnected a few years ago. We’ve been rearranging and recording our old songs and plan to release our musical time capsule later this year.
I’ve been lucky enough to marry someone who shares that same passion for music. Last year, we actually scored tickets for the whole family to go see Hamilton. Sharing that experience with my girls who are 10 and 12, was great. We listened to the soundtrack for six months leading up to it and to be there live was amazing.