29 June, 2017

8 mins

Marketing to Your Developer Community with Former Java Evangelist Miko Matsumura

The notion of evangelism is really about creating emotion and enthusiasm for a set of APIs or SDKs

Miko defines marketing as data science plus empathy and combines that with the intuition that comes from experience. He uses this combination to lead marketing, developer relations and growth at many successful companies. He was formerly VP of Marketing and Developer Relations at Hazelcast, and Senior Vice President of Platform Marketing & Developer Relations at Kii Corporation. He served as Vice President and Chief Strategist at Software AG, and was the Chief Java Evangelist at Sun Microsystems, being a key spokesperson for the Java technology and growing the community from zero to over 5 million developers worldwide. Named as one of the World’s 30 Most Influential Virtualization Bloggers at Cloud Expo 2009, his work has been covered in publications such as Newsweek, TechCrunch, VentureBeat, and WIRED Magazine. He is also  a contributing author to Broadband Convergent, and has advisory Board Membership at companies including and WSO2, an open source API Management and Enterprise Cloud Services company.

A lot of people say “developers hate marketing”, and while that may be true it’s not helpful advice. How do you think about developer marketing and how does that differ from traditional B2B (business to business) marketing?

Miko Matsumura: I’m very aware of people saying “developers hate marketing.” I think it’s pretty nonsensical. It is more meaningful to say that everybody hates bad marketing. One way to define “bad” is “culturally inappropriate marketing.” You have to have some degree of cultural sensitivity to the people you are marketing to, and if you are unable to do that then you don’t deserve their business. An example of this was the apocryphal story of Chevy trying to sell the “Nova” in South America, where “No Va” means “it doesn’t go”. Pretty funny name for a car. I see a lot of companies making similarly stupid mistakes in marketing to developers. As a former developer evangelist for Java, I can tell you that “good” (culturally appropriate) marketing gets developers pumped up and excited and that just means that developers are human beings.

My mindset around marketing is that it’s your goal is to automate some type of transactional outcome often times between businesses. Sometimes the other side is an individual human, other times it is organization, but it’s important to actually understand people’s behaviour and it is important to understand their culture. That’s the linchpin of successful marketing of any kind.

Even trying to create a monolithic entity called “developers” and to generalize about them is already insensitive and a pretty hopeless endeavour. My cultural background is Japanese, so it’s as ridiculous as me saying “Japanese people don’t like loud noises.” It’s just a nonsensical thing to say.

OC: Then how do you understand the behaviour and market to developers is specific terms? Is there a framework you use to understand that way of marketing?

Miko: There are two layers to it. Developer relations can be B2B but you can also look at it as B2D2B (business to developer to business). There is usually a relationship where you have an API or SDK that you want adoption for and that brings you closer to the idea of evangelism. The notion of evangelism is really about creating emotion and enthusiasm for a set of APIs or SDKs, which are in theory neutral in terms of the emotional content.

So if the problem is how do I get adoption for my SDKs or for my APIs, one important thing is decreasing the activation energy and there are a couple of dimensions to that.

One of them is suspicion. Anybody who has been in software development for any number of years, has undergone disappointment, which could include the collapse of a popular programming language or platform, for example if someone made a large career investment in Visual BASIC. So whenever you are promoting your SDK or API, there is a trust factor for a developer that becomes “are you going to disappoint me?”

While I don’t think most developers would characterize themselves as investors, there is a mindset of investment, where there mentality is “I’m going to spend weeks, months, even years working with a set of tools, libraries, APIs, SDKs.” So they’re trying to figure out “is all that energy going to be a journey of growth and exploration, or is it going to be a disappointment heading towards the trash heap.”

Developers are suspicious of a type of coercive collapse, which is where the software, APIs and SDKs are governed by a commercial company, and that company is not a good steward. One thing you can do to overcome that and lower activation activation energy is open source. Through open source, the commercial company and stewardship become less material because if the company fails or collapses, a developer can just fork it and continue using the thing they fell in love with. It’s a form of source escrow.

It isn’t that developers as people are uniquely afraid of being betrayed, but rather that software has a history of repeatedly betraying developers. The reason why is that software is soft, and what I mean by that is software is constantly building up, tearing down and building up again. It is impossible to position a developer ecosystem without an understanding of the cultural history of software and uncovering that software is soft. Soft things collapse a lot, and often times in unpredictable ways. Hardware collapses too, but often times the collapse of a hardware platform is slower and more predictable.

One example of soft collapse is Twitter. I think they have harmed themselves in some ways with their developer community because they’ve been so inconsistent with their core API support. They’ve kind of been offering it and then yanking it away and then offering it again, and that just doesn’t do. They have similarly offered their own twitter clients including the ill fated Mac Desktop client, which steps on their own Independent Software Vendors (ISVs). If you want a really good case study of how to do it really well, look at Twilio.

OC: What do you do to build and convey trust as an early-stage commercial company building a developer community?

Miko: You need to understand the history of the specific target community that you are looking to grow. For example, if you were creating a commercial Javascript front end framework, the history of that segment is ultra-rapid collapses of multiple systems for example the Angular 2 framework, that has almost no resemblance to Angular 1. It’s an ultra-high churn environment so you would you have to be very explicit about why that won’t happen to you? In that example, the winners also seems to be Facebook and Google (React and Angular), so if you were going to create a new JavaScript framework you would also need to be direct about what you are going to do better than them. (Good luck with that).

OC: What mistakes do you see other companies making when doing developer relations?

Miko: One of the key things from a platform perspective is roadmap communication. It’s more important than people recognize that because in the history of platforms, many platforms have an ugly tendency to cross the line into applications which tends to force the platform into competition with successful applications.

Platforms have an unusual degree of visibility into the applications built on their platform, and there’s the temptation to take successful applications build by other developers and pull them into their platform. That means competing with and stepping on your developer community. What if you made a street-mapping app on Android? You’ve been crushed and you don’t exist anymore.

Platforms need to be disciplined about communicating their roadmap. Anyone who is on a platform knows that they are dancing with the elephant in the room and they need to know where the elephant’s feet are going to go next.

OC: What developer community do you admire?

Miko: Netflix has been doing a great job. What I like about Netflix is that they have a very deliberate open source strategy, which is that they take these industrial-grade Netflix-proven pieces of infrastructure and push them into open source.

What they are trying to do is proactively avoid being the sole provider of commercial infrastructure for themselves. Their approach is based on self-interest but it aligns with the community and that makes a successful pattern. The community doesn’t think “Okay, next thing you know Netflix is going to come in here and compete with me.” It is clear that is not what Netflix is trying to do and it’s obvious that they’re not going to do the wrong thing. In the case like Netflix, from the business perspective they are systemically and structurally positioned to not do something wrong (by releasing code into open source), which makes it an inherently a safe bet for developers to adopt.

OC: What’s something about you that most people don’t know?

Miko: One thing that’s off the beaten path is that I like to sing. I don’t see myself as a musician and I’m surprised by it, but it’s part of my life now. To me, there is an overlap between software development and instrumental music. I know there’s a number of keyboardist and guitarist out there in developer land, but do think singing is a bit unusual among developers. I have a weekly group, It’s mostly folkish music and we’ll sing and perform together.

We had a great time talking with Miko and want to thank him for his time and helpful insights! If you want to learn more or connect with Miko, you can
follow him on Twitter or connect with him on Linkedin.

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