Your first 100 developers


Sydney Lai speaking at DevRelCon San Francisco 2019

Sydney Lai

Syndey Lai has been involved in coding and developer communities from a young age. In this session from DevRelCon San Francisco 2019, Syndey outlines the math and practicalities in growing a new tech community, referencing case studies along the way.


So who remembers GeoCities? Thank you. Yeah. Okay. Because you’re older. No, I’m just kidding. Me too. No.

Actually, I was thinking about this the other day. I love Geocities, and I actually remember that was one of the first times I really got started.

I actually remember going to my first coding boot camp in fifth grade. My mom sent me to an HTML class every summer, and I thought to myself, I literally thought to myself, “When am I ever going to need to use this?”

Because I just wanted to go to soccer camp like all of the other cool girls. But I went to HTML camp and theater camp every summer. And so now, I give talks on dev stuff, very telling.

So this talk is your first 100 devs. That means, what does that look like to bring on your first 100 developers onto your project. If you guys have any questions for me, feel free to DM me. If you want to have the slides to this talk, it is also pinned to my handle. So you guys can access that at anytime, anywhere.

So who is this for when you’re thinking about your first, a hundred developers? Oftentimes, this talk is kind of relevant for solo developers, if you’re a new developer tool, or if you’re already a startup or a project that is looking to release a new product or going to a new channel.

Maybe you are experimenting with an open source platform play, but you don’t really know what that market is going to look like for you, this is really helpful to keep in mind.

So why me? Why do I love talking about this stuff? Like I said, I got started pretty young, but at the end of the day, one of my biggest passions in life is providing resources and opportunities for those who want to create.

I’m a child of immigrants. My parents, they immigrated here from Taiwan and they said, I remember my mom saying this to me, she said, “Well, I never had an opportunity to learn this stuff, so I really want you to learn, so that you come back and teach me.”

Teaching others is an empowering opportunity

And so, at a very young age, I realize that teaching others is just a really empowering opportunity. And not so much teaching because I’m a professional or anything, but just, “Hey, here’s some knowledge, and I want to share this with you. If I don’t know the answer, here’s the community that can help you out.” Right?

So I just love talking about this because I think it’s really empowering. So what you’re going to learn in the next 15, 20 minutes is really five things.

One, I’m going to help you identify what your tribe is specifically within your audience.

Number two, I’m going to help you guys think about what a success metric is going to look like especially as you’re bringing in your first 100 developers.

Number three is one of my favorite, is the rule of 1%. You’ll learn a little bit more about that.

Four, is what does that inflection point look like for when you’re bringing on the developers.

And number five, an acquisition strategy, to really consider, especially as you’re starting early on.

Build it, will they come?

Now, build it, will it come? You know, oftentimes as we’re making developer tools, we think if it’s highly functional, if it’s really the perfect solution, they will come.

However, like the premise of Bob’s Burger, they have this awesome restaurant, and they’re there working every day, except no one really comes except that one guy. Does anyone know the name of that guy? Yeah. I don’t actually remember it, but, yeah, he’s just kind of like, Teddy, Teddy. That’s his name. Teddy is his name. Right. So besides Teddy, he really doesn’t have a lot of traffic, but Bob’s Burger is still well-loved.

Audience vs tribe

So number one is thinking about your tribe, right? Your tribe, what does that mean? You know, oftentimes you hear the marketers, marketing team, they’re like, “Hey, know your audience, understand your users.” Audience, audience, audience, right?

But right now, I’m talking about your tribe because often we say, “Oh…” Especially those who are not as experienced, you know, like, “Oh, we’ll just market to developers.” Right? Well, developers is kind of too vague.

It’s like saying, “I’m just going to market to Pokémon.” You know, there’s, like, there’s eight generations now. There’s north of 800 types, right? So there’s, it’s, like, you know, there’s only some that we really care about.

Does anyone know who these are? Yep, yeah. But which generation? Thank you. Who’s your favorite? Goldeen? Goldeen is your… Okay. Yeah. I’m… I’ve never heard of that one before. All right. All right.

So on the top of Goldeen, I’m dying. On top of Goldeen, like, you want to also understand what is your tribe because within Pokémon, it’s very vast, there’s different types of Pokémon, right? But within your tribe, you love Goldeen. You know what? Goldeen is the water type, right?

And so, even within Pokémon itself, it’s, like, you know what? I really want to just target the water type Pokémon especially the ones that can do like ice moves, right? Like, ice move, ice move, ice… That’s their stack. Okay?

Have one specific tribe in mind

So that’s something to consider is really have one tribe in mind because they’re going to be your biggest fans, they’re going to love you the most.

And just so you know, there’s just really different types of developers, and they’re reached in different ways, they live in different communities. And for some, this is funnier than others, right? Yeah, yeah. See, this is all so relatable if you’re not a dev. It’s still pretty funny.

But, you know, I keep rallying on having one, just one tribe to focus on first because something you really want to leverage is the 80/20 rule, right? So 20% of the people are going to bring in 80% of the business.

Now, what that means is sure, you’re going to have tons of developers or fans on your platform, but there’s going to be that subset of freaks who’s just going to, like, ride or die with you. They’re going to celebrate you, they’re going to use your platform, they’re going to contribute back, right? So I’m going to bring back an O.g. example.

Who remembers this? Yeah, yeah, yeah. I’m surprised that I remember this. Right? So Red Hat, what they do is they build enterprise solutions on Linux, and of course, that means this is open source, you can access this. And that was what was so revolutionary with Red Hat because they’re able to provide this open source, and they wanted to ensure that they reached a mass of people.

But they also ensured that, you know, we’re going to bundle this up and deliver it to you. And back in the day, you know, it was $49, right? But nonetheless, only some of them paid.

You can still access the free one, but you also get, like, installation guides, how-to manuals. This is before, like, forums and Q&As, and oh, man, like, dev talks, those days. Right? So they wanted to ensure that most people got access, but those who paid, it also drove, you know, most or all of their revenue.

Think about your success metrics

So step two is to think about your success metrics. You know, you know that you’re looking to bring in devs, you know you want to identify your audience, but you also want to figure out at what point do you want to achieve the 100 developers.

Oftentimes when you’re working, especially in small teams, it’s like, “Oh, we have this date,” you know, “Oh, gosh. We need to move it to that date.” And sometimes what I’ve also seen is people just say, “Oh, you know, I want to have a bunch of developers,” or, “I want to grow a dev community.” I’ll come in and be like, “All right. When?” They’re like, ”Whenever.”And I’m like, ”No. It’s like saying, ‘I’m going to get married.’ When? Not when…”

You know, like, it’s just, you got to plan for it, right? So pick a date, just one date. Don’t have multiple ones because if you just pick one date, you’re going to be hyper-focused, right?

Pick the most important action for your next milestone

And then now, pick one of the milestones that’s going to be really important for you. Now, I don’t know what your project is, but different milestones where actions it’s going to be, have different meaning for your project, right?

So maybe its followers or impressions, right? If you’re a fairly big company like Google, all they really care about is like, “Hey, brand awareness,” you know. That’s going to be really, really important for them, that’s going to be a clear return for them.

Now, if you’re a smaller project or a team, maybe impressions aren’t as useful in the early beginnings. Maybe if you’re a dev tool, you know, downloads are really important, and you really just want to make sure you have installs, right?

Or if you’re already monetizing, maybe you want to have paid users. I think charging a nickel would be really funny. You should try that out.

So for this example, we’re going to go with the metric of downloads, right? So this is going to follow out through the talk.

Rule of 1%

Step three is the rule of 1%. This is actually really straightforward and it’s quite surprising because I think a lot of people miss this a lot. So let’s say, again, we want to have 100 developers for your project, and that means we’re going to have a 1% conversion rate.

So the rule of 1% is if you don’t have benchmark metrics yet, if you’re first starting, or if you’re already established, and if you already have users, however, maybe, again, you’re starting a open source project, something else, and you haven’t migrated them over yet, the go to rule of thumb is that 1% conversion rate. And again, with this example, we will do installs, downloads.

So you said, “All right. I want to have a hundred downloads, what does that look like?” If I just have a hundred developers, is that enough? You know, are they here for just the pizza? I don’t really know.

But if you think about the user journey, if you think about the user journey, right before the download, it’s like, “Ah, we have to get sign ups before they even download.” So if you work backwards, right? Ten thousand, 1% is 100. So you think, “All right. I need to have 10,000 sign ups just to get that 100 downloads.”

And what’s the step right before the 10,000 sign ups? Oh, my God, right? There’s a million… Yeah. That’s not how math works, but if you imagine there’s like a zero, a zero, zero, and if you’re real sad, zero, zero, zero, zero, zero, zero, over there to the… Oh, wow, distracted.

But as you can imagine, it’s a million, 10,000, 100 for that 1% conversion rate. So when you’re thinking about, “Oh, I need my first, a hundred developers,” you’re thinking, “Oh, my gosh, I might need my first million impressions.”

Now, bear with me because it almost seems unattainable, right? And just as a reminder, this is only if you don’t have any, like, previous cohorts, or users, or consumer base, right?

Forecast your metrics

So forecasting your metrics are really important. As I mentioned before, you really want to pick a date, and oftentimes if you go in to a project, you want to think, “All right. We want to try to acquire 100 users in the next 3 months, in the next 2 months.”

So what does that look like? I mean, this is really simple. It’s really breaking down to ensure that you’re on track. Every day 300 impressions, 400 impressions, 300 impressions. Right? And now again, a million is really, it’s really far out. If you look at your industry, some has either higher or lower conversion rates, 20% is the industry benchmark, 19%. But the rule of thumb again is that 1%.

Identify the inflection point

And what also helps is having an ability to identify when that inflection point might come to help you catapult yourself from just having a very stagnant growth.

So number four is inflection point, and this is something that I’m going to cover with a case study that I really enjoy. So as we know, Airbnb, they provide housing, right? Housing opportunities, housing options especially as you’re traveling, and for the most part, you’re going to have a fairly consistent need for housing. It’s, you know, there’s always a price battle, so on and so forth.

Consistent service

And what they saw in the early days was that it was quite consistent. What they really leverage though when they first began was there’s a huge Salesforce conference, and when the Salesforce conference came, there’s a huge influx of people coming, right? And for them, this is really their leverage, their inflection point.

If you remember, Uber did the same with South by Southwest. In fact, when Airbnb first launched, they actually launched at TechCrunch. So on the TechCrunch stage, and yes, they got a little pick up, but their audience really wasn’t there since, you know, TechCrunch, there’s a lot of local folks as well or in the area. But Salesforce, you have a mass of people coming in.

So what that means is as you’re thinking about growing your users, what is the inflection point in your industry? It might not be a conference, it could be something online. Perhaps, you know, like, huge inflection points so, like, Forbes, 30 Under 30. I mean, whatever that event is. It can also be just different, right, AMAs, whatever that may look like.

So at that time, then there was a huge spike in demand, and they’re able to provide multiple housing options. And that’s really what catapulted their traffic, right? So something to really consider is identifying your inflection point.

Your acquisition strategy

Number five, is your acquisition strategy. So as you’re beginning, there’s tons of ways to approach this, and one of the things that I hold true and dear to my heart is something that Paul Graham said, “Do things that don’t scale,” especially if you could afford to do so.

Why this is important is that when you’re doing things that don’t scale, that means you’re usually very hands-on, that means you’re deeply interacting with your users, your developers.

And if it’s only a hundred devs, I feel like, at least in my mind, it’s a little bit more tangible. I feel like it’s not as horrifying to approach, and I wanted to make sure that our team really ate our own dog food. I mean, so much so that we named our project after a dog.

So what we are is we’re a developer community where you can learn different resources and also mentor one another, developers just go on. It kind of looks like Stack Overflow for now, and as you know, because we’re online we thought, “Okay. We can definitely drive traffic this way.”

However, if we are going to do something that doesn’t scale and we don’t really exactly know how we’re building out the rest of the roadmap, is we are doing a series of meet-ups. We’re doing a series of mentoring sessions, seven sessions to be specific because we really want to sit down and understand what kind of developers are we even trying to help out, right?

And although this is super expensive and it’s a very long and painful road, having just maybe three sessions, we can get at least a hundred developers.

And so that becomes actually a lot less intimidating when you’re thinking about is it a million impressions, is it 10,000 sign ups, whatever that looks like, because at the end of the day, it’s just really important for us to understand what our user is, and how to reiterate from that experience. It’s almost like an ideal approach. Right?

So with that being said, here are the five things that we covered today was, identifying your tribe, what kind of personality, identity folks are within the developer community you’re looking for because hobbyists are very different than those who work at enterprises perhaps or perhaps even startup developers, or even freelancers.

Number two is thinking about your success metric and just picking one, and being hyper-focused on that one just to get you to the 100 dev mark.

Number three is the rule of 1% which is fairly easy math, but it’s a grinding work, right?

Number four is identifying that inflection point. That’s going to be quite important for your team, your product.

And then number five, an acquisition strategy, something that doesn’t scale especially if you’re starting off early on because it’s a lot more forgiving. It’s also very community-oriented.

And then lastly, if you have any questions, I’d be more than happy to answer them. I’ve been growing communities for about six years now, and I just really, really love helping people.

And again, if you really enjoyed this talk or you found it very useful, you can go ahead and share it with your communities. The talk is pinned onto, I think, the first pinned post.

Also, I’m going to be really dramatic because… Okay. Bye. Hold on. I am the worst because I totally forgot my stickers. If you like the sticker, I only have one. So battle royale. No. But if you retweet it, I will hand mail you. This is doing shit that doesn’t scale. I will hand mail you with, like, hearts to your address, and we will send you stickers.

And if your friends retweet it, we will send them stickers. If they’re a bot, then I don’t know how to figure that out. But yes, who wants the sticker? Okay. Yeah. I saw your hand first.

Audience member: My manager comes back to town next week from New Zealand, and he just got… so…

Sydney: Oh, my gosh. Okay. You were also really excited, though. Like, you were first but she was like… Okay. Do guys want to…

Audience member: No, it’s okay. They can have it.

Sydney: All right. Also, the talk is over. Thank you.

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