TomTom in its first year of dev rel


Leandro Margulis

As VP & GM of Developer Relations at TomTom, Leandro Margulis leads a multidisciplinary, global team. In this chat from DevRelCon San Francisco 2019, Leandro shares experiences from building a developer community around TomTom’s maps, APIs, and developer portal.


Tamao: Leandro here has fantastic story, you’re very early in your journey, or you at TomTom. So we’ll hear some of what you were expecting, or what you looked into, and where you think you’ll be going. So we’re excited about that. So excited that you joined.

All right. So a little bit of promo, why don’t you give a pitch about TomTom and, you know, what the company offers? You mentioned something like, you know, “You might not know that we power a lot of maps that you use all the time.”

Leandro: Yeah, so let me try this out. How many of you guys here use TomTom? Raise your hand. Okay, I see a couple of hands up, that’s great. Now, let me ask the question in a different way. How many of you guys have an iPhone? Okay. How many of you guys develop on Azure? Okay, more hands. Good. Okay.

So you may not know it, but you may still be using TomTom today. Every time I say, “Oh, I work for TomTom,” they’re like, first of all, like “Toms Shoes in the U.S.?” I’m like, “No, Toms Shoes.”

Then the other thing that I get is like, “Oh, the GPS?” Right, I mean, I get asked this all the time. Yeah, the company started as a hardware consumer electronic company moving now more to enterprise and, you know, in a way, we’ve always been a true tech company.

So we are powering Apple Maps, we are powering Azure Maps, we’re powering the Uber Driver app, as well as many other companies that, you know, I don’t know if you guys know Trivago, Alteryx, and so on.

So and you may not know it, but you may still be using TomTom today. And my mandate, you know, TomTom’s first year in dev rel is actually my first year with TomTom as well. So yeah, we’ve been building the developer community around our maps, APIs, and the developer portal.

Tamao: Excellent. Yes, I actually didn’t know any of those as well before we chatted. So I said, “Oh, I don’t have one of those devices when I’m driving around, I just have my phone.” But I was using TomTom technologies. Which makes it more important, right? Because it’s the dev rel team that’s going to help drive that. So you’ve been working at TomTom now you said about a year?

Leandro: Correct.

Tamao: Year plus. Okay. So some of my questions were, I was very curious. So what was the interview process like in terms of what the company was looking for when they decided we’re going to hire someone who’s going to lead dev rel? What kinds of things did you discover? Like assumptions that they might have had, and I said I was going to put out sort of devil’s advocate, you know, there was a platform, some people might think, “Well, it’s good enough with the teams that we have. We don’t really need specifically a dev rel team.” So let’s get…

Leandro: Yeah. So happy to give it a little bit more context about that as it will be helpful probably for other people as well. So the reality is even though I’ve been with TomTom for only a year, I’ve been working with TomTom for the last six years. I was in two different startups working on the other side of the table, and I really enjoyed working with the company, and it was the right time for me to actually switch to this side of the table. So that was actually super interesting.

I was actually helping them more with mobile search and helping them monetize their consumer experiences. And I really enjoyed the vision that they had more for the future and the different things that they were getting involved with. The reality is that, you know, still existed even before I joined.

But it was more of a documentation repo. Right? Like a repository. So then you may argue, and, you know, we were talking with them now, it’s like, “Well, you know, is the repo good enough?” And the reality is that it’s not.

Is documentation enough?

So the interesting thing was, before I joined, the developer portal was more of a channel. Meaning, you know, with the companies that we talked about. Like, you know, the Ubers and Microsofts of the world. Like a businessperson talks to a businessperson or to a product person, and then they will go tell the engineers, “Hey, we’re checking out TomTom’s stack, go check their stack.” And then they will come to the portal and look a little bit into the documentation, and then say, “Hey, yay, nay.” Right? And then take it from there.

But one of the reasons that my vision resonated with TomTom was I, in all the different roles that I had before in different startups. You know, and I’m an engineer with an MBA, so a little bit of both worlds. It’s been doing business with a product hat then actually looking at the portal as a product in itself. Right? So with its own service, its own audience, its own reliability, and so on.

So not just a bunch of documents that may be different. The quality and consistency of the documents may be different depending on which product units was working on this product. So it could also be confusing. Right?

Treating the portal as a product

So the vision was, okay, we’re going to treat the portal as a product that is serving mainly three different developer audiences. Right? You have the freelance developer that includes the hobbyist, and the student, then we have the startup developer. If we want to catch the next Uber, we want to catch them early. And then the enterprise developer is the typical one that we were working with before more of the portal became channel. Right?

Building a true community

And then comes building the true community. So I don’t know if, you know, this is going to sound fluffy, but it goes into metrics. Right? So what’s the definition of a community? It’s something that we’re building here as well, it’s kind of meta. Right? We’re building the community of community builders which is great.

But there’s a book by Charles Vogl, who actually lives in Berkeley, and a really great author, called The Art of Community. The definition that resonated with me a lot was, it’s a group of people that care about each other’s welfare. Very nice, little fluffy. But how do you translate that to a true community? Right?

So a true community is, as we said, care about each other’s welfare. So how can you do that in a digital world, global scale and so on? You need ways for people to connect with people in different ways.

Ways for people to connect

And if you look at the documentation, repository is basically a broadcast mechanism. Right? But if you really want to build a community, you want people to connect not only one-to-many like we were doing with the documentation but also many-to-many and one-to-one.

So that translates into different features that you need in a portal, right, on different products anyway as well, right? I mean, you need a blog, you need a forum, and you need ways for people to connect with each other.

In terms of KPIs and metrics, as we were talking last night as well. Well, I mean, you can actually measure in this digital world the kind of interactions that you have. So that’s where we’re moving.

Phase one was launching the blog and making sure that we have the right contributors and the right blog materials there. And then we’re going to move into the forum and all the different connections.

Tamao: Well, that segues perfectly into the next question. Because some of what we talked about, right? How many people have you built your team into right now?

Leandro: So the team right now is actually about 30 people.

Tamao: Oh. All right. It’s a lot bigger than I remember.

Leandro: Yes, it is.

Tamao: It’s TomTom scale. Yes. But still you felt like, you know, you had to make priorities, right?

Leandro: Absolutely.

Tamao: We talked about, so he just mentioned these phases and I felt certainly phase one for me or maybe even phase one and two was digital first. Right? So I assume for scalability. So can you talk a little bit about that in terms of, you know, that versus conferences and feet on the ground that…

Leandro: Absolutely. So yeah, in terms of the scale, right? I mean, 30 people includes the portal itself, that includes marketing, product marketing, and also now a developer support team as well. Right?

So first things first. Right? I mean, the first thing was, “Okay, we need people to actually know that TomTom has this.” Right? So digital first and awareness first.

Now the good thing is that we’re getting more and more people into the portal. We want to make sure they’re finding what they need. And that it actually resonates with them, and makes sense with what they’re trying to build. So first phase is awareness. Right? You know, then making sure that, you know, they’re finding what they’re looking for in terms of measuring the time in the portal and so on.

Interpreting the metrics

And it’s kind of funny in terms of metrics. Right? You can not get confused. A lot of people are trying to get typical consumer websites or apps metrics into a developer portal.

And the reality is I care about you registering and getting the API and, you know, getting up and going. I may not care about you spending a lot of time in the portal. If you spend a lot of time in the portal, it could be a good thing or a bad thing. Right? It could be a good thing because you’re finding what you’re looking for. It could be a bad thing because you’re not finding what you’re looking for fast enough and then you go.

So we need to also make sure that we interpret the metrics properly.

Tamao: Is there anything you’ve done to drill into that? Like, do you do surveys? Or do you try to find active users say, “Would you be willing to tell us why you spend so much time in the portal?”

Leandro: Yeah, yes to all. Actually, I look forward to sharing notes with all of you guys later on today. But, you know, talking to developers and getting them to answer surveys is really hard.

And so yeah, we actually have done all of the above, even calling them. The calling ones, very few actually answer, but the kind of information that we got was golden in terms of the ones that were willing to talk to us.

Surveys work a little better, but also lower response rate than what I’ve seen in other audiences. So I welcome other ideas into how to best get, I mean, we have a churn. Right? I mean, people that come, and then they leave. And I would love to understand a little bit more why they leave.

Testing your hypotheses

I have a lot of hypotheses. The way that we’re going about this is using like scientific method. Right? We have a hypothesis and we start testing them. So that’s the best that we came up with.

Tamao: Do you guys have a pop-up in the portal that says “Please tell us,” or no?

Leandro: We do have a pop-up in the portal, but it’s not, no sorry, it’s not a pop-up, it’s a side tab that you can click on. So we don’t want to be, like, too much in your face but…

Tamao: I’m really amazed you got people to answer their phones when you called them. It’s pretty amazing.

And actually, did you have an incentive to give away? This is something I feel like we talk a lot about dev marketing and dev experience. Sometimes if you try to say, “Oh, we’re going to give you a gift card,” it kind of lowers the benefit or the value of the experience for the giver. Did you just say, “Hey, can you help us out and be part of the community?” Or did you have some kind of incentive?

Leandro: So we actually have tried both, and the reality is that both work different in different markets, I found. Some people want to do it because of the goodness of their heart, and then it’s actually good. It’s kind of like the Benjamin Franklin theory of favors. Right? I mean, if you ask a favor and they are more invested in your success and that has been great.

Giving meaningful incentives

And in some other markets, we actually need to give some kind of an incentive. But I’m trying to give a meaningful incentive that actually, you know, help us get more feedback as well. So one of the features that we enabled in the portal is the promo codes. Right? Being able to, you know, for us to give promo codes to people and for those people to give promo codes to other people, and to be able to use more of our products to get more feedback.

Tamao: Yeah. Yeah. I was at a company once where they have a really strong brand, and a developer was saying like, “Oh, you know, I really want a shirt or sticker. Like, how can I earn it?” And they go, “Oh, you just go to our store and buy it.” And that person just sort of slumped over, and said, “Oh. I kind of wanted to earn it.” You know, I always really remember that moment because I thought, oh, sometimes if you just give stuff away or say, “You can exchange with money,” that’s often not close to our hearts in this world, right?

Leandro: So funny that you say that. One of the things that I love about TomTom, and I don’t know if you guys have seen them, we have TomTom socks. So I did a “socks for survey” program at some point. That was fun. So you earn it.

Tamao: Yes, excellent. So as part of that, one of the things I loved in our conversation back to priorities was I said, “You know, how do you 80/20,” like, were there some low hanging fruit that you knew you could fix a few things but would deal with more later. Or did you just say, “Okay, this is our path and even though something really annoys me,” like you mentioned like, “Ooh, there’s too many steps in the onboarding process. I really want to fix it.” But you are like, “No, no, got to prioritize that later.” So how did you…

Leandro: Yeah, so we touched a little bit upon that, and then I want to answer that, but then I also want to talk about online versus offline and meetups and so on. Right? But, yeah, I mean, the onboarding process really bothered me. But first things first. Right?

Tamao: Explain.

Leandro: Yeah. So in terms of the onboarding process, I’ll go a little bit into detail, and then you bring me back up. But basically it’s like we had this difficult process that was like five to seven steps depending on where you landed and where you came from.

And it’s like you have to put your email, then you have to verify the email. Of course, you have a big dropout when you have to verify the email. And then you put the password and then all the different fields that you have to complete to get an account. Not a lot of people wanted to fill all those fields. And then it was validation as you go. So every time you are putting something, everything else became red. It was so annoying.

Awareness first

So it kind of really bothered me, but I was like, “Before we fix that, we actually needed to fix the awareness and make sure that we were having a little bit more data.” Right?

I mean, because as I said, the scale of the portal was very small when it was just for an enterprise channel, because it was just a couple engineers from the enterprise conversations that were coming and checking stuff out, versus when you have hundreds of thousands of people coming and so on.

So yeah. And we saw that it was not only my perception of pain, it was everybody else’s as well. So we actually first, we fixed the awareness. We actually were able to target people much better with the proper awareness campaigns in different channels that we’re still tweaking. It’s a continuous improvement process.

Reducing onboarding steps

Then we actually started fixing the onboarding. So last month we fixed the onboarding. So if you go to and create an account, we welcome your feedback as well.

And, you know, phase one was actually making, we changed from being like five to seven steps to being three steps. We want to make sure that we don’t get crappy emails because then it doesn’t work for anybody. But we also want to make sure that that’s not the big dropout. So we’re looking into different ways to defer verification, or verify with another kind of login.

So welcome your feedback on what you guys have been doing in your portals as well. But making sure that the steps, it takes less steps, and it’s easier to just get going. Then you don’t have to first create your account, and then have an API key. When you create the account, the API key gets created. So that’s just one more step that is not there anymore.

So these little things help. Right? I mean, and it’s good that we’re fixing it now that is relatively early because when you see a couple percentage improvement in the onboarding process, now it’s not many people. But as you’re getting more and more people through the funnel because you are able to get the right formula to capture the right people to come, then those couple percentage points, they make a big difference.

Tamao: So we’re actually coming down to our last minutes so… But I want to ask you’re, like you said, we hope to check-in in the future, and see how things are going. But how are you planning out your next 12 months?

Leandro: Yeah. So, honestly, it’s just doing the phase two and phase three of everything that we were talking about in terms of creating the true community. I don’t think we are there yet.

Starting a conversation

We have a more intimate interaction with people through the blog versus just having documentation and being able to have the right voices for people. The idea is to have forum, Q&A, and other things to make sure that the community is a true community, the people can connect with each other. Right? And that helps us as well.

We actually launched our Twitter @TomTomDevs channel. And it was great because the first followers were actually developers using us. So that’s how we started the conversation that we want to make sure to bring that conversation into the portal as well. And then keep improving the onboarding process and so on.

And then also we hired a developer evangelist in the U.S. and in Europe because we also feel that the offline interactions and meetups makes sense. And we’re trying to figure out what’s the best way to use hackathons. For us, it’s been more about gaining feedback on partly previewed products at the moment.

So yeah, I look forward to checking in next year as well. I look forward to chatting with all of you and sharing notes during the rest of the day.

Tamao: So we probably have time for one question, if there are any. Oh, here’s a hand right here.

Audience Member: Hey. Mic is on?

Tamao: We need the second mic on unless…

Audience Member: Testing, testing, testing. Hey, thanks for sharing your experience. Really enjoyed the talk. I’m curious about how you are tracking and making sure that you’re staying on, you know, on a successful path toward achieving some of the goals that you’ve set out. And then second part of the question may be a little bit of a trail off in a different direction but, haters, how do you deal with them? How do you neutralize them? And do you actively engage?

Leandro: How do I deal with what?

Audience Member: Haters, haters.

Leandro: Haters, okay. So number one. Okay, good question. I think I have an easier answer for number one than for number two, but I’ll give you my hypothesis.

Focusing on the right things

But for number one, I think at the beginning we were focusing, and I think this is important. Right? When you have larger companies that have a marketing department, and business, and product, and engineering, I feel like the focus was on the wrong thing.

It was more about vanity metrics in terms of the numbers of visitors that you have. And the reality is not about the number of visitors, it’s about the quality of visitors. So we’re changing that to making sure that we’re focusing not on the visitors but focusing on the registrations and the active user base. Right? So I think that’s actually very, very important.

And those are the “lag” metrics because when you see them, you cannot react to them, Right? I mean, it’s just about you can fix it for the next month. But then looking at the leave metrics for that. And the leave metrics for that that you can control every day is the interactions that you have with the portal, the number of connections, as I say one-to-one, one-to-many, and many-to-many. Right?

So as long as you have healthy activity, you see that going into more active users. More people registering and more active users.

In terms of haters, my philosophy has been, well, I just want to make sure that we’re part of the conversation first. Even if they hate you, it’s good to be part of the conversation because now you’re top of mind, number one. And I see a little hit more of that on Twitter versus other places.

So when you actually start getting haters, the first thing is like, well, we’re officially there. It’s good.

Kindness is important

And then in terms of how we’re going to be dealing with that, we are going to have moderators because we want to make sure that we create, and I learned this also from Developer Week. It was really interesting to be at Developer Week and seeing how the profile of the Developer is evolving, having a more diverse base in terms of age, gender, and background for developers.

And we want to make sure that it’s an inclusive environment, and that we don’t throw people off just because they’re in the beginning stages of their developer journey. Right? So I think kindness is important.

We’re learning from Stack Overflow in terms of what they did for making sure that you, you know, think something is kind or unkind for the community to be able to help itself. So that’s where we’re going with that.

Audience Member: Thank you.

Tamao: Well, thank you so much. Thanks for your questions. And thank you for Leandro.

Leandro: Thank you so much.

Tamao: Thank you for coming. Thanks.

Leandro: Thank you.

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