27 July, 2022
Developer relations is often one of the first functions to go when a company needs to make savings. If we’re heading into a recession, what does that mean for DevRel more generally?
In this roundtable, Jono Bacon, Jocelyn Goldfein, and Sam Ramji discuss how DevRel teams and individuals can prepare both their programs and themselves for a downturn.
Matthew: Okay, welcome and hello to this round table about developer relations in a downturn. My name is Matthew Revell and I work for Hoopy.
Bryan: Hello, I’m Bryan Robinson. I work at Orbit.
Matthew: Bryan, do you want to share a little bit about orbit who are kindly sponsoring today’s round table?
Bryan: Sure. So first and foremost, this is like a really super important topic, especially in current economic climate. So we’re incredibly happy to be able to, to help make it happen. A couple things I do wanna mention first orbit is a community growth platform. So we do things to help DevRels and community managers build up their community, strengthen their community, but we also really like to create value and like talk best practices. So I wanted to mention a few resources and content that we have available that I think speak to this topic a little bit. So first we’ve got a print magazine — print’s not dead — called Gravity. And our first issue was around metrics, analytics. You can find out about that at orbit.love/gravity. And then we ran a conference a couple months back and there were three talks I think, that speak to this. So you can find out more at orbit.love/nexus. But the talks are “Data led community programs” with Jeremy Meis, from CircleCI, “Scaling and thriving community” with Peggy Rayzis from Apollo. And then I gave a workshop on demonstrating community value in DevRel value our Orbit model, our open source model. So overall we just wanted to make sure this panel could definitely happen in the best way it could, but those are some additional resources you might wanna check out.
Matthew: Right. Thank you. So as you say, this isn’t really a discussion, I guess, any of us wants to be having, but it is a discussion that I feel needs to happen. We’ve seen multiple layoffs recently in tech many of which affect developer relations or developer community developer experience teams. And so the question comes, how do we prepare ourselves for choppier economic times, even if it’s not coming now, it will come at some point. So we probably need to think about how we as individual DevRel people, I guess, insulate our careers somewhat, or prepare ourselves for potential change in our careers, but also within the DevRel programs that we’re involved in. How do we make sure that they are contributing what they need to, to the company in order that we give our companies the best chance of survival, but also to make sure that DevRel programs stay around.
Bryan: Yeah. Even in the best of times, DevRel is one of those things that we’re always kind of scrapping and, and being scrappy to try to prove value in. In the worst of times, that’s super important.
Matthew: For sure. Yeah. so we joined today by three guests who I think will have some really great insights. So let’s introduce our, our guests. We have Jono bacon is joining us. Hello, Jono, how are you?
Jono: Good. It’s good to be here. How are you guys doing?
Matthew: Good. We’ve also got Jocelyn Goldfein who is joining us. Hello, welcome Jocelyn.
Jocelyn: Hi everybody.
Matthew: Thanks for joining us and Sam Ramji as well. Hello, Sam, how are you doing?
Sam: I’m doing great. Good to see you all this morning.
Matthew: Let’s go to our first question then. It seems like a recession is coming, but I guess the question we should open with is, is one coming or is it already here? And Jocelyn, as you work in an investment capacity, I suppose you have a good overview of what’s happening in the market.
Jocelyn: I am certainly happy to share one person’s perspective. You know, I think we haven’t met the kind of official, you know economic indicators for a recession; two quarters in a row declining growth that hasn’t happened yet. I think everybody sitting around the table in investment circles and CFOs are fully expecting that to happen in sometime in the next four to six quarters. And there are people projecting it to be short, there are people projecting it to be long. It’s Anybody’s guess, but it’s there’s enough indicators that it’s a smart time to brace yourself and be thinking ahead. What I will say has already happened is that boards and CEOs and CFOs are all making those preparations. So they’re all thinking about if they’re a sort of venture backed private company, the ones I sit on the boards of, they’re all thinking about how do we extend runway?
Jocelyn: How do we make our cash last, as long as possible? How do we add cash to the business right now, if we can, and sort of watching their plan like a hawk, but I’m already seeing companies, revise plans downward sort of have lower expectations of the revenue they’re gonna drive in the next quarter. If you’re a public company. I mean, we’ve seen the public companies are already taking actions, freezing hiring, starting layoffs, and those are all in the same spirit of what private companies are doing. And in these moments cash is king, not to be too sobering, but that’s the reason we’re having the round table today. Prepare for the worst. And then you can only exceed your expectations.
Matthew: Sam, as chief strategy officer at DataStax, what are you doing to accommodate this new reality?
Sam: Well, we’ve fortunately just raised $115 million in, a round led by Goldman Sachs. We had an up round despite the decline in macroeconomic conditions. And I think that has everything to do with the fact that companies no longer have an option but to digitize their way out of a recession. So you have to look at what is the strategy of the customers you’re serving. So we’ve gotten very focused on making sure that we’re not part of cost saving measures. You know, that’s always a place where you’re already in a conversation where you’re gonna get squeezed for more and more discounts and possibly out of the deal because a huge cloud provider could come along and say, you know, what, if you just use our version of this software, you know, we’ll cut 5% off of your bill. Now they’re paying a hundred million dollars a year to GCP or Azure or AWS.
Sam: And so 5% savings, all of a sudden looks like $5 million. Well, that’s more than we charge them per year. So you don’t wanna be on the cost saving side. You really have to be on the growth side. You have to be focusing on where’s the line of business working to make sure that their company not just sticks around, but thrives in the downturn. And I think that’s all about making sure that you’re focusing on innovation internally. We’re being really smart about the money we have. We’re increasing efficiency. We’re asking, what can we do differently? What do we need to stop doing? It’s very easy for us to get used to growth as a constant. Money is free. We’ll just spend and worry about the accounting later. But the wonderful thing about a downturn is it gets you that sobering opportunity, the word that you mentioned before “sobering”, okay, what have we been doing over the last couple years? What have we become numb to that we shouldn’t be doing? And where can we just wake up and stop? So I think efficiency is key and understanding that we should always be optimistic about technology as being the way that companies are gonna power themselves out of the downturn, cuz we’re still in a digitization phase of the economy.
Bryan: So you mentioned growth versus efficiency. Would you also kinda see that as explosive growth versus sustainable growth? Or is that a different concept?
Sam: I think we have to continue to look for explosive growth. If you look at the companies that continue to echo today, many of them came out of the 2008, 2009 downturn. So we can have kind of a shrinkage mindset and worry about, oh my gosh, the sky’s falling. What’s gonna happen next. We’re gonna have to manage things professionally the way that we manage them anyway. But if you can have that new vision, if you can say, you know, what surprised us about the breakout growth that we saw, maybe at small scale with the particular class of customers that we didn’t expect, how are they using our software? Can we be nimble? And can we go after them hard? Can we create new campaigns? Can we go and ask those questions and get more people to use our software in that way?
Sam: There were a lot of surprises in ’08, ’09 and we still use the technology of the companies that that built themselves during that time period. So I think explosively has to be the mandate. Jocelyn will point out, of course, that the rule of 40 is important. So it really depends on whether you’re a public company or a startup. Where are you in your fundraising cycle? And are you targeting an IPO? Like if you were targeting an IPO based on your explosive growth in 2022, I think most people would caution you that maybe this is not the year to go out. If you’re a public company, though, consumption is king, so you’re looking for sustained growth and you know that that’s gonna come from DevRel, not to beg the question that our whole conversation’s about today,
Matthew: For those that don’t know, can we look at what the rule of 40 is?
Sam: Sure. So the rule of 40 is a way to think about the appropriate valuation of a company. It used to be in recent times we saw Snowflake and HashiCorp go public at valuation multiples of about 52 times revenue, which is pretty eye popping, right? We’re talking like 80 billion valuation for Snowflake. That’s based on just amazing runaway growth, right? The top line growth was over 140%, I think for Snowflake when they had that valuation rule of 40 then has a much more sober perspective. And it says basically the profitability of your company measured in a percentage plus the growth of your company measured in a percentage should add up to 40 or more. And if you’re over 40, then we think you probably have your stuff together and you know how to manage the company. And you can kind of go up with the upturns and you can weather the downturns. So it’s a way that we start to say growth at any costs might not be so favorable. Now let’s take a look at growth balanced with profitability.
Matthew: Thanks. And Jono your work brings you into contact with many different companies and developer communities and developer relations programs. Are you seeing any differences?
Jono: I’d say yes. Yes and no. I mean, the, the elements that Jocelyn and Sam were just talking about around, you know executives are preparing for the worst is definitely happening. Seeing freezing hires happening everywhere. What I’m not seeing right now is any significant reduction of DevRel teams and staffing. I think many companies see the value in this work and the importance of this work. You know, if you’re gonna go through a recession, you can’t just stop engaging with your audience. It just doesn’t work that way. So I think people realize this, however, what I do think is happening, and I think this is actually a good thing is there is an increasing level of scrutiny around the impact of every role in a business. And and I think that’s important for DevRel as well as anything else.
Jono: The challenge I think with DevRel is that I think sometimes either there hasn’t been a culture of scrutiny in some companies, in some cases. And then in other cases, there are also DevRel folks who struggle with being able to show to an executive team the value of the work that they’re bringing. You know, they may be bringing an enormous value, but they can’t necessarily translate it. And I don’t mean that in a demeaning or a condescending manner, it’s just, it’s something that I see quite regularly with my clients. And I think bridging that gap is gonna be really critical, but I’m not seeing any really significant changes there. I’m also seeing like a ton of my clients which is just one slice of the market of course, continuing to hire these roles. Where I’ve seen most significant freezing when it comes to hiring is actually primarily in engineering.
Bryan: So I think that’s a, that’s a really good segue overall. So some things I heard: executives are making adjustments. We are looking towards cost savings measures across the board and there’s more scrutiny around business metrics. So it sounds like some combination of those might explain why there might be, I’d say, maybe fear in the DevRel community around is DevRel going to be one of the first things cut and how do we prevent DevRel from being one of the first things that’s cut?
Jono: Yeah. You know I kind of take a fairly blunt view on this, which I appreciate there’s many holes in this view, which is if you’re bringing outstanding value to a business, you’re unlikely to lose your job. Now there are gonna be cases where companies make bad bets. I mean, this has happened with Shopify recently, right? The CEO came out and said, “I made some bad bets on e-commerce”, and they’ve had 10% layoffs. So sometimes good people who are doing really good work do get laid off, of course. But I think when you are focused on ecosystem development, which is always gonna be critical to a business and you’re doing great work and you’re able to translate that work into value that your stakeholders can understand, then I think you’re probably gonna be okay. But I’ve seen like some of this fear in the DevRel community where there are really good people doing really good work and they don’t feel like their work is well understood or well quantified. We talk about this all the time in DevRel, right? But there needs to be more and more clarity around that ROI component of it, which is never all encompassing, but it’s gotta be enough where we can relieve that fear.
Jocelyn: I’d love to jump in and amplify what you just said, which I do a hundred percent think is all about the value. And it’s particularly, it’s what Sam said about sort of driving impact, driving measurable growth. And if you are a growth driver right now, then you are too precious to lose. And in fact those are the roles that are still being hired, even in the context of a larger, hiring freeze. I think that the big difference, it’s always true that we need to quantify growth, that we need to show ROI that that’s been a long term kind of trend in DevRel. How do we go from something that feels like a nice to have to something where we can quantify the value we’re creating. But I think one difference between the last recession 10 years ago, and now is that historically DevRel was a long term investment.
Jocelyn: It was a healthy ecosystem. It was a happy, you know, it was partnership. It was things that would drive revenue somewhere down the line. But second order effects. What’s happened in the last five years with the rise of open core business models with the rise of product led growth, self-service is that for products that are largely bought or influenced by a developer community, which is not every product, not every DevRel role, but a big chunk of them today, DevRel is actually a growth driver. DevRel is actually what’s driving revenue. And so I think I think there’s, it’s almost gonna be a haves and have nots world. If a company sits there and looks at DevRel and says, “This is a long term investment”, and, “Hey, maybe right now I gotta tighten my belt and long term investments are not a luxury or luxury I can’t afford at this moment”.
Jocelyn: Then they may have to scale back their DevRel efforts. But if they look at DevRel as something that drives revenue in the short term, or drives customer retention and customer expansion in the short term, then DevRel is precious and they’re gonna keep investing into it. I mean, it’s that black and white. And so I think a good thing to take inventory of right now is both, “Am I sitting in a company whose business model is driven by DevRel? If so, I’m in a strong position. If I’m not, maybe I need to think about looking at some of these companies where it is who are still hiring because they need it”. But I do think that there’s this kind of mushy middle, where as Jono says, it’s all about being able to articulate the value and drive a connection between what you’re doing and how many leads I generated for the Salesforce. Maybe it’s not product led, maybe it’s direct sales, but maybe the qualified leads that really convert are the ones that came through the developer community. So being able to quantify your impact, not on strategic initiatives, but on revenue in the next three quarters is a guarantee of job security.
Jono: You know, just real quick, one of the things that Kirk, so there was a comment in the chat that Kirk says, “Qualifying the value of DevRel and showing metrics is such a difficult thing”, which I agree with. But I think one of the challenges that a lot of DevRel people face here is trying to come up with the one true means of demonstrating value of the work they’re doing. And in my mind, it doesn’t exist and it never will exist that the metrics will be somewhat dependent on what value is considered by the company that you’re working for. And, you know, to your point, Jocelyn, there are standard metrics like revenue, right? If you can demonstrate a link to revenue, then clearly that’s gonna be a powerful metric, but different companies are at different phases, right?
Jono: In terms of brand growth and, and you know user or registration growth and things like that. So in my mind, the key to solving that problem, that Kirk’s highlighting there is really crisply understanding what are the top three things that the company that you work for cares about? And the hard thing is, is that the things that they may care about, may be the things that you don’t care about. Right? Cause I think a lot of DevRel people are motivated and inspired by people and relationships and all those things, which are super important. But I think when we can identify those things for your specific company, even if it may be very different to other companies. Then I think it makes it easier to be able to define that for people moving forward.
Sam: Yeah. I think connection versus isolation is absolutely crucial. And I think this mushy middle that has been articulated is so excellent because often we find that DevRel can show up as a bit like an art colony, right? Don’t ask me about the value of the art. It’s amazing. We do fantastic things and there are all these wonderful experiences. That’s kind of an isolated way to communicate about what you do and only other practitioners can, can grok it, even grok is a good word to describe it, right? Like whereas connectedness is actually our accountability as DevRel professionals to be very curious about how the business operates and think about how good we are at evangelizing the value of what our company does to our community. What if we could flip that around and use those same skills to evangelize the value of what our community does for our company.
Sam: So we need to get over the fear of communicating with the supreme executive vice president chancellor, right? Whatever, all those things that we worry about hierarchically and just go, “Hmm. I think you could really create a connection between what we do right now and what happens to the business next quarter”. It’s not the same as revenue this quarter, but it is a leading indicator and that will make you more capable of making good predictions about where your business is going. So just some curiosity about that interface rather than being isolated, right. Choosing to be connected.
Bryan: So we heard a couple things about like DevRel as a growth driver, right. And definitely there are probably the majority of DevRel programs that kind of fit that bill, but also like that feels like a DevRel team that falls under maybe a marketing org, but there’s also kind of the second side of DevRel that falls under maybe a product org. And I wonder, I think the marketing org is easier to prove that that growth it’s, you you’d probably know your metrics because you’re, you know, reporting to VP of growth, VP of marketing, whatever that might be. What’s the kinda flip of the switch on that. And how could maybe DevRel teams that report up through a product org have a similar thing, even if it is a product led growth company,
Sam: I refer to Jocelyn because she has a number of investments in this area, and frankly, if you were a DevRel and your job’s getting cut, you should send Jocelyn a note because most of her companies are hiring DevRel.
Jocelyn: We actually are. I do sit on the board of a lot of companies that are trying hard to hire DevRel people right now and consider it one of the toughest jobs to hire for. So if you’re excited to go initiate a new community, I do wanna put in a word for startups here. In times when macroeconomic conditions are shaky, people often feel like, oh, the safe thing is to go work for a big company. And and maybe now is not the time in my life to take the risk of joining a startup. But if you think about an early stage startup, one that has raised recently has 18 to 24 months of runway and you know, and a pretty decent chance of raising again, like you, you can assess the quality of the startup and decide if they have a decent chance of raising again, if they have four years of runway, like that’s forever, that’s longer than your average job.
Jocelyn: So like that’s as safe as a big company. And, and I would argue that in current circumstances, the companies that have been first to freeze hiring and do layoffs are the big ones, not the small ones, because they’re, this is starting in the public markets. And so I actually think that like right now startups may be safer and especially a startup where it’s a DevRel led growth model and you’re kind of the core of growth and of getting off the ground for a company. So anyway thank you Sam, for giving me a chance to get on my soapbox and say, if you’re feeling risk averse, now’s the time to embrace the startup. But in terms of the metrics, when you’re sitting in the product organization, now’s the original question. It’s gotta be the product metrics and look, some companies are incredibly metric oriented.
Jocelyn: I worked for four years at Facebook and this company had product instrumented to the to a T. If you sat in the photos team, you knew exactly what metrics you were trying to move this quarter. We’re trying to make not just the absolute number of photos go up, but we’re trying to make participation rate go up. So the percentage of our users that upload at least one photo and we’re looking at, so we’re looking at photo uploads, we’re looking at engagement photos. And so the more a product is oriented organization is oriented towards metrics in that way, actually the easier it is for DevRel to just kind of fall in line and be able to actually measure and instrument the impact. The more kind of it’s loosey goosey and qualitative and like you know, like the art colony, like the artists aren’t wrong, like the customer delight is real and it has an unquantifiable impact, like the impact’s not false, but to the extent that that impact exists, eventually somewhere you can measure it. You can measure, are people coming, are they spending more time?
Jocelyn: Are they adopting more? Are they downloading more? Are they using, are they consuming the API, the SDK more? And like those metrics are so called and dried, but it was actually beautiful API design. It was great developer ergonomics that, that made those download rates go up that made those consumption rates go up. But at the end of the day, if you are having value to people, if you’re creating an impact, then you can find a way to measure it. And I think that for DevRel people who are sort of allergic to thinking about the business and revenue and like, oh, that’s what sales guys and suits do. Like, I’m a creative, I’m creative and I’m a creator. And I’m serving my community and relationships. I think the thing that for me got me over the hump was, was this was thinking about what I really care about is creating value for my customers, for my community. I really care about that impact and a business model revenue, all of that. Like, that’s nothing more than keeping score of whether I created value for people.
Jocelyn: And so the way my company makes money almost always falls in line with the way I create value for people. And so if I can kind of lean back and think about it as like, you know, “How can I be sure that I really am delighting my users? How can I be sure that I really am making a difference to my community?” And think about metrics like starting from first principles, starting from what would make you feel good that you were doing that your job had impact almost always, you can divide and conquer the problem. If you make that your starting point, you can work step by step back to a way that it touches your business model. Otherwise your company’s business model is fairly flawed. If you cannot draw a connection step by step, you know, one step at a time from delighting your community and creating value for people to them wanting to pay you money, then maybe that’s not a company that has a future that, you know, that needs to exist.
Jono: You know, one thing that what you were just saying, I just learned that kind of where my mind goes here is I, I agree with you, you know, that kind of revenue number, it’s, it’s a way of measuring one type of impact, right? And value on an audience. And you know, in the in the revenue world, companies talk about lifetime value, like, what is the amount of money somebody is gonna spend with you over the course of their life, with you as a customer?And where my head is kind of going a little bit is, you know, everybody talks about growth in DevRel and it always makes me kind of feel little awkward because growth is often at the front end of the funnel, which is getting new people in. And I know we’re not talking about that exclusively here, which is one measurement of growth.
Jono: And I think a lot of executives will look at how many more people came in this month. Which I think is one thing that’s important to look at. But to me, the real impact of DevRel is in maintaining and building authentic relationships between a company and its developers and its users. And I wonder whether one approach to this is to think of lifetime value within the context of DevRel. And to me, lifetime value within the context of DevRel is the number of touch points across an extended period of time. Like if you’ve got a developer who shows up and they’re brand new, so they contribute to your top of funnel growth metric. That’s great. But if that developer then over the course of two years, goes to 10 of your technical workshops, reads 600 pages of your documentation, contributes four different ideas that get actioned inside of your community.
Jono: To me, that is an undeniable example of the impact of DevRel because that journey would’ve not happened without that person weaving and nurturing that person through that maze of options that are available to them in a world of a billion, different distractions, one of which is Stranger Things, which everybody should go and watch. So I wonder whether we need to kind of get into that modality of we track the front of the top of funnel growth piece, but then how we instrument that to your point, Jocelyn, around how Facebook is an example, we’re instrumenting product metrics, where we instrument that lifetime value that that developers are experiencing as they go through it.
Sam: It tells you a lot about the organization, whether the DevRel is organized under the chief product officer or under the chief marketing officer. Ideally it should be a collaborative function. You’re gonna have a bit each way. Right? when I worked at Microsoft in the 2000s, we didn’t call it DevRel we called developer evangelism, and it was very much you know, part of the marketing organization and part of the sales organization, and many of the folks who were leaders there and practitioners have ended up in places like Azure technical sales, but the product teams did want to hear from us every quarter or so to be able to improve their product. So I think being able to keep the connection between product and marketing is one of the key values of DevRel. I loved both what Jocelyn and Jono said.
Sam: I think when you look at the metrics, you, you have to remember that we left behind the idea of revenue as the only metric that matters to a business in 1980, right? That’s roughly when the practice of the balance scorecard was created. I was nine years old then, I’m 50 now, right? So if you’re running your business on revenue, you’re probably not a place to, you know, you really not a place that’s gonna innovate or grow. So if you think about the balance scorecard, you think about earned growth. If you think about product led growth, there’s a new way of thinking about satisfaction and how it affects revenue. And I’d encourage every DevRel person to go and take a look at this article came out in the last year or so in Harvard business review, it’s called NPS 3.0 NPS. A lot of people say like, I hate NPS.
Sam: It can be gamed. They know, they’re sorry. It was 20 years ago. NPS 2.0, came out in late 2000 but 3.0, combines these ideas that Jocelyn and Jono offered around how do we think about improving the product through telemetry? How do we understand lifetime value? How do we relate customer acquisition cost? And that incremental improvement of the product that comes in from the DevRel stream does it decrease churn, because I’ll tell you the killer for LTV is churn. And if DevReL is connected with dropping churn in a product organization, and it’s also connected with increaseign conversion, because your content’s better, your docs are better your out there connecting with users and your’re doing developer support. I really think ideally the DevRel person is poly. They’re curious about everything a user may need, no job is too small, right? They work in dev support. They also do keynotes, right? So that’s, that’s how we create kind of this magical function that makes me so excited about DevRel every day.
Matthew: One of the issues that marketing people talk about is that attribution is one of the hardest problems they face. So while DevRel people can know what impacts they believe they’ve had, how can you separate out the impact of DevRel versus all the other parts of the organization working together?
Sam: I think Jono is the person that I would lean to, to offer a framework. Actually when we decided — I’m part of the new management team at Datastax — we came on board about maybe two and three quarters years ago and a little bit in when we decided we needed to really professionalize the organization, we had about 450 employees at the time. We’re like, you know, what, if we’re gonna be great at DevRel we need to hire Jono so I would lean on his framework because we use it day internally and I could give you a precis but it wouldn’t be as good as the horse’s mouth.
Jono: I appreciate that, Sam, very kind of you. I think there’s a couple of things that spring to mind for me here. There’s kind of like strategic methods and there’s tactical methods. One of the things, if we start with the tactics just briefly, one of the things that surprises me about a lot of DevRel folks, as well as marketing folks that I’ve worked with clients is that is that they’re not tracking the source of their traffic. And there’s a whole separate question around how much you should track people online, but every single link that you put out there to any piece of content and DevRel folks, you know, generate so much content, typically you should be tracking where that traffic is coming from. And you can do that with UTM codes really easily.
Jono: You can track it in Google Analytics. And that’s a great source of if you see that 30% of your traffic came from initiatives that were run by the DevRel team, then that’s a really simple, quick fix that you can apply. But I think that’s a bandaid and that can be helpful. To me, there’s two other thoughts here. One is I think attribution’s important, but at the end of the day, we have to play together as a team, right? And I think if, if it turns into a game of, well, who’s responsible for this and who’s responsible for this too much, then to me, it’s as flawed as asking people to track their hours is that we’re tracking the wrong metric. What we should be tracking is, if we are able to source someone on the internet, a developer to bring them in, give them a great experience and to keep them around for, you know, two or 3, 4, 5, 6 years then the product team and the marketing team and the IT and infrastructure team all played a role in that journey happening. To me, what’s important when it comes to attribution is figuring out who’s responsible for which pieces of that puzzle and how effective were those pieces.
Jono: So to me, I’d rather, instead of tracking, you know, who’s responsible for that developer kind of coming in more when we ran that technical workshop, was it effective and that’s where we can use a lot of the traditional digital marketing metrics like, you know, how many people showed up to your workshop, what was the conversion rate of your landing page and things like that. I think if you’ve got a DevRel person, they run, let’s say a technical workshop and they build a funnel for that. And all the components of those funnel of that funnel are optimized. Then you know that that DevRel person is basically is working as effectively as they can, but they can get people through the door. But if you’ve got a product that sucks, you’re not gonna get a great developer experience. And that’s where I think we need to kind of align everybody that we are all part of the same team.
Jono: And I think sometimes this means, and this can be terrifying for DevRel folks, especially, you know, as Sam was saying earlier on, if people are a little nervous about talking to executives, I think part of the job in my mind is really setting expectations and, and aligning executives with what are the right? What are the, what are the right things to track? Just because someone’s an executive doesn’t necessarily mean they have all the answers. And in many cases, they’re looking to their DevRel team for guidance and input. I found this with the vast majority of exec execs that I’ve worked with is, and this is not just talking to me. This is talking to the DevRel folks is they want to learn from the DevRel folks. It’s not a one way relationship. So I think saying, you know, just purely track and attribution is one piece of it, but we should really be making sure that we’re identifying who’s responsible for the initiatives and then optimizing the initiatives and that we’re all part of the same team.
Bryan: I have a question and it goes back a little bit, but I think it speaks to this attribution side of things. So Jocelyn, you mentioned at Facebook everything was like super well oiled in terms of the tracking. And you’ve got a portfolio of startups now, most of whom are probably not a well oiled machine yet. Right. So how can the DevRel folks who are watching right now help influence how we can better tracking internal to the product because marketing folks, they’ve got a decent set of attribution, like UTM codes and all that. But like how do we take that funnel that we had for the technical workshop and then trace that through to a spike in product usage around the feature we covered inside of that for, for both maybe a well oiled machine and a non and a rusty new machine, which is antithetical, I suppose.
Jocelyn: Well, I think it really varies depending on the company and its stage and its business model, but really like what is important to the company. And it, it does mean that that DevRel people have to get comfortable with that kind of cross-functional communication with hugging their counterparts in marketing and in product and even in finance, right. And figuring out what matters at a seed stage startup with its first DevRel person that’s just trying to create a community program. Like you don’t need to have telemetry on every single thing, what you need are three design partners. And you know, what if those design partners appeared in Slack and were engaged in Slack then, like chances are we give DevRel credit for it. Like attribution’s not super important when it’s that small.
Jocelyn: So clearly when you’re a little bit larger and the name of the game is about repeatability scale and growth, that’s where it’s really important to have a great relationship with the product team you work with. And the good news is it’s awesome for product managers and engineers to have this kind of instrumentation too, because they can measure if their product is successful, if their product is working for customers and users. If they can measure what are the key moments? Is it logins? Is it is it API calls? And and I think that you’d be, you’d be flying blind to try to scale product growth or the growth of an SDK, whatever your business model is, without the basics of, “Are people using my stuff and is it working for them? How is it solving their problem?”
Jocelyn: And so what that is will vary by product by product, but that’s a conversation between between PM and DevRel, I think. I almost wonder how much we’re living in the past here too, because, and maybe I’m living too much in the future but I feel like any tech company that got its start in the last five or eight years is growth forward, has adopted this playbook of… It’s you know, 20 years ago we treated customer support as a cost center. We knew we had to solve customer problems or they would stop paying us, but we wanted to spend as little on it as possible because there was no upside, there was only avoiding downside.
Jocelyn: And then we realized, “Oh, wait, now that we’re in a subscription business model, if customers are really happy, they’ll use our product more, they’ll buy more of it.” And so actually this is a growth driver, this generates revenue. So we made the transition from customer support cost center, make it run cheap, do as much with as little as you can, to customer success. Invest into it because this drives growth. Like, I feel like that’s the mentality of execs today and that’s the mentality of product companies today is to measure, but to, but to believe you know, to believe that investing in the community is gonna invest in expansion. We’re measuring business metrics now, like net revenue retention. And if someone trained up 10 years ago and has been like, “Oh, that’s icky business stuff, don’t need to pay attention to that.”
Jocelyn: Like, you’ve actually missed a pretty tectonic shift in how your function is valued and measured. So I guess I feel differently. I sit in so many board meetings where we talk about the importance of growing community, where we talk about you know, engagements in Discord or GitHub stars as sort of measures that we’re measuring for their own sake that we want to see grow, because we all believe that there’s a connection between that and driving leads to our sales team or driving credit card swipes on the website down the line. Or if you’re Facebook and it’s ad driven revenue, like if our product is great, then people will spend more time and we’ll make more money that way. So I almost think that that growth mentality has become so ubiquitous now in Silicon Valley startups, I’m kind of like if you work for a company that doesn’t have that mentality, man, find a better job. Find a better set of execs who get it. Also, do be open to going and talking to those people and hugging them. I think there’s been a real sea change. I think everybody knows native content is the best way to drive authentic interactions with community members or people who may pay you money. Someday. I think that this is the new common wisdom.
Jono: You know, Jocelyn, one of the things I love about what you just said there is about the hugging it out because I think some DevRel folks see themselves as sitting in their lane. Right. But, and there’s a lot of debate in the DevRel world around reporting into marketing or reporting into engineering or reporting into product. And to me, the most inspiring and incredible DevRel folks that I’ve ever seen have just got this ability to just slither all over the business and just engage with people and draw connections and get everybody excited about a common mission. And those people are super powerful. And I think the DevRel people that have struggled at times have become a little tribal in nature where they say, “Well, hang on, we’re in the engineering team. And those marketing people are making us do these things, or those sales people are making us do things.” And, and to your point, I think that’s a perspective of the past. You won’t last long with that mentality.
Jocelyn: And you’re neglecting your superpower. You’re an evangelist, you’re a community builder. Exactly. Like use that mindset to build community with your teammates to coworkers. Yeah. And to evangelize what you do to, you know, I mean, that’s your superpower. And when you define other business, other job functions as your rivals or as some other silo, you’re actually just like leaving your superpower on the floor and like, you know, leaving your magic sword and armor at home and like just going and being a muggle, like why would you?
Sam: I’ll point out something surprising, which is that the DevRel folks who are afraid of executives or of other functions, those functions are afraid of them. So think about this, you have a technical product, right? And then you have people who come into the company and they don’t have a technical background. And it’s easy for us to forget the level of intimidation that non-technical people feel in startups and in technical product companies. So if we can start to change our heart and again, to follow Jocelyn’s hug your executives, hug the other functions. It’s really important to enable them to decrease their fear, right? Because whatever we fear, we’re gonna keep it ar arm’s length. And we might take actions that don’t make sense. Teams might get cut. People might get fired because the conversation never happened. I do have a, a couple things to say that I think are maybe just very practical and metrics oriented because I don’t, I don’t believe that it’s not measurable.
Sam: I also agree that we shouldn’t do hard attribution. I had the privilege of working at Google for a few years and our Chief Financial Officer, Ruth Porat who I think is really one of the very best in the business. She was constantly asked about attribution and if we were gonna run Google as P and Ls, and she said, “No, every year we get asked the question every year, we take a look at it”. And she said, “I think what makes Google magical is that we believe that lots of smart people working hard together can create great experiences for customers. And that makes us a great company. Once we start doing attribution, now we’ve created this whole new game. That sucks up a lot of our time of counting things. And did you count the thing or did I get the thing?”
Sam: And now we fight about that or else, do we lie to each other? And we say, well, we’ll both count both things. And now we’ve created this new ungrounded economy where everything gets doubled and eventually gets tripled. So attribution as a term, it’s a, it’s a mistake. Don’t, don’t follow that path. But measurement, measurement’s king. Simple question. Do you have a technical product? Okay. If you do guess what technical products don’t sell themselves. They also don’t use themselves. Where do they happen? Marketing brings people to the show. DevRel creates the show. The people who arrive there are a cohort. You can offer them a tracking code. You can figure out how many people came in and use the free trial. You can put that in the cookie. You can make sure that you understand who these people are as they come through your site without violating their privacy.
Sam: You can look at that cohort and do conversion. So everything that we’ve learned about PLG or product led growth, if you go to the SaaStr conference, just take that and maybe replace the P with the D like developer led growth, or maybe it’s developer centric, product led growth. We need better terms here. Then you can say like, what’s happening with our doc views with people with those cookies. What about support tickets? What about Slack members? If you have a Slack community? So these things are super trackable and I’ll reflect one last piece of wisdom that Mary Thengvall offered when, when Jono and I got a chance to talk with her a few months ago, she said, what about DevRel qualified leads? We can create clear language as both Jono and Jocelyn were mentioning, there’s sort of top of funnel, which ends up flowing down in the marketing system to be an MQL or a marketing qualified lead. Eventually it gets handed off to some salesperson. They make an inbound call. It’s called a S0, right? It’s a sales opportunity stage zero. And then they progress.
Sam: This is what sort of modern sales and marketing understand. It’s highly programmatic and conversion rates are generally around 2%. If you’re doing really, really great, right? You’ve got all these people at the front, and then you eventually bring ’em in, but DevRel qualified leads may be lower in total volume, but they’re much higher in conversion, stickiness, and much lower in churn. So you’re really talking about two very different things. Do you want the gold, or do you want the gold ore. You gotta crunch a lot of gold ore to get down to the gold, but DevRel may be just bringing gold. So cohorts, tracking codes, free trial conversion, doc views, support tickets, Slack members, and DevRel qualified leads, I think are very clean ways to fit into a modern technical product business for DevRel.
Matthew: I’d like to ask you in closing, we’ve spoken a lot about the organizational level and how people can contribute to their team’s success within a company. But if someone watching this has found themselves no longer employed, how can they put their best foot foot forward to go and get that next DevRel role in maybe a more constrained economy?
Jono: I’ve got a really practical thing that they can do. So I actually built a training course for how people can get their dream community job. If people want to email me, I’ll give them free access to it. Like these are difficult times and it walks people step by step through how to identify companies you want to work for. How to put together a great resume, how to go to an interview and actually do it well. You know how to learn more about the company before you actually share your skills and experience. It’s a very, very practical way of going through it. And given that we’re in difficult times, if people want to email me email@example.com I’m happy to give people free access to it.
Matthew: That’s wonderful. Thanks Jono. Jocelyn, what are you advising your founders to look for in DevRel people?
Jocelyn: Well, we’re frequently hiring the first DevRel person. And so what we’re looking for is someone who’s a little bit of a Jack of All Trades and doesn’t have to be the master of one of them, but someone who can get us set up, someone who can kind of cover the bases and say, and come up with our strategy. You know, we need a place to talk to our community. Is that Discord? Is that Slack? Let’s get it going. We need a way to interact and solve problems and we need a way to measure success. Maybe we need to adopt Orbit. But also this person is gonna end up being the perso doing the writing. So so I think like the ability to write clearly and authentically in a good developer voice is one of the most important things.
Jocelyn: The ability to run workshops and really bond and form real meaningful relationships with the party at the other end. So I would say it’s that breadth. It’s being able to do a little bit of everything that is most important when you’re hiring the first one. And if someone had joined another tech company, when the community team was small, and then when the community was small and saw it grow and saw a sort of variety of things that did and didn’t work, that would be catnip to me. Because I would love someone who has seen the future a little bit. And then, you know, if I got to keep piling on things that would be just bonus points and add appeal to me, someone who’s got a spirit of experimentation. What worked at some other company is not necessarily gonna work at my company.
Jocelyn: Every product is different, which means every community is different. And so someone who’s just like prepared to try a bunch of things in a scrappy way and sort of walk away from the things that didn’t work, don’t fall in love with your babies. But try more. If you know it’s not working, don’t get in the dumps, just like, okay, that test didn’t work. We’re gonna try the next one. We’re gonna try the next one. We’re gonna find the thing that does work. So, you know, I think that kind of resiliency and hustle attitude, but grounded and authentically caring about people and product. Can I have it all?
Matthew: Sam, any advice from your side?
Sam: Yeah. So, you know, 21 years ago I was cut from my company in a recession, right? 2001, we had the dot com bust and we thought that was the worst it was gonna get. But then right after that, of course was September 11th 2001. So that was, that was a tough time, but it enabled me to retool. So I would invite people who are about to lose their job, right. Or who got surprised with it to kind of take, take the most of the package. It’s gonna be shocking. It hurts. I get it. I’ve been there, but to be able to do some written reflection and reimagine the work you’ve done, how might you explain this in a zero stress environment, just you and your computer. You’re just writing out a document. How might I explain what I’ve done in the last two years to a chief marketing officer?
Sam: How might I describe it to a chief financial officer? You can talk to some people who you might have met in finance or marketing, right? How do you start to just get a little bit more on the business. That reset, that re-imagination of what you’ve done now that you’re not under the stress of having to deliver constantly does give you an opportunity to learn something about yourself, tell a slightly different story. At the same time, don’t disappear. Right? Many of us in the industry suffer from from depression, from anxiety. I’m certainly one of them and the cure is not retreating and licking your wounds. It is to connect with the beautiful things about the DevRel communities, not just that it’s poly, not just that it’s artistic, but that it is connected and caring. So I’ve seen the prior recession with COVID two years ago.
Sam: I saw a lot of people coming out on Twitter and saying, I just lost my job. I feel terrible. And you just see there’s this swarm of like 10 or 20 or a hundred people going, oh, I’m so sorry. Hey, call me, do you wanna just chat? Oh my gosh, I’m hiring. And the way that social media can work at its best, I think is often showcased in how we, how we support each other in the DevRel community. So reimagine, reflect, reset, and then stay connected. Get out there. Just tell people what’s going on. May be too scary to ask for help. You could just say life sucks for me right now and I think you’ll be amazed at what comes back.
Matthew: Wonderful. Jocelyn, Jono, Sam. Thank you so much for your time and your wisdom over the past fifty minutes. Bryan, thanks for co-hosting with me.
Bryan: Thank you.