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As a startup, how do you acquire customers if the target market is developers?

Our startup innovation idea is for developers.
How do you acquire customers/users to your startup if the target market is developers and software development decision makers?
What's the best timing, in terms of product readiness (MVP), to get your first client and how?

Thanks,
J/

21 Replies

Owen Rubel
1
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Owen Rubel Advisor
Creator of API Chaining, IO State, API I/O Abstraction and modern API Automation
If you are targeting developers, you need to offer a free product and a paid product
Martin Miller
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Martin Miller Advisor
VP of Engineering, Infrastructure, DevOps
I concur with Owen Rubel , FREE, paid can come later.

To gain traction, give developers something of value that is useful, intriguing, and allow them to build something amazing. Anything short of amazing is a waste of time for all.

Question for you:
How will you promote and get the word out of your "amazing" and "must have" product ?

Last point:
MVP, is too much of a cliche.... commit with a roadmap, and metrics for success :-)



Janiv Ratson
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Janiv Ratson Entrepreneur • Advisor
R&D Manager & Israel R&D Site Manager
Thanks you guys.

Question for you:
How will you promote and get the word out of your "amazing" and "must have" product ?

This is a question to discuss. I have no plans yet.
Bob Binder
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Bob Binder Entrepreneur
Member of Technical Staff at Software Engineering Institute | Carnegie Mellon University

What is the business model? SAAS? Seat? Free can be a big trap (ratchet effect), unless you only plan to make money from a side-effect (advertising or services.) Even for a market that has been conditioned to expect amazing tooling for "free," price is still a powerful signal. How do you plan to get above the noise of other FOSS offerings? What are the competition/substitutes doing?


Enterprise IT and embedded developers will still pay for tooling that takes away a big enough pain or has proven reduction in time or cost, but be prepared for a expensive, long hard slog in marketing and selling.


Building a market by developing mindshare among developers can be done, but it seems like a lottery to me. Git, Github, and BitBucket are a great case study, from both a business and marketing perspective.





Sam McAfee
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Sam McAfee Advisor
Building Popup Incubators for Corporate Innovation Programs
My colleague, David Bland, just did a talk about this to the Dev2Dev conference:http://www.slideshare.net/7thpixel/customer-development-for-developers

Maybe that will help?
Shane Ballman
1
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Shane Ballman Entrepreneur
I make aircraft maintenance easier to manage

I see there are good posts already, so if you answer some of those open questions I'm sure that would get some better-targeted responses for you.


In general though, like anything else, you need to go where your customers are. Developers and decision makers are probably going to be two different groups so make sure to get your messages nailed down for both. With developers, you need to look in places like Hacker News, Product Hunt, Reddit(MANY subreddits for devs!), Slashdot, meetups, dev conferences, etc. For decision makers, that's probably something like a mix of LinkedIn, conferences, SEO/SEM, and phone calls.


Regarding the 'when' of your question, you approach people when you have something of value that solves a problem they have.


If you're still in the weeds on building something, you probably want to get some early customers in pain that will work with you to build the MVP. Those early voices will convert to be customers (and recruit their friends) if you really do solve a problem for them.


If you're "done" with the MVP and are just starting to look for customers, you did that a little out of sequence but it's likely not fatal. Just hustle to get your message out to the right groups. A good strategy might include showing what you have and asking for feedback on it, rather than trying to sell outright. If your product scratches an itch, people will want to know how they can use it... and if not, you'll have good feedback for the next iteration.


Regardless, the MVP has to be useful and well-built, though... It can't be crap. That doesn't mean that it has to have everything from your final vision right now, but you can't put buggy, beta code out there and expect people to see a diamond in the rough. If you think of it in terms of a cake, it's easy to grasp - your MVP is a slice of cake, so you have the various layers including the delicious frosting on the top. Far too often people ship a MVP that's just a layer of cake and wonder why nobody wants it.

Burr Sutter
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Burr Sutter Entrepreneur
Product Management Director, Developer Products
You might already know all of the following but I hope it adds color/context to the discussion. I think about this particular target audience a lot :-)

Developers are actually a very diverse bunch of folks and there are numerous sub-groups and personas therefore you need highly targeted products and associated messaging. For instance, you have enterprise, embedded (IoT) and mobile devs as fairly large categories. You have Java, PHP, Node.js and .NET groupings as well. You also have "front-end" and "back-end" folks. There are "citizen developers" and "software engineers".

Developers are also inundated with techs (technologies and techniques) that they should be learning but rarely have enough time to do so. Here is a slide I use during presentations that attempts to depict what enterprise developers needed to know in the 70's vs what an enterprise Java dev should be thinking about today.
http://screencast.com/t/lWlEDQQfa

Organizations like Microsoft and IBM spend many, many millions of marketing dollars annually to acquire and keep a developer following. But there are also numerous open source projects that have massive developers followings for essentially zero marketing dollars.

FOSS (free open source software) has become the norm for technologies that wish to have a massive developer following. Think of FOSS as the rising tide that floats all boats in the harbor - it sets the new minimum bar (and every month that bar rises). If you are a closed source vendor, your primary job is to outpace OSS innovation (which is actually not that hard, just requires keeping your eye on the ball).

On the specific issue of timing, answers to questions such as does it scratch an itch and does it make the targeted developer either more powerful/capable or productive are critical to consider in the actual design of the product itself. The team building the product should have a good feel if they have "scratched an itch" and given potential developer-users new super powers. You can often turn your local "user groups" into focus groups as most towns throughout the globe have meetups full of development types - simply sponsoring pizza and beer - and convincing the local UG leadership to send out an email for you will often do the trick. Tell folks to bring-your-own-laptop (BYOL) and turn the event into a 'usability lab' for critical feedback.

Once you feel you have a killer product for a specific audience, then it is just a matter of launching a the appropriate "campaign" and knowing you have enough budget to make the appropriate splash.

On the "Free vs Paid" (for closed-source products) thought, some sort of "try before you buy" is critical - having that be fairly friction-free in terms of usability is a good indicator of readiness to launch.


Owen Rubel
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Owen Rubel Advisor
Creator of API Chaining, IO State, API I/O Abstraction and modern API Automation
@Burr - Interesting but I would disagree on alot of points. Closed source definitely doesn't outpace OSS; closed source relies HEAVILY on OSS and if it outpaced it, then Microsoft would be the industry leader right now (and not be open sourcing all of .Net onto Linux) and all of Googles, Facebooks, Twitters, Netflixs code would be closed source.

Second, of the billions of lines of code on Github, Sourceforge, Apache, Eclipse, Linux and other foundations and repos, you would be hard pressed to have a comparison. Being closed means people can't contribute and as such, it is limited code contribution. OSS projects are sponsored projects often and people will be paid to work on them and others will happily contribute for credit and resume fodder.

To say 'closed source' outpaces would be impossible to prove and impossible in theory since closed source projects do not allow contributions. Hence OSS will always outpace. Yet another reason why Microsoft is open source .NET.

You also can't call 'front end' developers 'citizen engineers' (this is condescending) since node can do quite alot these days and that utilizes front-end code; the frontend code and the backend code in that model are the same, they are just utilized differently. Of course you can get greater speed through shared IO state in Java but you would never use it on the front-end. But point being, both would be considered 'engineers' and though I'm mostly a backend developer myself, I think they deserve respect for their contributions.

Finally, to pick at a statement you make...
*"If you are a closed source vendor, your primary job is to outpace OSS innovation (which is actually not that hard, just requires keeping your eye on the ball)"

This is so untrue I can only respond with stats from the most successful closed source vendor I know of, Microsoft...

- ISS marketshare: 11%
- Tomcat/Apache marketshare: 51%

- C# mindshare: 5.7%
- Java mindshare: 15.3%

- Windows Servers public installs: 18-38%
- Linux Server public install: 58-78%

Again, the stats speak for themselves.

I hate to say this but alot of what you say smacks of someone who works with engineers but has little respect for them... I would say you are a sales/marketing person or someone fresh out of college with very little experience.
Burr Sutter
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Burr Sutter Entrepreneur
Product Management Director, Developer Products
@Owen - Thank you for your response, I did not mean to suggest that closed source offerings outpace the OSS ecosystem as a whole. However, I have seen closed source tech products be successful, even when there was an OSS alternative. My products are 100% OSS and I compete directly and regularly with closed source alternatives. I am afraid that I can not provide the details in a public forum but let's just agree to disagree on the ability for closed source offerings to "outpace" and be competitive with OSS. :-)

On the point of front-end developers and citizen developers, I did not wish to convey that those two groups were related at all, but upon a re-read I can see how those sentences might have blended together in the mind of the reader. I apologize if that caused anyone offense. I was referring to Gartner's Citizen Developers and that that group is unique and unlike "software engineers".

I believe your "Finally" sentence was truncated but please understand I am a huge OSS enthusiast - just look at my Youtube channel - but closed source can exist and can succeed.




Marc Stevens
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Marc Stevens Entrepreneur
Senior Associate at Austin Technology Incubator
Hopefully, before you write the first line of code for your MVP, you will have validated your idea with your potential customers. This means either meeting face to face or a phone call with at least 100 potential customers. These conversations will help inform the initial feature set, determine their priority for development,and help you define your initial target market segment. You will also have hard data for when you approach investors and they will want to see that you have performed a deep dive validation of your idea.

Finally, when you MVP is getting close to release, you can return back to these 100+ investors and they may serve as your initial customers.
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