Sara Waszyńska
13 minutes
September 7, 2022

How developer advocacy helps startups

Benefits of hiring developer advocates for startups.

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Being a part of a startup is exciting, but not always easy. Startups and early-stage companies face countless challenges, like securing funding, finding product-market fit, building a customer base, or managing stakeholders and investor relations.

With time, your team might grow impatient and start searching for ways to accelerate your growth and the desired business impact. That’s when developer advocacy can come to your aid. Building a Developer Relations program and hiring the first developer advocate may become the key step to your organization’s success. So, let’s explore in greater detail how investing in the right developer advocates will benefit your startup.

Let’s start with the fundamental question:

What is Developer Advocacy? Does it have something to do with Developer Relations?

Developer Advocacy is often seen as a branch of brand advocacy, a popular marketing technique. By that logic, we should define it as any action a developer takes to support and promote your brand among other developers.

However, there are certain differences between developer advocacy and regular brand advocacy. The first one is a part of a bigger concept - Developer Relations (DevRel for short). A company can have a whole DevRel team and employ developer advocates to be a part of it. 

Here’s another difference - brand advocates are usually loyal customers who assume the role of ambassadors and promote the brand in their spare time for additional perks, like discounts and early access to new products.

Developers can also treat advocacy as a side hustle. However, more and more companies are focusing on hiring developer advocates as their employees and as a part of a bigger Developer Relations strategy. This way, they can build an organized DevRel and developer ecosystem, devoted solely to educating software engineers and turning them into your satisfied clients.

Why should startups and early-stage companies invest in Developer Advocacy and Developer Relations?

Graphic representing why startups should hire developer advocates: to increase brad awareness, to grow customer acquisition and to help with making informed product decisions.
Why should startup hire a Developer Advocate?

How can developer advocates increase your brand awareness?

Brand awareness is what helps you stand out from the crowd of competitors. The more people know that your product exists and can help them solve their problems, the bigger chance that at least some percentage of them will buy it. Developer relations and advocacy can help startups grow the audience and the potential client base. 

Developers don’t care about your usual marketing tricks 

If your company is built around technology and software, chances are that your audience contains a significant number of developers. (if you want to know more about developers being tool selection decision-makers - read the section below). Now, here’s a catch - developer marketing differs considerably from traditional marketing.

Dev marketing is built on relations, knowledge exchange, and community building. Developers usually search for a solution to a problem - not for clever copywriting or personalized marketing messages. They are resistant to standard e-commerce tactics, and to be honest, I understand them. Marketers struggle to act like "one of them" by trying to create tech-savvy content which is usually inaccurate and not exactly trustworthy. I actually once saw a code sample in a Microsoft ad. With errors.

In come the developer advocates

You’ll need at least one person who can build a tech-specific content and marketing strategy. But based on my experience, I can tell you right now that it cannot be just any of your current developers. The role of a developer advocate isn’t for everyone.

Focus on finding someone who can translate hard, technical knowledge into content that is technically rich but also easy to read and understand. This has to be a person who gained a profound understanding of the code, knows your software very well, and, at the same time, has a wide set of soft skills that make them a great teacher and community builder. To sum up, if a developer can juggle different skills that often depart from coding, they’ve got the potential to be a great developer advocate.

What are developer advocate tasks for increasing brand awareness?

The person who will be responsible for Developer Relations at your startup (that person is usually a developer advocate) should mainly take on:

  • Preparing and executing a technical content marketing strategy.
  • Supporting your marketing team by providing valuable insights, knowledge sharing, and taking care of tech-specific daily tasks.
  • Creating content in the form of blog posts, social media posts or newsletters, video reviews, tutorials, and guides (they should count on a copywriter's support here).
  • Acting as an active member of developer communities (Stack Overflow, Hacker News, Reddit, etc.) and advocating for your brand.
  • Speaking at developer conferences your potential clients may attend. 
  • Organization of hackathons and webinars.

Yes, it all seems like a lot of work (and we haven’t even listed all activities), but it’s your responsibility to prioritize tasks for your specific use case - based on the product value and target persona.

How can developer advocates grow customer acquisition?

Developer Relations and advocacy can help you accelerate your sales process and find clients across enterprise companies.

I’ll be honest with you - If you're a digital product owner looking to sweep the market, and your target is developers, you've got a hard nut to crack. You cannot simply make an appointment with a CEO and sign the deal.

Never underestimate a developer

Because nowadays, developers are taking the lead, playing an active part in the company’s decision-making processes. And they have a strong say in tool selection. And they know what’s actually the best for their organization. You may own a B2B product, but if you want to make a real profit, you’ll have to sweep developers off their feet first.

If you don’t believe me, take a look at external sources. According to SlashData, 77% of developers are getting actively involved in the tool selection process. Developer Media claims that a developer is not only a decision influencer, but also a prime decision-maker for technical products.

Keep your developers close

As a startup, you need to understand how people make decisions around your product. That’s actually a key step to fulfilling your business goals, especially if you want to sell software to enterprise companies. Your sales processes involve numerous people - decision-makers - including a specialist validating your product from a business point of view.

You also should know that your product will undergo a thorough assessment, run by a CTO or a Technical Lead, before your potential client makes any purchase decisions. Companies will evaluate your solution on such aspects as:

  • reliability and security requirements, 
  • access and quality of documentation and integration options,
  • quality of technical support,
  • how well it fits with the company’s technical strategy.

Sometimes even the presence of a developer community around your product can affect the company’s decision to your advantage. Imagine that a CTO asks, “Who else is using it?” and you have a whole network of devoted developers who can confirm your technology’s USP.

What tasks should a developer advocate take on to provide better customer acquisition?

In this use case, the person responsible for Developer Relations should take care of:

  • Providing documentation, use cases and implementation guides that should be accessible to everyone on your website, so the CTO or Technical Lead can read them before making a purchase decision.
  • Writing and distributing technically rich expert content and guides on topics revolving around your area of expertise.  An article on what technically important aspects should be considered before making important product decisions is a great example here.
  • Acting as an active member of a developer community by building a personal brand and an expert image; actively providing support and code samples to make clients’ integrations with your solution easier.

How can developer advocates help with product development?

Developer relations and advocacy can help startups make informed product decisions and find product-market fit faster. 

Ask yourself the big questions

Once you launch your business (especially if it’s an early-stage startup) you should start looking for a product-market fit from day one. You need to think about key software development aspects, like what your next feature should be and how to develop communication that will accelerate your growth. In most cases, your solution to these issues will be talking to your potential clients and asking for feedback absolutely everywhere.

The importance of the right feedback

We already mentioned that the majority of decision-makers and users of high-tech products and services are developers. As a product manager who even graduated from a technical secondary school, I can tell you that no one draws more insightful technical flavors from developers’ feedback than the developers themselves. They just know which questions to ask, and their interviewees are not afraid to answer in technical detail because they are talking to fellow specialists.

But feedback doesn’t always mean talking. It's also connected to being an active member and a part of communities, forums, GitHub, and conferences - wherever your potential users are. These activities are about creating feedback opportunities and being able to translate negative feedback into something your company can learn from. 

Gathering feedback is the tip of the iceberg

But it’s a good start nonetheless! Once you have the feedback, your whole company needs to understand it and be able to prioritize tasks, translating the gathered data into features and value. A good developer advocate can help here by working closely with the product specialist and the marketer. Their cooperation should result in making informed product decisions and putting the efforts where it may be most valuable for your target users - software developers.

What are the typical tasks of a developer advocate for product development?

The Developer Relations specialist hired for this use case should take care of:

  • Creating a bigger understating of developer marketing within a whole company by helping your team understand who your target user is, and cooperating with product and marketing specialists to understand the users’ needs, problems, and most valuable parts of your product.
  • Conducting technical usability talks, daily search for feedback, or just messaging other community members to ask for it.
  • Providing valuable data and insights supporting informed product and roadmap decisions.
  • Working closely with the product and marketing team to translate the technical feedback and users’ needs into product decisions.

How and when to hire the first developer advocate in a startup?

This may sound weird and a bit bold, but I believe that companies owning high-tech products might get ahead by hiring a developer advocate before assembling the marketing team. The first developer advocate you hire will have to juggle multiple tasks. As the company grows, you can form a developer relations team to take some workload off that first hire.

What skills should I look for in the first developer advocate?

Independence and ownership

The role of a developer advocate will be rather open-ended and flexible, especially in the early stages of your developer relations department. This means that it will require independence and a proactive attitude. You want this person to OWN the content and resonate with it, instead of producing and leaving it be. This way, you can be sure that your future advocate will be able to make their own roadmap and content strategy and won’t hang around waiting for your directions or tasks.

Hire a generalist rather than a specialist

According to Paul Genberg from Forbes, "A generalist is a dabbler, an explorer, a learner — someone with broad knowledge across many topics and expertise in a few." And that’s exactly a person you should hire. A developer who’s also a generalist will enjoy juggling all different responsibilities from the early stage of your DevRel program rather than being frustrated about it. A "can-do" attitude is also valuable.

Tech background

According to the 2021 State of Developer Relations report, most DevRel specialists have a technical role background (77.2%) and a technical degree (66%). Whether this is a software developer job, a technical lead, or a technical manager - you should be looking for someone who understands the tech world and is curious about it.

Empathy, communication, and personal skills

This person will be a bridge between your users, developers, and team. Good developer advocates will understand the challenges and frictions your product may cause, create a safe space for users to share their pains, and explain them clearly to your team. And that’s not always easy.

What is the risk of hiring developer advocate in a startup?

The skills, goals, and tasks described in this blog post are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to talking about Developer Relations in a startup. Beware of setting your expectations too high when hiring a first developer advocate and building the developer community. Don’t treat your developer advocate as a technical and marketing Swiss Army knife.

Each company is different and has its own ideal dev advocate profile. So, once you start looking for potential developer advocates, begin the process by listing which goals will bring the most business value and have the biggest impact on your company's growth. You can then check which directions and tasks from the list should be prioritized, and build your advocate profile around that. And if you want to know more about the topic, you can also look into our ultimate guide to developer advocacy for startups and enterprise companies.

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