Sara Waszyńska
10 minutes
January 8, 2023

How to build a developer community in a startup?

Detailed know-how with strategies and examples

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The philosophy of community building has taken today’s tech world by storm, and there’s a good reason for that - vibrant developer communities deliver spectacular results. According to The Recursive and Ivan Burazin, even up to 40% of tech companies' profit is made through developer communities. That’s “almost $1 billion of revenue per company.”

Tech communities are of particular importance to startups. Early-stage organizations often struggle with promoting their brand, spreading the word about their products, and standing out from the vast crowd of competitors. 

But with the help of devoted community members, your business can build a thriving movement that will educate and inspire developers, convincing them to give your solution a chance. Here’s everything you must know about why and how your startup should invest in a tech community as soon as possible.

Here’s why you should build a developer community early on in a tech startup

In a very concise nutshell, the sooner you start building your startup community, the sooner you’ll notice the first results and benefits it brings to your business, clients, and employees. 

You should also remember that creating and growing a vibrant community is not a one-time effort but a long-term commitment. You’ll have to start from the basics, finding the “why” behind your program and identifying your audience, brand activities, and business goals. By the way, if you want to learn everything about the foundations of community building, make sure to look into our guides to developer advocacy, brand communities, and brand advocacy for tech companies.

I’m trying to say that launching and growing a tech community is a lengthy process, so it’s essential to start it early on in your business. Apart from all the technical and strategic aspects, the presence of community members and passionate users of your product might invoke a sense of togetherness and common purpose in you. 

Knowing that there are people out there who genuinely care about your brand will motivate you to go forward and achieve your goals, even during tough times.

What does an idea of the community mean in a tech world?

In the tech industry, the concept of the community is much more than a marketing technique. It’s a whole philosophy. Many recognizable and extremely successful enterprise companies built their image around their developer communities. It all results from the way developers act and operate as clients and “consumers.”

Building relationships with software engineers should reach a deeper level than it would with typical retail customers. Specialists like that search primarily for value in your product. They want to know how it can solve their and their companies’ problems. But they also seek to be valued, inspired, educated, and motivated. In other words - your technology is only the starting point of what you can offer developers.

Why is community important for startups?

Both community and developer advocacy help startups in countless ways, especially at their early stages. The advantages of those vital elements of Developer Relations include a substantial increase in brand awareness, customer acquisition growth, and streamlining of the product development process.

But, above all, the thriving community allows you to form meaningful relationships with your clients - developers. Building a community can give your brand a higher purpose, allowing you to serve your audience. Just imagine - you can provide numerous software engineers - potential community members - with a platform they can use to educate and inspire each other. 

That’s how you can successfully reach out to your audience - by giving them real value. That’s how you’ll make them genuinely invested in your brand and products. Such efforts make the path from a potential community member to an engaged developer advocate much easier and faster.

How do you effectively use community building as a strategy in startups?

First, you, your community manager, and the whole team have to ask yourselves a question - “why do we want to build a tech community?” Finding the mythical “why” behind your project is crucial because it will lead you to a clear vision and defined business goals to pursue.

You see, building a community is about much more than just gathering a group of people with a common goal or interest. It’s about creating a nurturing community space where developers feel comfortable enough to participate in brand activities and form lasting relationships with each other.

But it also should bring real results and benefits for your startup. If your online community doesn’t deliver the selected business goals, it’s not working for you. That’s why you have to combine and balance the two sides - the people side and the business side - in your strategy. Defining the “why” along with the business goals with help you with that.

Defining the “why” - where to start

If you have no idea where to start with the vision or the goals, you can kick things off by thinking about the needs and motivations of your future members. Conduct digital research and/or schedule short meetings with your current clients to find out what people are saying about your brand and what they are looking for in terms of technology. 

You can ask them questions such as:

  • What would you expect from our community? What issues and problems can we help you solve?
  • How could the community motivate you to become an active contributor?
  • In what types of activities would you like to engage?
  • What resources would you like to receive as a member of our developer community?

Ask as many questions as possible to collect a lot of valuable data. This feedback can be either your basis for building a Developer Relations strategy or a set of guidelines you can use to review your current project.

5 FAQs on building and engaging your startup's developer community

When is the right time to start a community?

I probably won’t surprise you, but there’s no specific “right time” for building a community. However, before you start working on your strategy, you should check on your audience.

Did you define your audience? Do you know what they’re saying about your brand? Are they happy with your product? Are they invested in your mission and activities? If you want to create a thriving tech community, you have to take care of your customer relationships and audience research first to build a solid base of interested potential community members. 

How do I gather my first members? 

Good news - you can, and even should start small. Get the first 10 members on board and then gradually grow your community. You don’t need to have everything ready at hand - you can experiment with the brand activities and engagement techniques. The vital element is focusing on fostering discussions and meaningful connections, and creating a nurturing space for the members.

How can I motivate members to contribute to my community?

Only an active, engaged community can deliver results and help you achieve your business goals. Fortunately, there are numerous engagement techniques you can try out to motivate people to participate in your brand activities.

The essential part of any engagement process is designing a smooth, memorable onboarding process. Make sure that your newcomers know their next steps and are provided with all the necessary resources. But you don’t have to limit yourself to just this part. Don’t hesitate to experiment with the techniques, but remember always to put the developers and their needs first.

How do I measure my community’s success?

Measuring your success is why you need the business goals first. That’s how you’ll keep track of your progress and see if your efforts bring results. Think about which metrics you would like to track and why. They should always align with the business goals.

You also have to think about what data you can obtain right now, and what data you need to get in the future. Selecting the right metrics won’t help if you don’t have access to the “right” information.

Once you have all your data and metrics gathered, think about how you’re going to organize the whole process. Where will you accommodate it? How often should you review it? Generating periodical reports on your progress will be vital when communicating and seeking support from stakeholders, company owners, other community builders, and your whole team.

How fast should I grow and scale a developer community?

You don’t have to grow your community as fast as possible. You also don’t need thousands of community members. The size and impact of it should depend on your business goals, your audience, your marketing strategy, and the size of your startup. Keep in mind that it’s better to have 100 happy, engaged members than 10 000 inactive and silent ones.

Examples of developer communities to observe and learn from

Numerous developer communities made their companies extremely successful. If you’re looking for examples to follow, here are a few that we in Advocu consider one of the best in the tech world:

Twilio Ahoy Developer Community
Twilio Ahoy website

Google Developers and their programs, like Women Techmakers:
Google Developers website
AWS Community and their AWS Heroes program:
AWS Community website

You don’t have to follow in their footsteps strictly, but pay attention to the nurturing spaces that the community builders managed to create and which engagement techniques they used. Some of them might work out for you as well. Bear in mind that it’s important to experiment.

A developer community done right means great opportunities for your startup

So don’t miss out! Building a community is a lengthy process that requires a considerable investment of time and energy on your side, but it’s definitely worth it. You don’t have to grow your community extremely fast and gain over 1000 members within the first month. It’s much better to focus on the value you can deliver and building a platform that will nurture your community, foster interactions, and let it grow naturally over time.

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