The SDK, The Developers and Your Marketing

Any startup that develops an SDK (software development kit) or an API (application program interface) needs a large number of developers to use the technology before and during the launch of a product. This is mainly to showcase credibility that the technology has been used by other programmers successfully. The problem is developers today are so sought after that many companies are spending massive resources on developer relations (including people and money, lots of money actually given to developers for using their SDK). How will a small start-up stand out in the noise when they are up against big companies like Microsoft, Amazon, IBM and well-funded start-ups?

I know, everyone will tell you that social media is key, and it’s true; barriers are off, and social media makes it so easy to reach a targeted audience. But remember, social media is a long term strategy, and it will take a few months to just get developers to notice you and eventually download your SDK. Social paid campaigns? Did you see the conversion rate on that? Low, extremely low.

Prepare the Ground

Before you reach out to developers, understand that they are very critical, they notice almost everything.

You don’t need a perfectly finished product, but make sure you prepare the ground around the SDK meticulously. If it’s not perfect, write it down for them, it’s totally acceptable.

Here are major things to take care of:

(1) Know your target audience

Carry out basic marketing pre-launch prep to find out exactly what kind of developers you are looking for. There are so many branches in the programming world, and being general will get you nowhere. Drill deep into the details and tag into specialties, in smaller boxes. For example Unity developers, Java Developers, Node.js developers etc.

(2) Developers Zone

This is the dedicated area in which developers go to automatically because they know it will speak their language. There is a commonality for Developer Zones on technology websites, and developers who visit your site will expect it since their search will need to be fast and intuitive. Benchmark at least ten other websites with developer zones that provide SDK or API for download. Try to recognize the gap between yours and theirs. Commonalities such as; how they divide by Operating System, video and written tutorials, sign up process and forms, agreements required to sign, documentation etc will appear, adopt them.

Try to avoid benchmark from the corporate SDK websites, their means level is far greater than yours. Stick to medium to small companies.

(3) Sign up Process

There are various types of registrations, of course, every company would like to get as much information as possible about the person who just downloaded the SDK. This information usually helps sales to figure out the chances of him/her becoming a full pledged paying client.

Unfortunately, most developers download new SDKs all the time and are not going to be impressed with your fancy sign up form. They would rather not download the SDKs than give away personal details. Restrict your form to name, email and ‘I agree to terms’ check box. Anyway, who needs last names today? Usually, people place false names and with tools like Rapportive you can get lots of details just from an email (on that in a later post).

Xlab’s SDK request form
Xlab’s SDK request form is just too much! Why would they need zip codes and phone numbers?

(4) HTML documentation

You’ll notice that almost all SDK documentation is comfortably provided in HTML format. The HTML format enables easy indexing, linking, the clear hierarchy between pages and embedding of code sections.

Also, it’s already become a common standard for SDK developer docs, so you have no choice.

You’ll find DevDocs.io a great tool to integrate SDK and API documentation into HTML the right way.

Attaining Immediate Engagement

Now that you’ve prepared the ground, let’s dive into two best ways that get developers to work with your SDK immediately.

(1) Hackathons

Hackathons are events that bring developers together for 48 hours to work on an innovative product prototype. This is an amazing opportunity to work directly with the developers, get feedback and learn. But that’s not all, if they work with your SDK in their project you get a product prototype by the end of the 48 hours (hopefully) to use in your marketing efforts. It’s not uncommon that some developers take the prototypes and build a full product around it.

Here are a few tips:

· Look for a Hackathon that is focused first. Don’t go to general ones that are marked ’Technology’ they are bigger but you’ll disappear in all the noise. Focused hackathons are smaller but cheaper and you’ll be more involved throughout the events. For example, try to find iOS, safe city, London Android lovers first.

· Who to bring: You need one programming expert that is very familiar with your code and one person that can speak in front of a crowd. Hopefully, it’s the same person. In most Hackathons, the API/SDK providers get to speak for 5–10 minutes on stage and in some cases, you can also have 30-minute additional slots to speak in front of developers interested in your tech. If you are bringing a shy developer, this opportunity will go to waste.

· Your own contest: Ask the Hackathon organizers if you can offer an additional prize from your company. They usually don’t mind. You’ll provide the prize to the team that made best/most innovative use of your technology in their project. It doesn’t have to be a big prize; we gave either $250 in cash or $250 in Amazon coupons. Nothing compares to what you receive; Developers not only see this as an additional way to earn a prize but will also:

— Provide you with a dedicated presentation of their project, that you can video record and do an interview, for marketing purposes
— Talk about their success in social media platforms which in turn attract more attention from their developer friends

Barcelona’s Angelhack Hackathon
Development team celebrating and twitting after winning their special company prize in Barcelona’s Angelhack Hackathon

By the end of the Hackathon, if you played your cards right you have earned a few teams that created product prototypes with your SDK/API, experienced your tech and lived to talk about it.

Blog about it, take photographs like crazy, post it on social media, tag it, hashtag it and make sure others too. Big Hackathon companies (like Angelhack) also take care of media (tech journalists and bloggers), so make sure you have a press kit handy and pitch them your technology and the off board contest you’ve prepared. We received excellent buzz from bloggers mentions by pitching on hack nights.

Following the Hackathon keep in touch with the teams, ask them to send you the source code and try to pull them to continue the project. But even if they don’t remember you’ve already documented and elevated the experience.

(2) Online Challenge

An online challenge is similar to a Hackathon only difference is that it is done online, not on location and for a longer period of time, which makes all the difference.

These challenges are projects that need to be planned carefully to the last detail, unlike hackathons that are much less official.

The benefit with a longer period of time and strict rules is that at the end of the challenge you’ll have an almost finished product, with possibly a business plan, front and back end and whatever else that fits your expected product technology.

The benefits are great but the preparations are also great to achieve a worthy challenge. You’ll need to market the challenge to as many developers as possible, as well as provide a whole challenge management platform (like sign ups, submissions, emails and promotions, legal agreements etc.).

The company I used as a platform for all of our challenges (I did three challenges, three months each) is Devpost (formerly Challenge post) which closely assist building the full challenge and promote to a dev community of 300,000 people.

It’s not cheap, about $5,000 for the platform and do not forget the prizes that should be about $10k-$15k. However, compared to how much you would spend on developer relations, portfolio, and marketing campaigns, it’s a reasonable investment.

Today there are a few great online challenge companies that have huge developers’ community from across the world. The ability to reach out to hundreds of thousands is crucial.Creating the ultimate challenge requires preparation, these are the basics:

Subject — be as specific and clear about your challenge topic, developers will have an easier time figuring out what project they can submit and sign up. Examples of such competition topics can be: Improve elderly lifestyle, K-12, STEM education, Sticky teen games, Women Health and Wellness, Connected Home, And more…

Tech guidance — what platforms and tools can be used, what not and how the tech should be utilized. If you are requesting developers to use your SDK, then can they use it in conjunction with any additional tech? Is there an OS (operating system) or programming language limitation?

Timeline — needs to have a thorough thought out schedule, that enables registration time prior to the beginning of a competition, competition duration, submissions date and reviewing date etc. I consider 3 months as more than enough for the complete process, but it depends also on difficulty level to execute. Also, keeping at least 2 weeks for challenge registration is important since you need to give developers time to figure out its good for them.

Judges — this part is really important to enhancing traffic and traction for the competition. The better the judges the more attention you will get from their followers and media. When I was preparing for the competition I approached as many known or high-level execs as possible in the tech world as possible, including those I knew, those my colleague knew, industry leaders in our board or those that I just happened to meet at a conference. You’ll be surprised how many “don’t mind” judging, it’s minimum work and a great exposure for them, why not.

Make sure your judges know what you expect of them. Agreeing to judge is not enough, These are the minimal requirements:

· Their bio and picture

· Tweet or post in any social media they choose about the competition and their respective judging role

· Know the overall timeline and their part:
Date for receiving the top 5 best submissions
Date for reviewing and deciding on the 3 best (including the reasons why according to the set criteria)

Judging Criteria — this issue varies depending on what exactly is being judged and the objective of the competition. These are a few examples for app criteria:
— Use of the SDK within the app
— Usability
Stickiness
— Readiness for launch

Retention to the finish line — throughout this time you don’t get to sit back, stretch and look at them work. Engagement and active approach is a must since teams may think of an initial idea or can forget and get lazy.

Some ways to make sure they are still working:

· Email updates on SDK versions and tips of the trade

· Survey on the status of the project (just refer to a simple form or alternatively, Google docs will work). Make sure you give an incentive for participating in the survey.

· If you can, send giveaways — shirts, socks, cool handbags, smartphone holders, it can be anything, as long as it carries your logo. Contact all teams to ask for their address (for the giveaway) chat a bit about their status. As long as they get a cool giveaway, it’s all good.

Lots of luck