Customer Acquisition · Startups

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

Janiv Ratson R&D Manager & Israel R&D Site Manager

February 21st, 2015

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?


Owen Rubel Creator of API Chaining, IO State, API I/O Abstraction and modern API Automation

February 21st, 2015

If you are targeting developers, you need to offer a free product and a paid product

Martin Miller VP of Engineering, Infrastructure, DevOps

February 21st, 2015

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 :-)

Shane Ballman I make aircraft maintenance easier to manage

February 21st, 2015

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 Product Management Director, Developer Products

February 21st, 2015

@Gil - I really like the "cheat sheet" idea and have seen that concept used many times.  Dzone has been using this approach very successfully with their Refcardz as a way to capture developer email addresses.   We have partnered with Dzone for JUG related marketing campaigns. 

I had never considered the bidding on Google adwords, that is clever, I know I personally use Google often when using a software tool, when encountering an error message or simply just learning a new technology.

Another great place provide content interesting to developers is Youtube.  Many individuals look for tutorials, how-tos, recorded user group presentations, quick demos, etc on Youtube.  Slideshare is also really popular.

Michael Mossinsohn Reshaping the landscape of energy production - Co-Founder at RevAmp Technologies

February 23rd, 2015

Use the Show HN section at Hacker News. It is a great way to get feedback as well as for attracting the attention of early adopters (among developers) and of the (related) media:

Janiv Ratson R&D Manager & Israel R&D Site Manager

February 21st, 2015

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 Member of Technical Staff at Software Engineering Institute | Carnegie Mellon University

February 21st, 2015

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 Building Popup Incubators for Corporate Innovation Programs

February 21st, 2015

My colleague, David Bland, just did a talk about this to the Dev2Dev conference:

Maybe that will help?

Burr Sutter Product Management Director, Developer Products

February 21st, 2015

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.

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 Creator of API Chaining, IO State, API I/O Abstraction and modern API Automation

February 21st, 2015

@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.