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Product As Community Panel with Keen IO, Firebase, & Nylas Ted Carstensen

The founders of Firebase, Keen IO, and Nylas joined Stripe’s Developer Relations Lead on the Heavybit stage recently to discuss what it takes to build developer cred and a community of loyal users.

The group worked together to answer the essential questions of how your community can help you build a revolutionary product, how to create a groundswell of developer support, and how best to use evangelism and content marketing to build trust as a new player in the market. Below is a video of the conversation along with some key takeaways.

How can community help you build a revolutionary product?

Kyle Wild, CEO of Keen IO, describes how a different type of event his team put on early in the company’s history helped them improve their product. They called them Unhappy Hours, and set out to bring together users who were unhappy with the product for one reason or another. Keen took this time to help solve user’s problems over a few beers, and in the process they got great product feedback and strengthened their community.

Unfortunately, an active community isn’t worth a thing if your team isn’t a part of it. Another tactic Keen IO employed early on was full team support. The idea is simple: every single member of the company rotates through support shifts. By regularly spending time listening to customer’s issues with your code, you will naturally build empathy for them and will use that empathy to improve the product when you rotate back to your ‘real’ job. It’s easy to lose sight of customer issues if you only ever see bug reports – actually interacting with your community pays dividends in the quality of your product.

To hear more about how Keen IO runs support, check out this episode of Zero To Won featuring Kyle and Fred Stevens-Smith.

What are some effective approaches to achieving a groundswell of developer support?

The pinnacle of community engagement is people building things on top of your platform.

As Nylas Founder Christine Spang noted, “when you’re launching your production application on a new platform, you’re putting a lot of trust in that platform, you’re relying on it being up.” To help get their earliest large customers over that trust hurdle, Christine says she shared her personal phone number with instructions to contact her anytime they had issues, day or night.

While this obviously won’t scale too far beyond your first handful of large customers, this definitely pushed Nylas into the realm of trusted developer tools in the eyes of later customers.

Not interested in handing out your personal phone number? Luckily there are other options.

At Firebase for example, Founder James Tamplin shared that the early team made a point of helping their community members with whatever problem they had, even if it meant pair-programming the integration of a competitive product. They felt that the goodwill they generated would eventually come back to them in paying customers. And while it’s hard to show the precise ROI, James is confident this practice was responsible for a ton of their early developer support.

How should your team employ evangelism/advocacy and content marketing to establish your product?

When building a platform, it’s really important to show developers the way.

One of the early approaches Nylas took to advocacy was to develop the first plugins for their own product. This approach allowed members of the community to see how their own potential plugins might look and feel, and encouraged them to contribute their ideas and code.

Slack took a similar approach when building the Slack App Directory, as detailed in this Heavybit Speaker Series talk by Slack’s Head of Platform and Partner Marketing, Cecilia Stallsmith.

Keen IO spends a lot of time building open source projects that purposefully show off the power of their platform. One example is a powerful data visualization tool called ‘dashboards’ which allows developers to build beautiful dashboards in minutes. “Any open source code that the company puts out is marketing for what’s underneath” says Kyle. These projects drive a lot of user growth while also expressing, through the quality and nature of the code, the quality and nature of Keen IO’s paid products.

I hope you enjoyed the panel, let me know on Twitter if there are further questions you’d like answered. If you’d like to get more developer-focused product content and event invites straight to your inbox, sign up for Heavybit Updates.