DX: The Developer Experience Initiative every B2B company needs to build on

The $7.5B Github acquisition by Microsoft last year placed lots of focus on the value of selling to developers in today’s technologically diverse ecosystem, and the investments companies are willing to make to cater to this community.

This wasn’t a surprising move and follows many such moves – IBM spending $34B on RedHat, Twilio acquiring Sendgrid for $2B, and even Salesforce acquiring Heroku for $250M as far back as 2011. If there is still skepticism, one only needs to follow the mind boggling growth patterns of businesses such as AWS, Stripe, and Atlassian that are building products with one primary theme – enabling developers to be more productive. So lets explore why the developer user base is so critical to companies today and how should organisations build products to address this? 

I remember being fascinated by an article many years back that talked about getting to a point in time where every company is a tech company. We are at that inflection point in time today. Success is any industry hinges on online presence and the underlying capabilities of your tech stack. The story of how Domino’s now considers itself a tech company that sells pizzas is an excellent example here. The takeaway here is that software development teams, mature release processes, and complex tech stacks are foundational must-haves for successful organization serving any kind of need today. And this is what makes developer experiences so critical for businesses serving other businesses.  

Ubiquitous information access has almost product quality table stakes today. The ability to understand and quickly replicate successful products and selling strategies means companies can rely on these as their underlying secret sauce. A sustained competitive advantage is driven by two primary factors:

Speed of innovation – driven by fickle consumer bases with constantly changing needs,
Scale – ensuring underlying systems can keep up with user demand. The competitive strength here is comparable to that traditionally driven by distribution channels

Both of these factors are fully controlled by developers, and hence more and more companies today want to ensure any vendor selection is vetted by their developers. The traditional buyer still controls the budget amount, but every conversation has a development team seated at the table controlling where it is spent.

So what are key areas a B2B company looking to appeal to a developer base (often called B2D i.e Business to Developers) be concentrating on? There are three big buckets:

1. Automatability of your platform
Rapid innovation is driven by being able to integrate with your partners in their environments. The need for continuous integration and deployment requires a typical developer today to balance working with tools from many different vendors while at the same time driving fast iterative release cycles everyday.  

Often this requires them to create standardized automated processes across all these tools. This might typically involve custom scripts or popular automation tools such as Hashicorp’s Terraform or AWS’s Cloudformation which allow their entire infrastructure to be codified in a standardized configuration file. Every B2B company today needs to ensure that their platform is built in a way that facilitates these workflows for their consumers – this typically involved exposing capabilities and operations via APIs, CLIs, or third party plugins. In fact this automatability of your platform can even be a competitive advantage. The case study on how Stripe used this strategically to build a developer first product that makes it easy for companies and developers to accept payments, and take market share from Paypal to become a company valued at $20B today is an excellent example of this.

Checked the weather on your iPhone this morning?
An underlying API connects your weather app to data from companies such as weather.com or accuweather. It dynamically polls for this information to keep you updated. Fun fact: weather companies see 100000x more traffic via these exposed APIs compared to their website.

Planning a cheap getaway and did a flight search on Kayak?

Kayak uses APIs to pull information from various airline providers such as Delta, United, American Airlines, etc, aggregates this data and shows you the summary so you don’t have to click through 1000s of websites and apps

Shopping for holiday gifts on Amazon?

Amazon is the pioneer of the modern microservice driven app experience. Amazon.com brings together 1000s of their internal teams (recommendations team, shopping cart term, furniture catalog team, etc) to provide an overall marketplace like experience.

2. Speed of operations
This one is the obvious one – but often the hardest to solve. If you are looking to cater to users who are looking to go much faster in their everyday job, cutting out bottlenecks driven by you is key. This might involve the speed of of underlying capabilities that are consumed by these users, slow processes, and even support. Unfortunately these components are also typically driven by organizational cultures and underlying technical architectures – the two hardest aspects to change for an organization. It is critical to audit these bottlenecks and prioritize underlying infrastructure, process, and cultural changes these might require.

3. Self Serviceability
Finally, enabling self serviceability is key if you are looking to cater to developers working with many different tools and responsibilities everyday. Anything that requires them to spend a disproportionate amount of time on one vendor leads to dissatisfaction.

Steep learning curves, missing information, and vendor dependencies to comprehend toolsets are show stoppers. B2D success today is driven by developer portals and communities that drive innovation among consumers, clear and articulate use case based documentation on how your tools can be consumed, and a general access to information in a completely autonomous manner.

The framework above only captures the tip of the iceberg for a successful B2D strategy required by all organizations today. Catering to developers requires constant engagement and a focused organizational strategy. A powerful word of mouth campaign fueled by developer advocacy and relationship growth might just be the most critical factor that makes or breaks your success in today’s world.

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