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Heart or Mind? Community or Business? The DevRel Paradox
By now we may have well understood how COVID-19 is already disturbing businesses and severely impacting their cash flow. And once we’re through this apocalyptic nightmare, we will see businesses tighten their purse strings, each one of us will have to make it count, count towards the bottom line of the business. Does this make alignment […]
A devrel working happily in front of laptop

By now we may have well understood how COVID-19 is already disturbing businesses and severely impacting their cash flow. And once we’re through this apocalyptic nightmare, we will see businesses tighten their purse strings, each one of us will have to make it count, count towards the bottom line of the business. Does this make alignment between the DevRel and the business goals perhaps more important than serving the community?

popcorn inspired creation of the developer community cockpit

The Paradox 

DevRels have a clear mandate – serve your community. In doing so, DevRels listen to them and engage them further to improve the product. This allows them to deliver a superior product. A superior product means the probability of users paying for the product goes up. This directly serves the business’s goal of generating revenue. Everyone should be pretty happy with that! But is it so simple?

A business is a function of returns it gets on the investments it makes daily. The primary daily investment any business makes by default is the salary that needs to be paid to each of its employees. The return is the value the employee creates for the business. However, there are two kinds of value:

  • Revenue generating
  • Non-revenue generating

Both are important to a business but to the CEO, all efforts need to eventually generate revenue otherwise the business simply can’t be sustained.  With no business, there wouldn’t be any employees. Hence it’s imperative that DevRels serve business goals and its community equally well. It’s an intentional infinite loop. A developer relations professional does, however, need to strike the balance between the two. So in the practical world, is it still possible to serve both equally well?

A kruncher working happily in front of laptop

DevRel Is Essential To Business Success

Let’s understand the use case for both to get more clarity. A business requires a developer relations team for two reasons primarily,

  1. Ensure the users of your product remain excited to use and build upon your existing product
  2. It’s a sure way for the business to connect more directly with other developers

When we step into the specifics, in a business, all roads lead to the CEO’s office. Therefore, a developer relations is an active participant in helping the CEO to meet his/her business goals.  If we look through the lens of Alex Salazar “A CEO’s perspective on dev rel, dev experience and ROI” (VP of Developer Platform @Okta) , a DevRel professional’s purpose is:

“What they have is a developer go-to-market. They are taking their products and services, whatever it is that company is there to do and they’re trying to promote it, distribute it, sell it, through the developer community or audience. Developer relations and developer experience are simply components of an overall go-to-market strategy.”

– ALEX SALAZAR, DEVXCON SAN FRANCISCO 2017

DevRel is classified as an engine that helps in serving the business and in turn ensures the product has a sustainable future in the market, eventually bringing sustainability to the business. However in scenarios such as the post COVID-19 world, where cash-flow will be extremely tight, CEO’s are bound to ask each one of us…

Show me the money

WHY? Because the sustainability of the business is being challenged. Therefore, DevRel’s ability to bring business to the company becomes even more critical. While it’s important to always remember that DevRel professionals are not salespeople, their strategy has to be such that it should always contribute to bringing sales to the business.

For every CEO in the SaaS space, their DevRel team is their most critical element in the sales cycle. This is because developers trust the DevRel professionals. Translating this to business, customers trust a particular salesman over others. The depth of this trust is such that the P&L of a business can be turned upside down should the trust break.

DevRel Is Crucial To The Community

In a few words, a DevRel needs to serve the business otherwise there won’t be a community to serve. But who comes first? A community requires DevRels for multiple reasons, including onboarding, documentation, nurturing, and more.

Krunchers meeting Mary Thengvall in San Francisco

For example, just to summarize a travel history of two DevRels over the last two years:

  • DevRel A: 130 flights
  • DevRel B: 24 cities in 17 countries
  • n^n number of meetings and talks done on these trips

Additional efforts:

  • DevRels do on average 2 blogs a week
  • An infinite number of tweets and replies
  • Multiple local Meetup events a week

Ecosystem Created by DevRel

By executing these duties, DevRels create an infrastructure upon which communities and the product thrive. This infrastructure helps provide economical and strategic advantages to the community and the business. This DevRel infrastructure is a safety net over which the community is able to trust and build their own businesses on the bases of the DevRel’s product. This is absolutely critical as the livelihood of many depends upon the DevRel team’s efforts.

These activities make a DevRel team indispensable to the community they serve and the business they represent. Were there not to be DevRel present, the first and foremost stakeholder that’d fail would be the community. A sense of directionless-ness would sweep into the community. The developers willing to build upon a loved platform without a DevRel would be like the Na’vi without Eywa, their guiding force. Needlessly to say, it’s more than imperative for the DevRel to keep serving the community without the greed for financial gains.

Final Thoughts 

Three questions riddle a DevRel:

  • Does the DevRel team serve the business and the community equally? Is this possible?
  • Does the DevRel team put the community first for a prosperous future of the business and community?
  • Does the DevRel team put the business first for a prosperous future of the community and business?

By experiencing the spirit of DevRels at various DevRel Conferences (e.g. DevRelConDevRel Summit) across the globe, I’m certain they live for their community first but also take their business extremely seriously. In the practical world when the heart says one thing and the mind another, it’s very hard to get your heart and head to agree on priorities. The answer we set out to find to the question “Can a DevRel serve both equally?” comes down to what the DevRel team believes will help sustain the other.

For me personally, for the community to enrich the benefits of a SaaS tool that the DevRel champions, it needs to survive first. For the tool to survive, the business has to survive. Therefore, a DevRel has to serve the business 😎

We’d love to hear your thoughts. Leave a comment below or drop us a line at [email protected] 👩‍💻 👨‍💻

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