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How to Build a Lean Developer Education Program (Appsembler Webinar Summary)

Developers are often hampered by the complexity of the tools they use. If they don’t understand the product they’re meant to be using, it doesn’t really matter how much easier it’s supposed to make their lives.

Developer education programs are invaluable when it comes to empowering developers with knowledge about their tools and ensuring devs are able to use them to their fullest potential.

Developer education is about using education, not marketing, to increase awareness and adoption of a product in a hard-to-reach audience. But what do those programs look like for startups? This was the subject of a recent webinar hosted by Appsembler and Draft.dev entitled “How Startups Build Lean Developer Education Programs”.

In this webinar, Nate Aune, CEO of Appsembler, and Karl Hughes, CEO of Draft.dev looked at the 20 percent of developer education activities that generate 80 percent of the revenue. Read on to discover their top tips for startups that want to create successful developer education programs!

1. Create Content for the Community

It’s tempting to focus your efforts on creating content about your product, but it’s important to look at the bigger picture. Instead, create content that gives back to the developer community and provides value to your users. You’ll build credibility, demonstrate your expertise in the space, and introduce developers to your product at the same time. 

A good example of this is Chef, a DevOps automation tools company. You need to know Ruby, Git, and Bash to use Chef’s tools. Chef created courses through its Learn Chef online university that teaches developers these languages, in addition to other fundamental skills necessary to be successful not just with their products, but with many other tools.

Creating educational content about the industry can also generate leads by bringing people to your website. If you’re a startup, people don’t necessarily know who you are, especially if you’re competing against major brand names.

In that situation, help people find you through their searches without needing to know who you are. First, work out what issues your users are facing and what kinds of technology they’re using, then use SEO and keyword research to create content that addresses their needs.

2. Starting Small Is Better Than Not Starting at All

It can be difficult to know where to start when it comes to developer education but don’t overthink it, especially if you’re a startup with limited time and resources. You can begin with one dedicated employee and course, and gradually expand your team and resources to include certifications, hands-on exercises, and courses tailored to different personas.

For example, real-time data platform Redis started with one person and one course and now they have a developer marketing and education team and a variety of courses.

Don’t be afraid to keep content basic at the beginning. Often it can be hard for a developer to just get going with a startup’s product. Prioritize content that makes its initial use as easy as possible; this will minimize user friction and how long it takes them to get up and running. 

An example of this is Codecov, a dedicated code coverage solution. Integrations are essential with this tool, so showing developers how to use it alongside a variety of programming languages and frameworks was crucial to helping them settle into the solution quickly. Codecov created a bunch of integration tutorials that developers of all levels could read, making their tool very accessible and enabling the widest possible audience to get value from the product.

3. Begin with Bottom-of-the-Funnel Content

When you’re starting your developer education initiative, create content that shows the benefits of your product as quickly as possible. The highest return on investment for early-stage startups comes from creating bottom-of-the-funnel content for evaluation, engagement, and purchase. This content helps people go from finding the product to using the product, and demonstrates the specific benefits of your tool.  

Instead of only focusing on features, tell a story about how your product fits into the developer’s workflow through practical, real-life scenarios. This will not only help developers discover your product in the first place, but also show them how they can improve their processes by adopting your tool.

The goal is to get them past the initial resistance and to the aha moment where they realize the value of your product. 

4. Use Data to Decide How to Expand Your Content

Your developer education program will improve when you put in some effort toward discovery. Collect data to understand your customers better and work out how to improve your content to better meet their needs.

This data should answers critical questions, such as:

  • How can we make our content better?
  • Where are people getting stuck?
  • What features do people most want to learn about?
  • Who is highly engaged?
  • When is the right time to reach out?
  • How does education drive more revenue and reduce cost? 

With answers to these questions, you can more easily tie your developer education program to revenue.

Let’s consider Redis again. The company offers six-week long courses and considers anyone who completes this course as an MQL, as it’s an intensive commitment. 

StatusHero, a standup tool, used data in a different way to improve their content and decide what to educate users on. They carried out keyword research and found that a lot of their users were having trouble with product management and project workflow within GitLab. They decided to create tutorials that were helpful for users of StatusHero and GitLab, as well as the broader community.

However, if you’re using Google Analytics, you won’t be able to collect important information, as the data is anonymized. With a developer education platform, you can track the metrics that matter through interactive tools and reporting. This enables you to discover which product features your developers are focused on, which features they’re learning about, and the courses they’re taking.

For more advice and tips on building lean developer education programs, check out the webinar in full.

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Karl Hughes

By Karl Hughes

Karl is a former startup CTO and the founder of Draft.dev. He writes about technical blogging and content management.