Developers are the new kings... but why?
Developers are the new kings - or at least, that's what the founders of GitHub, Stripe, New Relic, and Mixpanel would have you believe. The leaders of these four startups got together in a roundtable today to discuss why, exactly, they're Silicon Valley's new "It" kids, and they invited press to attend.
They aren't totally off-base. These services, built for developers by developers, are gaining a lot of traction and buzz, and VCs certainly seem to be placing big bets on them. GitHub's first ever VC round was a whopping $100 million, Stripe was rumored to be worth half a billion dollars ten months after launch, New Relic is eyeing an IPO, and Andreessen Horowitz partners led Mixpanel's Series A Round after realizing that all the startups they talked to were using Mixpanel to monitor their site analytics.
The founders covered a range of topics, but my ears perked up when they started discussing the developer community and its ability to make products (or companies) go viral. My editor Adam Penenberg tackled exactly this subject in his book Viral Loop, so I broke down these companies (and their founders' observations), to see how they fit into a few basic virality tenets. GitHub achieves almost all of them.
1) Viral networks don't create content, they organize it.
That way, they can scale quickly. That's certainly the case for New Relic and Mixpanel, both of which offer analytics to developers who either want to see how their app or site is performing (New Relic) or who want to understand how users are interacting with their site (Mixpanel). These two startups offer an organizing, visualizing framework for data that originates with their customers. GitHub is the same – it gives software developers the tools and platform to share their own code and collaborate with others easily.
2) For users to get the most out of a product, they need their friends to take part.
Of the aforementioned "Developer is King" group, this tenet might only apply to GitHub. GitHub is essentially a social network for developers to connect and work on projects. For the network to have value to its users, other developers need to be on it, too. Then they can work on code together and build off one other's open source projects. They'll tell other developers about it, invite their developer friends to take part, and organize work projects with their developer co-workers on it. In that way, the network can expand exponentially because each user brings on more users.
3) It's easy for people to signup.
This isn't exactly one of my editor's virality tenets (Editor's note: yep, it is), but some companies, like one started by Bebo founder Michael Birch in his pre-Bebo days, didn't go viral until he made signing up very easy. Suhail Doshi, founder of Mixpanel, explained that the company goes out of its way to try and help customers set up their analytics monitoring. "We tell customers, 'If you can't get our product integrated in less than ten minutes, then we have failed you," Doshi said. "That's a different approach than our competitors."
One of the biggest draws for online payment platform Stripe, which is a developer and designer darling, is that it's easy to sign up for. Co-founder John Collison explained the paradigm shift that Stripe is trying to tackle. He said, "It's not so much that complexity kills as complexity drags and slows down."
4) It's easy - and perhaps built into the system - for people to share it with their friends.
Stripe took advantage of the closeness of developer communities. In the early days of the startup, Collison said, "We had invite functionality where you could invite your friends. It had a vitality coefficient greater than one at one point." Because developer communities are close knit, a viral hook like that can cause a product to ripple quickly through the ecosystem. But only if…
5) You have a great product that people want. Nothing goes viral if people don't want it.
The startup founders at the Roundtable commiserated together over how hard the developer crowd is to please. Lew Cirne, founder of New Relic, said, "You're not going to market your way to developers – you have to build something they're going to use. Their BS meters are incredibly sensitive." Since these four startups are created by developers, for developers, they're on the hook everyday for delivering what they claim to.
Tom Preston-Werner reminisced about holding "drink-ups" at bars for developers to demo the technology for them. "You plant these seeds around the world and these people will evangelize it for you," Preston-Werner said. "One thing developers are great at is telling other developers why it works for them."