In today’s business climate, the need for companies to be agile, innovative, and able to scale is greater than ever. APIs are drivers for these needs but before an organization can reap the benefits of APIs, it must set up an API strategy.
Developing an API strategy can be broken down into four stages: establishing your strategy, aligning your organization and culture, building the technology needed to support the strategy and engaging with your ecosystem. This series of articles will examine the fourth stage.
All successful API providers make it a priority to actively engage with their internal and external developer communities. Doing so helps build a vibrant ecosystem of developers and partners who can extend the reach of an API strategy. ProgrammableWeb has spoken to a number of providers about their best practices for engaging with developers. This article will focus on Postman, a collaborative platform for API development that includes a widely loved graphical API client as well as tools for automated testing, designing and mocking APIs, generating documentation, and monitoring APIs. We spoke to Nick Tran, VP of Marketing at Postman.
Tran began his career nearly 20 years ago at Salesforce, building its developer relations team from scratch. He also worked at Akamai before landing at Postman in November 2019. Prior to Tran’s arrival, Postman’s dev rel team was small and wasn’t able to build programs for scale. With over 12 million registered developers, the team had nothing to apologize for. That success has felt somewhat organic in part thanks to CEO and founder Abhinav Asthana’s insistence that the product must always benefit developers first and foremost. Due to this developers-first mindset, the Postman platform has become a nearly standard tool for API developers of all stripes.
Tran has sought to not only build out his team, but also to implement a structure that can help the team scale their efforts with an eventual goal of reaching a community of 100 million developers. Instead of the developer relations team working by themselves, they are now integrated with Postman’s marketing team which has led to an amplification of their efforts, allowing them to reach more people. In Tran’s words, Postman is “running developer relations and marketing in a programmatic way, making sure that we do database marketing, leveraging the marketing machinery to communicate to our users.”
In talking with Tran, he laid out a two-pronged external approach to Postman’s engagement strategy: first is to tap into the collective knowledge of the community and empower them to build great content and help each other, and second is to make developers feel like Postman will be a partner in their API journey.
Empower the community to help each other
On the first point, Tran says that Postman is looking to build “… a community that is helping each other as well as shaping the industry.” An example of this is Postman’s newly launched guest blogger program. Tran noted the enthusiasm of the community to write about Postman and share knowledge. “We have a guest blogging program because so many people actually want to write about Postman and share their knowledge, they’ve been asking us to do it.”
Postman also has a number of community members who post content to YouTube. There are dozens of users creating Postman content on YouTube in their own languages since the Postman site is currently English-only. One such YouTube creator has over 13,000 followers with some videos garnering hundreds of thousands of views. Tran says that the developer relations team actively supports the efforts of these users stating, “we are working on creating programs to support the community in whatever they want to do, so if that’s YouTube, we help them out actually, with some of the videos. We help, some of these bloggers get access to our product team. Wherever they are, and whatever support they need, we are willing to help them.”
Another interesting tactic is how Tran approaches discussion forums. Any good developer relations team will monitor forums whether they are self-hosted or external such as on StackOverflow, and Postman is no different. However, Tran believes that when a question is posted, his team should allow some time, up to 48 hours in some cases, so that other community members can have a chance to help. He states, “ that’s something that I don’t think is always practiced at every company. They always answer the easy questions, not really allowing the community to help them out. So I really believe in creating some space for community members just to help.”
How Postman will be a partner in your API journey
The second part of Postman’s strategy is less tangible yet equally as important; developers should feel as if Postman will be their partner during their API journey. According to Tran, “we don’t say it explicitly but everything we do around engagement has developer success as a core focus.” He listed a number of examples such as office hours, twitch streams, YouTube content, open-sourced documentation, onboarding nurture, webinars and listening sessions to gather feedback from users.
Twitch is an interesting platform that Postman has used to reach out to its audience. Every week members of the developer relations team will post a live stream as they work on a project, share the latest news and hold office hours. Developers can watch the live stream and in effect look over the shoulders of the Postman team to get a better understanding of the thinking that goes on when a project is built. According to Tran, the team was, “kind of skeptical, but Twitch has really taken off for us. We went from zero to 2,600 followers within the past four months.”
Figure 1: Twitch offers Postman a platform to directly engage with its audience
The theme of developer success leading to greater engagement can also be seen with the Postman webinars. As with any other company, Postman’s webinars are an opportunity for the company to demo its product and educate the audience while capturing marketing leads. According to Tran, prior to 2020, the webinars were attracting about 200 registrants per session and were being done every three to four months. As the developer relations team figured out the best platform to use, the cadence of webinars, the best channels to utilize and the type of content that users wanted to hear, the registration numbers grew exponentially. Tran states that “our biggest one [in 2020] has gotten over 20,000 registered. And the crazy thing is we did like three webinars last year and we’re now doing three webinars a month.”
The road to 100 million developers
12 million registered developers is a good achievement but to reach a community of 100 million represents an 8x jump; something that can only be achieved through scale. It will bear watching how Postman is able to reach a broader audience while still making each individual developer feel as if they are an important contributor to the overall ecosystem. Important KPIs for Postman to monitor include the number of active developers which currently sits at 2 million per month, and the number of actions (team formation, adding users to a team) that indicate the platform is being used for collaboration.