Founder & CEO of Hacker Noon
Disclosure: Stream, the API for scalable feeds, has previously sponsored Hacker Noon.
Today, we’re going to catch up with their CEO, Thierry Schellenbach about how to market your company by building cool products on your APIs.
For previously sections of this interview, please visit:
David: So actually I first heard of you guys from Nick Parsons, and the Winds RSS product you built atop Stream. I find it very interesting when companies like you build a product to market your leading product. Do you consider this approach central to how you think marketing should be? And what advice do you have for other founders taking this product built with the primary product as marketing approach?
Thierry Schellenbach: Good question! I actually wrote a blog post about this as well. Building apps on top of our API is one of the best ways we can do marketing. Many companies try various, less friendly, approaches to marketing such as aggressive outbound and spam — that’s not what we do.
One of the beautiful things about having this API driven model is that you can market your business by actually building fun and useful things on top of it.
Winds is a great example of this. It’s a completely open-source RSS and podcast reader that we built on top of Stream using React and Redux. We now have a new version, Winds 2.0. It’s currently in beta but we’ll be releasing GA in the next month or so. We’re planning on doing tutorials around how you can contribute to the project, as well as ones about using React and Redux.
We have another example app called Cabin. You can follow a 7 part tutorial in which you learn how to build a fully functional Instagram style app.
Creating tutorials and example apps, along with integrating with other languages and frameworks, have been some of our best marketing techniques.
Lastly, I always like to have the team (including myself) contribute to open-source. We actively sponsor a few open-source projects — the most well-known being Django Rest Framework.
Not only do I personally enjoy helping out open-source projects, it’s also a great way for us to give back to the community that helped us get started.
So you’ve successfully done a lot of developer marketing, and a lot of adoption from developers for your products. Is there anything that you’ve changed your thinking about how to approach marketing to developers, and growing a community of developers, that you didn’t think when you were younger and first getting into this?
Marketing to developers is hard. As a developer, I know first hand that we’re not always the most open when it comes to marketing.
It’s important to tailor your content to the audience you’re writing for. For instance, when we wrote a blog post about switching from Python to Go, we focused on engineering managers who are more likely to make their decisions, or at least get their information, from these types of posts. When we do a post like how to do testing with Go, we are aiming at senior developers. We try to balance out our content by having different articles and topics that speak to different audiences.
This can be a difficult task since the bar for blog post quality is high. It’s often weeks of work to release one blog post.
What limitations did you run into with this approach to marketing?
Well, this approach was very effective at reaching developers. We also did a few designers focused promotions with our Based UI Kit. The other “persona” that buys Stream is product owners. So far I haven’t find a good way to market to product owners. There is no Reddit or Hacker News for product owners. There are a few communities, but they are pretty small. So that’s something I’m learning more about and hope to improve on in the future.
Founders often talk about how hard it to scale this type of creative content marketing. How are you approaching that at Stream?
For Stream, we try to make this type of marketing part of our culture. Algolia is famous for having their engineers participate in marketing (disclosure, Algolia’s CEO is an investor in Stream).
Our approach is quite similar. We encourage all teams in our company, especially engineering, to write about their experience. Marketing supports these efforts by helping out with writing, feedback, and promotion of the content. For a company like Stream, who sells to developers and product owners, I believe this is not only the most effective, but also the most authentic type of marketing.
Thanks for sharing those insights. Are there any marketing examples from other companies that you think are really inspirational?
There are definitely a few companies that I look up to. First of all, I think Crew’s approach of launching Unsplash as a promotional campaign was pretty brilliant. Nowadays they’ve turned Unsplash into a standalone business, but it started out as a marketing campaign.
Another great example is Mailjet’s MJML. By releasing a tool their customers can use to develop responsive emails, they drive a ton of awareness to Mailjet.
One of our investors, Dharmesh Shah, created a presentation about Hubspot’s culture on SlideShare. The presentation was viewed more than 3 million times. I thought that was a really creative marketing campaign as well.
Actually, a few weeks ago, I was talking to Wayne Chang and he mentioned this post about user onboarding. While not exactly a marketing campaign, I think many companies underestimate the importance of a good onboarding experience. Getting potential customers to view your site is exceptionally hard and expensive. Anything you can do to improve conversion is time well spent.