Windows Phone Dev Ecosystem – One Year On

The title is a bit misleading as I have been in role for close to two years, but Windows Phone has been in market for a year.  During the course of the past year, I learned quite a few things, and have been asked a number of questions from the community.  I wanted to take this time to share some of those learnings, and answer a variant of the most common question I get (both internally and externally): “how are you guys doing this?”

Upon starting in role, the person who recruited me for the position (Charlie Kindel) walked me through what he calls the 5Ps.  This served as a very useful framework for thinking through how our team was going to tackle the very real problem of being in last place for developer ecosystems, and building excitement and driving recruitment for a pre-released mobile OS.

When we first met as a team, we sought to lay out what we though were the foundational principles for our work.  This is essential, as it makes it very easy to say “NO” to things when you have clear principles.  Since our fiscal year runs Jul to Jun, we have refactored our team principles for our current fiscal year.  We did this based on the experience of the year we had behind us.  With that in mind, I wanted to share some of the principles from the last fiscal year.  No real corporate secrets here, and in fact, some people will say that this is just common sense.  Maybe so, but the results have been building, with the new IDC/Appcelerator report out (expected press coverage), and it looks like interest in Windows Phone development is at an all time high.  Awesome.

Inspire Developers

The problem facing our team was essentially one of a cold start reboot.  We had to start with a completely new dev platform, new tooling, and the fallout of a clean break from Windows Mobile 6.x, making many of those developers angry.  The bottom line message for the team, and our extended team in our DPE org (Developer & Platform Evangelism), was to build the message and demonstrate the clear opportunity of building on Windows Phone.  For the first year, this involved heavy upselling of our investment in the long term success of Windows Phone.  However, it also necessitated that we have improved reach and effectiveness with our outbound communications.  This meant landing our stories with the press, but also engaging with developers on a 1:1 basis where possible.  An impossibility to execute with our team alone, the partnership with our DPE org led to the creation of our mobile champs program.  Having local feet on the street in the countries where we were selling phones was critical for developer support.

Make Developers Rich & Famous

It’s long been one of my driving assertions that developers care about two things: making money or getting noticed for their work.  Scoble once quipped that it was about getting paid or getting laid.  Same difference.  Here’s the thing: it’s not all about sales of apps.  That matters – absolutely matters – but we can also do other things.  We don’t need any more web traffic.  Any chance we can take to redirect web traffic to a partner/developer is one we should take.  Same thing for speaking opportunities, inclusion in press, conferences, etc.  People know who we are.  They don’t know who the developers are.  Investing in them early pays off huge dividends later.  We focused on ensuring that put the developers and apps in the spotlight.  You will even see this in our newest round of commercials.

Beyond simply shining attention on the developers, we wanted to work with them to find ways to monetize their work, and that included ways to work with them to envision completely new business models.  We’ve had some interesting conversations on that front, though for confidentiality reasons I can’t discuss them here.  Needless to say, the attention units spent on developers for the Windows Phone platform was critical to our success.

Search & Discoverability

From day one on the job, I told the team to stop creating content.  We had people who had historically been goaled on such things as “create 10 case studies.”  Why?  Who saw them?  What customer were they serving?  Instead, we chose to focus on one simple dictum (use of Google intentional, since at the time, 70%+ of developers used Google): “If you cannot come up with the Google query for which your content surfaces in the top 10 links, DO NOT CREATE THE CONTENT.”

As part of a whitepaper I wrote when I took over the role, I included the following (modified pronouns):

Whereas developers once turned to books for their learning process, search is now the primary means by which they get answers.  The relevance and authority of a source discovered via search has been solved for them by the position in the search results; the author is almost irrelevant, as long as they can solve their problem. The faceless millions of bloggers/developers, not us, collectively produce the user manual they reference for our development platform.  Their screen has room for 10 links. Their patience has room for clicking through to one, maybe two, additional pages of links. Exist in that space or we don’t exist at all.  Though they start with search, the pervasiveness of social networking brings the expertise and influence of others closer than ever to their project spaces, and they rely on those social connections as trusted sources for how to solve their problems. They hope to be sought out as an expert someday.

The world has changed from a publish and forget medium (books) to publish and connect one. Any successful community must support the platforms by creating living content, and connecting that content to other content created by other members in the community.  This is a subtle, but very important, shift which has taken place over the last decade.

Simplicity & Removing Friction

Charlie taught me a great saying: never show your organizational boundaries to your customers.  He’s right.  Yes I run the developer experience team for Windows Phone, but really, I work on Windows Phone, and that’s all customers care about.  They don’t care about my title, or my org.  They care about the problem they have in front of them, and not much else.  I know it sounds crazy, but focusing on solving customer problems wins hearts and minds.

Beyond that, we have driven a hard core focus on reducing the number of steps it takes to get to the right answer.  We haven’t been 100% successful, and we still have a ways to go, but much of the content created, access to tools, etc, have all been dramatically reduced in terms of click-time commitment.  We also have spent a great deal of time on ensuring that we have ample code samples available for our developer community.  We know devs are short on time, and having easy to find, and approachable, samples makes their lives a lot easier.

For this principle, it comes down to showing them the way, not showing them how smart we are.  In many cases, they are smarter.  We just have access to information they may not.  Get it to them and watch what happens.

One Year On

Yes, we have recalibrated our principles as a result of what we have learned over the year.  The essence remains largely the same, though I can say that we have made them more focused.  What has made me happier than anything is the level of support from the community.  Heck, I might even go so far as to say we have fan boys.  The 38% of devs who are expressing that they are “very interested” is a nice data point, but we have a long long way to go before I will be happy.  The addition of Nokia as a key ecosystem partner is a huge win for us, it further validates our model, and developers agree.

The number one principle for this year is: be highly available.  We’ve learned quite a bit over the last year, but more than anything else, I have learned that if you make yourself available to the community, and do your honest best to invest in helping people out, and getting their questions answered, it will pay off in spades.

Helping out devs and being available means a lot of things.  Here’s a great anecdote to show what I mean.  When an android developer was showing me his app at a conference, I asked if I could give him feedback.  They guy next to him was incredulous that I gave him honest feedback about how to make the app better, and that I didn’t try to sell him on Windows Phone.  Why would I do that?  He’s already invested in Android.  I wanted to validate that investment, and give him useful information.  If I could help make him successful on Android, my hope is that when he considers his next platform, he puts Windows Phone first because one of us stopped to help him out.  Trying to convince him he made a bad choice with Android can only end in tears, and he may walk away thinking that we are jerks.  I gave him my info and told him when he was ready to get started on Windows Phone to give me a holler, but I definitely wanted to hear from him when his app landed in the Android marketplace.

Being highly available means publishing your email (ThePhone [at] Microsoft), your phone (425-985-5568) and being on Twitter enough to answer the @ replies (man, this is where the integration with Twitter on Windows Phone Mango comes in SOOOO handy).  Invest in the community.  It’s very easy for someone to hate a company, but very hard to hate a person.  We are putting a human face on developer platform for Windows Phone with the likes of Ben Lower (@benlower), Cliff Simpkins (@cliffsimpkins), Larry Lieberman (@LarryALieberman), Matt Bencke (@bencke) and the countless other mobile champs in the field.  It’s been a great ride thus far, and looking forward to the next year of phone availability.