AWS Startups Blog

Marketing to Developers: What You Need to Know

Guest post by Mikhail Ledvich, Head of Marketing, Shippo



Shippo is a shipping API that helps developers connect to a global network of carriers like USPS, FedEx, DHL, UPS and others to print shipping labels, track packages, and more. We work with a wide range of developers to help them send packages around the world.

With more software being built than ever before, more businesses are being created that provide easily consumable APIs and tooling for developers to use. It’s common knowledge that marketing and selling to developers can be difficult. Developers tend to be one of the most challenging audiences to sell a software product to because they ask tough questions that  range from “Why should we pay for this?” to “Why can’t I build this over the weekend?”

Even though marketing to developers is challenging and requires unique approaches, you shouldn’t discard proven marketing strategies. For example, you should clearly define your developer segments, and you should identify the tactics that will best capture the attention of those segments. Are they mobile or web developers? What programming language do they use? Are they simply looking to tinker or are they building a business?

When startups that focus on developers fail, they typically fail for common reasons: lack of product-market fit and lack of paying customers. A lack of product-market fit is a failure to properly segment and focus on a specific target market. Positioning your product and drilling down to exactly who you’re selling to are important parts of finding product-market fit. Product-market fit clarifies your offerings, establishes how you will compete with similar businesses, and helps you solidify a message that resonates with the right people.

What’s preventing developers from finding and using your product? Before you promote your product to developers, you should define exactly who your targeted developers are and remove obstacles that are preventing them from adopting your product.

Five Important Areas to Invest In:

1. Don’t assume all developers are the same

Too often, marketers make the mistake of lumping all developers into one bucket when planning their developer marketing campaigns. Just like sales and marketing professionals, developers can vary drastically across team, function, and industry. There are vast differences between web, mobile, and desktop developers. The needs of development teams at startups are very different than the needs of teams at larger, enterprise companies. They differ by workflow, size, budget, and the specific frameworks and languages they build in. Some developers are specialists, while others are generalists. The list of different types of developer demographics is endless. This is why it’s crucial to first identify which types of developers would benefit the most from your product or API when building your marketing plan.

2. Highlight features over benefits

Developers will want to know the details of your API features and how they work. They can figure out the benefits for themselves. This is contrary to the instinct of most marketers and sales professionals, who typically want to share all of the amazing benefits of their API before diving into details about features. But engineers are trained in deductive reasoning. They’re also tinkerers. They want to know how a watch works before hearing you sing its praises. For this reason, you’ll reach more developers by showing them rather than telling them why your solution is exactly what they need.

3. Provide thorough documentation

Documentation, such as tutorials and sample projects for your API or product, speak to developers in the same way that a sophisticated website or a polished marketing presentation speaks to business leaders. Documentation is the most important marketing component you can provide for developers. They might skip reading your product one-pager, but they’ll pour over every last detail in your sample project. In your documentation, developers are looking for a step-by-step preview of how they could build with your API. For example, for the Shippo API, we aimed to answer the four top questions that developers ask:

  1. How do I ship a package?
  2. How do I track a package?
  3. How do I insure a package?
  4. How do I create a refund label?

We broke down each one of these steps and created documentation tutorials that developers can use when getting started with our API. We laid out the documentation in an article format and included code snippets from the five most popular programming languages. That way, any developer can read the information and understand how they could build off of the API.  Our goal was to give developers the fastest path to an “ah-ha” moment, when they are able to generate their first label. Identify what your products “ah-ha” moment is, and focus all your efforts to get the developers to experience it.

4. Be transparent

Transparency is very important to the developer community. Developers want to be clear on metrics such as uptime, response time, and stability before they recommend that their company uses your product. No one wants to recommend a software package that will not be maintained. One of the first questions that developers often ask is “How well can you support my business?” Many companies have done this by embracing transparency and by making a status page publicly available. By doing this, they show how reliable their platform is and how confident they are in their product. At Shippo, we not only publish our uptime and status, but also the speed of our services.

5. Design your pricing model around experimentation

One fast way to lose developer prospects is to have a pricing model that limits their ability to experiment with and test your API. For example, MailChimp, an email marketing company, offers a pretty flexible free tier for their API. This gives freelancers and small businesses the ability to try their product out and see their business grow. Once they start growing and their email marketing needs expand, customers are motivated to upgrade and pay more for the services.

For enterprise developers, who typically have a discretionary fund they can use, having a free tier isn’t as important as being able to show that your API can scale. Stripe, an online payment API, does this really well. Stripe doesn’t ask for monthly fees; instead, they simply charge per transaction. Once transactions begin to increase to a certain amount, they work with customers to roll them over to their volume billing plan to handle the higher volume. This way, enterprise developers can experiment with the Stripe API and build on it without any fear of commitment. Designing your pricing model to leave room for developer experimentation is key to engagement.

Next Steps For You

Figuring out your pricing model, providing documentation, and segmenting developers correctly are all vital for marketing to developers. However, these strategies are just the beginning. Once you have a clear target and developer-friendly assets, reaching developers becomes simple. From launching a developer forum for your community to hosting hack-a-thons, there are a number of ways that you can build developer engagement for your product that not only will grow your business, but also will improve your products and organization as a whole.

There’s no silver bullet when it comes to marketing to developers. For inspiration, you can check out our documentation, API reference, and client libraries. If you’re doing something that’s working well or if you have a fantastic developer experience that you’d like to share, we’d love to learn about it! Let us know on Twitter.


Mikhail Ledvich, Head of Marketing, Shippo

Mikhail is head of marketing for Shippo.