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Tim Falls is an evangelist at Keen.io, formerly employee #6 at SendGrid which is well-known for their great evangelism.
Brief overview of Tim's background
In 2009 Tim was a grad student (MBA) at CU Boulder and got a job at Techstars, which is a mentorship-based accelerator.
TS 12 locations now
Tim got to work with 10 startups, including SendGrid
(SendGrid was founded in Orange County [SoCal reppin :] but relocated to Boulder, CO for TS)
Tim hit it off with SendGrid and joined as the 6th employee at SendGrid
Between 2010--> 2014 SendGrid grew from 6 to 250 employees and raised $30M of capital.
Tim’s trajectory at SendGrid - after about a year as the sole marketer, he started exploring the next growth channel for SG
decided to focus on community building
April 2011 - Tim started hiring dev evangelists, and subsequently built out a team of about 12 evangelists.
August 2014 - left to SendGrid to Keen.io, which did TechStars in 2012
Keen had already raised $$ from Sequoia before Tim joined
Why is there a TechStars San Antonio location - it was the first vertical accelerator focusing on Cloud. SA is home to Rackspace and Softlayer (Softlayer now owned by IBM).
Tim was first non-technical hire at SG, along with director of Sales / Biz Dev (Denise Hulce)
Brief overview of SendGrid
SG is an email platform which helps Developers easily send and receive emails to/from an app, and ensures deliverability and haste
Keen.io is a more flexible way to get analytics. Keen provides a set of tools, versus its competitors which are one-size-fits-all solutions. Competitors include Kissmetrics, Mixpanel, Google Analytics
Keen helps developers collect, analyze, visualize. Pebble is an early adopter
Having data from Keen allows companies to make better decisions, and Keen also powers customer-facing visualization.
Game developers, IoT, wearables are heavy adopters
What does a dev evangelist do?
#1 responsibility is to help people and make friends.
(usually helping developers)
For Keen, evangelism isn’t about the actual product
Dev Evangelism communicates that your product is investing long term - building a product on top of an API that subsequently dies is a huge pain
It’s difficult to capture the concrete ROI behind evangelism (ironic that an analytics company has trouble tracking benefit :)
How long have you been running your Dev Evangelism program
SG evangelism program was at scale. at scale much of the uncertainty is dissipated and it’s about executing efficiently.
Working for Keen is interesting to Tim because early stage Evangelism is all about getting your footing.
Evangelism helps your company figuring out what’s right for the community you serve
goals are also different at a more mature program
up front your company hasn’t established a collective input from everyone that matters
Evangelism’s goal is to rep the people behind the product so they buy our team, not our product
When hiring your first evangelist -- even though they travel a lot, have them relocate home base to where your team is
Concrete benefit of evangelism is product feedback - going out to hackathons/meetups creates a feedback loop for your company about critical issues like user onboarding, docs, signup process, time to first API call
It’s very rewarding to do internal events (when done right :)
Keen took an offsite to costa rica - week together in the house as 30 people - and on the rainiest day of the week threw an internal hackathon
Wrong way to do a an internal hackathon - do it to squeeze more productivity and ‘get shit done’
Right way - work on whatever you want - learn a new tech, solve a fun or a serious problem, get to know your team
Why hackathons are powerful - Job and school are results driven. Hackathons should be a break from that pressure.
When hiring, Tim skips resume and looks for passion projects - important for dev evangelists is projects built for fun… that is a major checkmark
What is an API or product (not your own) that you love?
Interesting category is search for developers
Clarify lets you search for exact keyterms, it indexes audio and video - hired Keith Casey
Would be a great way to search MLH video archives for Dave Fontenot exact phrases :)
URX - search for deep links from two others apps … can use the app to search within another app
What is your favorite hackathon format?
Competitive - pitch for big prizes (Salesforce, Disrupt, AT&T)
Collaborative - science fair expos, finalists demo (MLH)
Themed - (Space Apps)
Tim likes the collaborative focused ones. It’s better to fun in an open ended environment, doesn’t matter who’s on your team etc
Competitive hackathon gets away from what hackathons really are. They really are coding competitions. TC Disrupt is the only major competitive hackathon that preserves the essence of what hackathons are.
Themed ones are really fun… Comedy hack day is probably the most entertaining one you could go to. It’s possibly there is a lack of innovation at themed hackathons. Lot of repetition and tunnel vision. Constraints stifle creativity. This is to say that Themed hackathons have room to improve, not that they’re a bad thing .
Organizers mistakenly think having no constraints is a bad thing for a hackathon. Randomness is a feature, not a bug - leads to black swan solutions.
Tell me about a great event you’ve been to in the past year
October - Brooklyn Beta. It is a conference targeted towards artists and designers, with real focus on people at the event and quality of those people. It was kept small. Cool thing is BB was hosted in an art gallery (nonstandard venue). didn’t have internet provided. BB intentionally didn’t announce speakers and had only one track.
Tim organized Boulder Beta (unrelated to Brooklyn beta)
LA should throw a Brooklyn-Beta-esque
Throw a hackathon vs sponsor one - Which choice is better for a company who wants to get involved?
Don’t throw an event before you’re experienced as a sponsor - you probably aren’t ready.
Don’t throw that hackathon by Mike Swift (founder of MLH)
Do you think hackathons/accelerators will play a role in the future of education?
Hackathons are acting as supplement to education for devs. Also supplement to social interaction - meet ‘your people’ over weekend events - friends, future employers, etc.
hackathon can also be thought of as continuing education on top of its benefits for primary education
Also can hone your dev skills at accelerator, but the focus of accelerators is on entrepreneurship. Accelerators help you get more confident and to learn by doing. (Tim was already in MBA program before accelerators were ‘a thing’)
Accelerators are softening the risk of ‘taking the plunge’ into entrep and providing extra resources that didn’t exist before.
How to educate yourself in 2014 without going to university -
Where do the is the dev evangelism scene headed?
Dev Evanglism has yet to be explored by the majority of companies. Still, now it’s a ‘thing’, and a job listed on career pages. It’s an opportunity to grow beyond just writing code. People have had this role for several years and now moving.
(sidebar - MSFT understood this before anyone :)
Anything (product, API, idea) you want to plug?
Keen.io is hiring! The people behind the product are amazing :)
Nick Q and Swift are both SendGrid alums from Tim’s team
Is there anything I forgot to ask that I should have?
How do you become a dev evangelist? Answer is simple - just do it! If you love a product, go tell others about it
If you want to hire an evangelist, first look at your existing customers/community