"What's your business model?"
"Business-to-developers. We're selling our product to developers."
"Wait, why? The B2C market is HUGE. The B2B market is MONEY $$$."
Since we launched Snipcart in 2013, I went through countless variants of the above.
Four years in and tens of thousands in MRR later, the question keeps popping up. In our recent interview on Indie Hackers, it was right there in the 1st comment:
If you're a developer yourself, or if you've been following the SaaS industry closely, you know the B2D market is a flourishing one.
It's funny, in the beginning, I was told that we shouldn't blog about cool tech stacks or developer issues. That we should simplify our message to seduce non-technical merchants. But it's marketing to developers that allowed us to grow from an in-house side project to a profitable, independent, healthy business.
Today, I want to answer the question above + all others that came before and will come after. I want to dig deeper into the B2D lessons we've learned selling to developers for 4+ years.
This post will cover:
What B2D really is—a precise definition
Reasons to consider going developer-first
Challenges & particularities of the B2D market
Let's dive in.
What is B2D?
So, what is the B2D model exactly?
B2D companies, or business-to-developers, build and market digital products specifically designed for software developers. They propose a simple exchange of value: developers (or company) money vs. an easier, faster, or more secure development workflow. B2D products take many forms, such as dedicated APIs, payment & e-commerce solutions, code editors, data & analytics tools, testing suites, deployment & hosting infrastructure, training resources, and more.
It may sound counterintuitive for B2D businesses to be on the rise in a period when tech is becoming more and more accessible to the masses. Think site builders like Squarespace, Wix, or even visual programming apps like Bubble. On the one hand, simple endeavours are becoming easier to accomplish. On the other though, advances in technology create knowledge and expertise gaps that, once filled by developers and dev tools, can significantly benefit organizations.
So B2D isn't a fringe model. Just take a look at the members of Heavybit—a program helping businesses bring developer products to market. Their roaster of startups is steadily growing. And of course, popular companies such as Stripe and Twilio have been clearing the business-to-developer path for years now.
So why sell to developers?
For starters, there are millions of developers in the US alone (see this Quora answer of mine for a more quantitative look at the B2D market).
And here are, in my humble opinion, four reasons why developers constitute a viable (& fun) market:
Developers—and their employers/clients—have an ever-growing number of pains to solve.
In a fast-paced, innovation-driven economy, both the old tech (maintenance, migration, deprecation) and the new tech (optimization, security, multi-platform support, data handling) lead to ripe entrepreneurial opportunities. Not too mention maintaining productivity!
This means new acronyms like B2D2B/B2D2C! But we're not naming droids here, so we'll stick with B2D.
2. Developers are trusted by businesses & decision-makers.
The increasing importance of technology has turned developers into powerful agents of change. Their expertise now equals business influence. What does this mean? If you get developers to love your product, they'll funnel it back into their or their clients' companies.
While tech democratization is definitely on the rise, LOTS of people still prefer to deal with professionals. Especially when it comes to advanced needs & custom solutions.
3. Developers are uniquely empathetic.
If you're dogfooding a product—selling something you need yourself in the first place—you'll find the developer-to-developer relationship to be a super rich one. At Snipcart, our dev customers have:
Helped us find & fix bugs
Shown understanding & patience with support & feature development
Developed useful extensions for our product
Provide out-of-this-world, extra valuable feedback from the beginning
All of the above have been immensely helpful in growing our business.
4. Developers are community-driven & active sharers.
I've been lurking in different dev communities over the years. I've found that most (good) developers champion values of meritocracy, transparency, assistance, sharing & camaraderie. If you provide value through honest, quality products, they'll be glad to act as product ambassadors, boosting word-of-mouth "marketing."
In traditional markets, dynamics are often way different:
B2B/enterprise customers want to stay competitive and won't necessarily talk about solutions they leverage.
B2C/consumer customers, in many cases, might not be emotionally or intellectually involved enough to bother sharing your product with the world. And yeah, I know, it's not the case for B2C products with strong network effects.
Takeaways on the particularities of B2D markets
At Snipcart, our developer-first approach often sounds off-target. Why? Because when it comes to the e-commerce projects we enable, it's usually merchants—not developers—who swipe the credit card. But once convinced of our solution's value, devs don't hesitate to push it to their clients, bosses, or colleagues. Indie Hackers is filled with small to medium bootstrapped businesses who share similar realities.
For other developer-centric businesses, however, dynamics are quite different. For instance, many B2D companies end up servicing enterprise clients. Why? Maybe they need a revenue-generation model that satisfies VCs & investors. Or maybe the nature of their product makes it more valuable to large organizations. In that context, their marketing often takes on the allure of traditional B2B approaches with sales teams & the likes.
Side note: I wouldn't pretend to master the subtleties & processes of enterprise B2D. So here's a killer resource from Tomasz Tunguz at Redpoint Ventures:
Snipcart has a few enterprise-ish customers, but they're a minority of users. Being bootstrapped, we don't have the resources necessary to handle enterprise biz dev and feature requests. So we market to individual developers at scale, like a consumer-facing business would do.
And we've learned a whole lot about it:
Marketing to developers—things to get right
1. Know the specifics of your business-to-developer funnel
More often than not, B2D products address more than one persona:
Persona A = [developer]; persona B = [merchant|client|manager|boss]
This affects how their customer journey plays out. Let's look real quick at a classic conversion funnel:
In many cases, persona A & B will both be involved in different steps, with different questions. At the comparison stage, for instance, persona B might want to compare prices, ROIs, time-to-market, or even consumer-facing solutions. Chances are these are way different from the technical, geeky questions you'll have answered for persona A, right? So you need to think of a second layer of business-driven arguments & benefits to convince persona B.
Depending on your persona A, you'll be betting that they have 1) complete trust from B, or 2) the necessary skills to sell your product. If A has none, you're going to need to step in! How? With content marketing, case studies, demos, personal on-boarding, & even meetings if necessary.
Agreed: this formula can’t be applied to all B2D businesses. But still, for most of them (including us), it’s an important reality to understand. A reality that doesn’t apply to typical B2C and B2B scenarios. The conversion funnel here does not imply convincing the end-user, but a messenger, an influencer.
2. Keep it real
Faking it is very hard with developers. That’s something you have to accept and even love. It’s hard to fool intelligent and professional users. And usually, that’s what good developers are.
Our motto at Snipcart has always been to try and sell our product the way we'd like it to be sold to us. In other words: keep it as bullshitless as possible. How do we do that?
First, we take our own interest in the tools & realities of modern developers and channel it into valuable, actionable, or thought-provoking content. Some might call this educational marketing, or brand building. I guess it's about showing devs we get them. And that they can trust they're not dealing with [enter a politically correct way to say scammers in a blog post here].
Second: when we're wrong, we bite the bullet. We don't delete comments, ignore emails or report tweets calling us out. We address all of them. Be it on our lack of documentation for some obscure feature, on bugs, on our pricing, on our roadmap velocity, on our (unfrequent) lapses in support. We let devs know when we've dropped the ball, when we don't agree, and when they're right. We don't hesitate to expose our bootstrapped reality and technical challenges to our community. In the end, this makes for maybe fewer, but at least better business relationships.
Building this kind of proximity & transparency with developers is key to earning they trust—and their persona B's dollars.
3. Competition isn’t always clear-cut: draw your own lines
Remember our first point, about the B2D acquisition funnel? This multi-person conversion creates specific issues for developer-oriented products. For instance, you could be offering e-commerce, payments or VoIP, all without talking directly to the merchant.
The developer A using your product will usually deal with a clear-cut set of competitors. But sometimes, the end-user B will be exposed to a whole different and much broader range of viable alternatives.
Ask any developer to choose between Stripe and PayPal. He’ll probably tell you Stripe. Now ask any non-technical merchant the same questions. Chances are the answer is PayPal.
Let us clarify with an example of ours:
A merchant might actively consider Shopify for her e-commerce needs. She will consider it a direct competitor to our solution. But a developer, on the other hand, will be more likely to consider options such as Moltin or Foxy.io as direct competitors.
So what's a B2D business to do?
I'm afraid there's no magic formula here.
When talking to developers, keep focusing heavily on the HOW (tech), not only the WHAT. Keep speaking their lingo at all times.
When talking to non-technical persona B, try as much as possible to translate technical features into business benefits.
If you truly believe in the B2D approach, you also believe developers are messengers and agents of change for all businesses today.
Long one, wasn’t it? Time for a TL;DR.
If you’re running a B2D product, remember to:
Understand the different steps and personas involved in your acquisition funnel
Keep bullsh*t out of your marketing & communications as much as possible.
Focus heavily on how your product works (for devs), but also on what it means for businesses.
Remember that comment screenshot in the intro? Well, there's a part of my answer I believe is a great fit to end this post:
Shopify was cited as an example since it's quite popular, but it's indeed only one of many competitors. To answer your "How do you beat them?" question: we don't! If there's one thing I learned, it's that there is inherent diversity in any given industry, and rarely does a business find itself in a winner-takes-all scenario. I mean, even near-monopoly spaces like search engines (Google) see underdog products like DuckDuckGo carve niches.
If you take a meta look at all e-commerce platforms out there, you realize there's a WIDE spectrum of technical complexity, from point & click installations—grandma can use it—to completely custom-built shops—killer team of devs must code it. Depending on their pains, skills & needs, users will try to tune in to the level of complexity that best matches their needs. On that spectrum, Snipcart is almost in the middle, maybe leaning towards the "complex" end a little. It gives developers a pre-built set of e-commerce logic, backoffice & frontend cart that fast-tracks their development without restricting their possibilities too much.
So here's my question to you: is there a spot on your own industry-specific spectrum where developers are underserved? If so, why not try and answer that need?
It's a fun ride, I promise.
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