January 10, 2019

Ask IH: How do you market to developers?

Hi guys,

I've been building Mocktastic (https://mocktastic.com), a cross platform, electron app for mocking REST APIs, with a bunch of useful features like multiple responses per endpoint, dynamic response content with handlebars templates, importing OpenAPI files to create mock servers, and team collaboration.

I've been building this for the past year or so, and first launched about 9 months ago with a Show HN. It got about 40 upvotes, but only 3 comments, but still did a reasonably good job at getting me some beta users. Over the past year, the user growth has been quite slow, and we only recently hit 100 active team members. The number of people who are using Mocktastic without creating an account for the team features is a bit higher (around 250, of which about a 100 use the software every weekday).

My question is this: apart from Hacker News, what are the other ways I can market to developers? I have not yet been invited to post on ProductHunt, but Mocktastic is listed on BetaPage and StackShare. StackShare in particular has been quite useful for sending high converting traffic my way.

The software is particularly useful for large teams working in a microservice environment, so if there are any communities where such devs tend to congregate I'd appreciate an invite to such communities.

Thanks and Regards,

bgdam


  1. 4

    The simple (but perhaps unhelpful) answer is to build something so good that developers tell their colleagues/friends about it.

    You can "help" them share the good news by putting together case studies and sharing/highlighting the success stories of teams already using Mocktastic.

    You can also:

    • Create more useful content around how to solve common problems with Mocktastic

    • Partner with people who have an audience that would potentially be interested in your product

    • Visit meetups and talk about Mocktastic there

    • Do direct sales (although your pricing is too low for that long term)

    Good luck!

    1. 1

      Articles about solving common problems with Mocktastic sounds like a very good idea, and I'm going to be looking into that.

      Ditto for meetups.

      As for partnerships, I'm not sure if I want to go that route, but I will consider it.

      Pricing is only tentative at this point. I will definitely consider raising it when I've got a more substantial user base. Current users might need to be grandfathered in, but that should be fine.

      Thank you for your very actionable advice.

  2. 2

    Since I've been a developer for the last 20 years, I'm going to leave a couple of "tips" from personal experience (please do not assume that is that way for any other developer).

    Any software built for developers takes time to be accepted, usually developers are very skeptical when it comes to start using new tools. Usually that software comes to the hands of developers from other from talking with other developers, or seeing in some respected website, (e.g IH, Hackernews).

    You first need to understand that it takes time for a developer to take interest in a software to help him, is going to take a big chunk of his time to learn and start using it properly and is going to be worse, if he/she is already using another similar tool.

    And since this is a tool that works better for teams is harder to get to them because it needs everybody approval for that, so the tool needs to be awesome.

    The tool and documentation needs to be clear and precise, just because we are developers does not mean that we have all the knowledge or that we can start on it in 20 seconds.

    The tool needs to do what it reads in the features, and do it well.

    Also the website needs to be clear to what the tool does. That's why most developers prefer getting information from other developers and not having to go through a bunch of crap that other people think are features.

    To finalize, the initial page of the website, the menu is always saying "Login", which always assume that I'm not logged in, even after I've logged in 10 times. Also, build a community around your product. It takes time.

    I will take a look at the app, and let you know if I have any more info.

    1. 1

      I totally agree that it takes time for devs to adopt new dev tools. That's why I've been okay with the slow growth so far.

      I've also put in a lot of effort into the documentation. https://docs.mocktastic.com covers pretty much every single use case, in a step by step manner.

      As for the landing page always showing 'Login', it's primarily because it's a static page separate from the app. Even though it shows 'Login', it should automatically take you to your dashboard if you're already logged in. I'll look into changing this behavior anyway.

      Thanks for your detailed comments, and I'm looking forward to more feedback from you.

  3. 1

    I can send you an invite to ProductHunt. You can DM me on twitter.

    Also, try spectrum.chat and reddit.

    1. 1

      Does joining via an invite give direct post access? Because I joined PH without an invite yesterday and am currently fulfilling their requirements for post access, but if an invite could short circuit the process, I'd definitely take it.

      Also, thanks for the heads up about spectrum.chat!

      1. 1

        Yes. It gives direct posting access.

        If you need, I can submit to PH for you.

        1. 1

          Thanks for the offer, but I've already snagged contributor access, so I'll not be requiring an invite. As for posting, I think I'll wait till Monday to post.

  4. 1

    Getting developers excited is hard.

    Firstly, I think you need to make your pricing page clearer that you don't plan to charge individuals. I generally expect to see the most expensive thing to the right-end so was not expecting the free license to be there. You likely want to model your pricing page to be similar to Github's - i.e. a individual tier and a team tier (which can have two subparts, monthly and annual).

    Beyond the sites you have mentioned, it might be worth providing answers to related questions at StackOverflow, and contributing to dzone.com and dev.to. You will likely find traction also on more general sites like medium (try creating and posting on general/hot topics with references to mocktastic) and reddit (find the right communities and ask for feedback, etc).

    One opportunity is to take a small sliver of your functionality, especially something that can be run in a headless mode via a configuration file and make it open source. Doing this will allow you to talk about your project in more places, allow you to document it via blog posts, present at meetups/conferences, and potentially even get open source projects to adopt it as well as for you .

    1. 1

      Going highest to lowest pricing, left to right, was recommended in a comparison of pricing pages I had read a few years ago. Can't seem to find the exact link to it now though. I've only just put the free pricing tier on a table yesterday. Prior to that, it was just a one line link. I think I'll wait a while, and measure conversion before changing it further. I do appreciate the advice on that though, and I'll definitely look into Github's pricing page.

      I have been posting on StackOverflow, but the number of questions for which it would be an on-topic answer is actually quite low. However, I have seen steady traffic coming in from those links that I have posted to StackOverflow. I'll look into dzone.com and dev.to. Thanks for the heads up. I am also in the process of writing a bunch of articles for medium, as suggested by quite a few of the other comments.

      Unfortunately, it's not really possible to open source a part of the functionality, because the whole value to the product is that it's tightly integrating a bunch of separate things, to make mocking an API and sharing it with your team painless. Splitting up the functionality takes away that value proposition, so I'm not sure if this can be done.

      Thank you for your well thought out advice!

      1. 1

        I do remember seeing the pricing recommendation as well. But, ... developers are very grumpy. Maybe, you need to just call the tiers something different, such as Team and Individual?

        If the number of questions on SO on this topic are low, that should worry you a little bit. Is this really a pain felt by developers? (I am not saying that it isn't felt by developers).

        With regards to the open sourcing part... Some thoughts: Is it possible for OpenAPI to have multiple responses per Endpoint? What if the value proposition of the free tool is 'easy author mocking apis', the value proposition of the open-source is 'serve up an authored mock api' and the value proposition for the paid team account is 'share and discuss the mock api'?

  5. 1

    A few great responses here already, so I'll go down a slightly different path in response: how does your site/marketing material help convert developers?

    Specific marketing messages work much better than general ones. You can write individual landing pages for different sources of traffic. So:

    • What are the different use-cases for mocktastic? Are there different types of problem your customers are solving?

    • Think about the value of each customer. Are there any high-value customers? The first thing that came to my mind was: teams. Can you make team collaboration + documentation better? That's worth way more money than a useful tool for a single developer.

    • Are there different levels of people using this? The hacker dev who wants a helpful tool? What about the professional developer who needs a solution for their client? What about the CTO who needs a solution for their team?

    I really love the "Jobs to be done" framework when I'm thinking like this. https://jtbd.info

    All the above appeals to user needs. You can also appeal to "cool".

    Pusher.com used to have a really awesome demo on their homepage. You copy a curl command to your own terminal, and then a push-notification appears in the webpage. I remember signing up on the spot.

    1. 1

      Yes marketing with specific content is something that I have not been doing, and a few commentors have pointed that out. I am working on a series of common annoyances when working with APIs in a microservice environment, and how Mocktastic can make it easier.

      I have not yet though about segmenting the users. That's actually some brilliant insight! I was primarily focusing on teams because they would be my money makers, but I do suppose making individual developers super happy could boost word of mouth marketing, so I'll look into that as well.

      I hadn't really heard of the 'Jobs to be done' framework. Will look into this.

      Unfortunately, I can't really have a pusher-like demo, for this particular product, since a key feature is that it works offline. And for it to work offline the desktop app has to be downloaded. I do agree that wowing a user with such a demo would be great though.

      Thanks for your well thought out advice!

  6. 1

    What situations and use cases is your tool most valuable?

    Can you google / search twitter for people discussing the problems that your tool solves?

    These might help you turn up places where potential customers are.

    1. 1

      Yes, I have been doing this so far, primarily on Twitter, and I have indeed gained quite a few users from that.

  7. 1

    I am a developer and i would echo the one or two comments about content. Surprisingly there are so few suggestions about writing good content that helps users use this tool.

    For example, pick some popular items your tool can work with and then create some tutorials for it that solves a problem. You then need to socialize this blog through all of the normal channels. If it is that useful, people in that community would definitely pick it up and read it and socialize it around for you. That is how I find a lot of stuff.

    I would also give a try on what everyone else is saying also. You never know what will work. I would put a plan in place with a list of "things" you can do to get users and then rank them by what you think can be the most valuable. Then go down that list and knock each one off one by one.

    1. 1

      Yes, judging by all the comments, it looks like I've dropped the ball by ignoring content-based marketing. I am currently writing a series of articles doing exactly what you suggested - tutorials for common pain points while working with APIs in development.

      1. 1

        Great! I also think keeping around a spreadsheet with a prioritized list is a good thing. It helps me think less of what I need to do next and when I have an idea, i just push it onto the end. Im not a marketer but I think a part of "getting the word out" is about consistency. You keep on churning out blog post, twitter pushes, HN, reddit posts, etc and maybe a person doesnt use or try you the first time they see it but after seeing it around a few times, they start to think this thing is super legit. They also might not have a need for it the first time they see it and might not remember like 6 month later when they do have the need. So popping up around a person in the various places they go and through time is helpful.

  8. 1

    Like others have said here, word of mouth is the best way. Maybe at larger companies marketing to managers is the way to go. But in the startup culture, it tends to be developer driven. And in the end you want the developers to love it.

    Finding "fishing holes" like reddit and other places where developers are online is a great start. Maybe a Medium article on how front end developers can avoid being blocked by the back-end by spinning up a fake backend.

    Once you get some users, you need those people to not just think "this product is awesome", but "I am awesome for using this". If your product gets them quickly to solving their pain point (which I think waiting on the backend is), then they will sing your praises to their team.

    "Easy, Offline, Zero Code, REST API Mocking For Your Entire Team"

    "Unblock your team's dependencies on backend APIs, streamline development, save time and resources, and deliver faster!"

    I might consider swapping the importance of these statements, since you want to concentrate on the users problem. Front-end devs can stop waiting. Back-end devs can stop being asked where's my endpoint.

    Remember, the original iPod sold as "1,000 songs in your pocket" vs previous mp3 players selling in terms of how many megabytes.

    1. 1

      Swapping the two marketing lead statements sounds like a good idea, I'll look into it.

      I am already posting on Reddit, Hacker News and StackOverflow, shilling Mocktastic wherever appropriate, and it is indeed bringing in some high converting traffic.

  9. 1

    How to sell to developers: Sell to managers that force stuff onto developers.

    1. 1

      This is very true. What I would like to know is how do I reach these managers?

      1. 1

        You could target large companies based on how open they seem to be. An "open" company would frequently host hackathons and meetups. Shimmying your way into the inner circles with a solid product would work quite nicely. I've heard of other indiehackers getting an old company I worked at as a first/second "big" client. They are very open and will simply pay for something that genuinely saves time and/or headaches. Anything that decreases their taxable income :D

  10. 1

    My question is this: apart from Hacker News, what are the other ways I can market to developers? I have not yet been invited to post on ProductHunt, but Mocktastic is listed on BetaPage and StackShare. StackShare in particular has been quite useful for sending high converting traffic my way.

    I have a tool geared towards web developers (https://www.checkbot.io/) so I'm in a similar boat. It would probably be helpful to compare notes.

    Hacker News can be a great source but you can't post too often. Product Hunt is worthwhile but it's a more general audience who aren't likely to understand a more technical tool like this. I think you need to look for communities that are specifically developers.

    Reddit can be a very good source of traffic because there are several general and specific subreddit communities you could post to (e.g. programming, web development, testing). I think if you don't have a free tier you won't get a great reaction if you're specifically posting about your product but with a free tier it can be very good. I had a lot of traffic posting about my app while it was completely free during beta. You should try writing general tutorials and articles about mocking and testing as well that you can post.

    By the way, from your pricing page, I immediately thought I had to pay to try it which I think will make some developers dismiss it who are used to free tools. A free tier might be something to consider as well after beta.

    Could you say more about StackShare? Are you getting a lot of traffic from it? I haven't tried it yet but found this surprising.

    1. 1

      Yes, I agree Reddit is a good source. I've had good traffic from r/sideproject, but I got called out for shilling on r/webdev (who would have been a much better target audience for Mocktastic). I checked their rules and it did appear that I had broken their no marketing rule, so I backed off. I'll try r/programming and r/testing. r/testing should find Mocktastic quite useful.

      Mocktastic is actually completely free forever, if you don't use the team features. I will eventually probably offer a free tier, but I didn't want to set expectations and have people be enraged if the free tier was later reduced. So I avoided mentioning it explicitly. I should probably make it a bit more obvious that you can use the app without having to create an account. It's already mentioned, but I intentionally de-emphasized it to get people to sign up, so I could capture their email addresses. Perhaps that was a misstep.

      As far as stackshare is concerned, I don't really know much about it. I guess Mocktastic got included in a daily digest kind of email that they send out to their members, and when it originally happened, I saw quite a few visitors from the stackshare referral. The traffic came in a burst when the email went out, but since then there has still been about 30-50 visitors a week, via stackshare. Unfortunately, I'm not sure how you go about getting on their site.

      1. 2

        For /r/webdev you can post on "Show off Saturday" but I'd be reluctant to without a free tier. I had very positive feedback from a top post from this but my pricing page said "free for everything while in beta" with no tentative pricing at the time. Maybe try that?

        Mocktastic is actually completely free forever, if you don't use the team features. I will eventually probably offer a free tier, but I didn't want to set expectations and have people be enraged if the free tier was later reduced. So I avoided mentioning it explicitly.

        So right now, this isn't obvious at all. I imagine many developers will look at the current pricing page and go "hmm, no free tier, you have to pay to even try it, not interested". I can see the "While in beta, all users get an unlimited free account" note at the top but it's not clear if that continues after beta and many people will bounce by then.

        For what it's worth, my pricing page (https://www.checkbot.io/#pricing) is similar to what it was while in beta but my paid tier said "Free while in beta" and I had a note above saying the paid features and paid pricing are still under debate. I can't remember any hostility on reddit when I was posting it then. Now that I'm charging I have to be more careful how I promote it.

        Thanks for the stackshare tip! I just submitted my tool to be added.

        By the way, I was looking at your blog as I've been meaning to start my own. Have you found the posts worthwhile to write in terms of traffic? I noticed many are directly about your product. You should try some articles where the core of the article is in general about testing and mocking, with some nods towards your product. I've been doing this as it's a good source of backlinks.

        1. 1

          Yes, I think I'm going to redesign the pricing part of the page. Perhaps something like 'Free in beta' where the pricing is currently placed, with the tentative pricing in a smaller font on the next line? I'm a bit apprehensive about completely removing the tentative pricing. I'll look into your pricing page too.

          Thanks for the heads up about 'Show off Saturday'. It was a long time since I posted on r/webdev, and I've added a lot of new features since then, so perhaps it will be better received this time around.

          As for the blog, I've primarily been using it as a way to announce releases and tutorials on how to use specific features in Mocktastic. I have been thinking of writing articles about specific issues and tangentially including references to Mocktastic. I have actually written a couple of posts similar to that, but that's mostly been on my personal blog. I'm also thinking of inviting some of my top users to guest post on the blog. That should help a lot more with social validation. The problem mostly is that, the blog is mainly only read by people who are already using Mocktastic. So I need to find a way to get non-users to follow the blog.

          1. 2

            Perhaps something like 'Free in beta' where the pricing is currently placed, with the tentative pricing in a smaller font on the next line? I'm a bit apprehensive about completely removing the tentative pricing.

            Honestly, I can relate but don't worry so much. Like I said, I had no tentative pricing at all and didn't even mention it if was going to be subscription based or one-off pricing. I didn't get a single complaint when I launched pricing plans. I actually got a few messages saying I wasn't charging enough.

            So I need to find a way to get non-users to follow the blog.

            For my app, it checks if you're following web best practices so I've written a big general guide about web best practices and nudge the reader to look at the app throughout. The guide is still useful without the app though. I think it's a good approach that could work for you as well.

            Perhaps look at what Postman do as well. It seems to get a lot of mentions by developers while having paid tiers.

            1. 1

              I've just pushed a small change to the pricing part of the page. I'll have to check on what Postman do. Their target market overlaps significantly with mine, so I'm sure I can steal a lot of good ideas from them.

              I think I'll write a few posts about the various different pain points whilst mocking your APIs and how to deal with them, and then add a link to Mocktastic, with a text saying something along the lines of 'this tool automates away all that stuff for you' or something like that.

              Thanks for your advice. It's been super helpful :)

              1. 1

                Great, I had a look. I think the pricing page is clearer but it's communicating to me "free for now" and is missing what you said earlier: "Mocktastic is actually completely free forever, if you don't use the team features". Certain people are going to immediately bounce if they don't understand this in 5 seconds in my opinion. I think the tentative pricing format is good (as in you see it as you start to want to know more).

                I think I'll write a few posts about the various different pain points whilst mocking your APIs and how to deal with them, and then add a link to Mocktastic, with a text saying something along the lines of 'this tool automates away all that stuff for you' or something like that.

                Yes, perfect. The important part is it can't seem like the article is an excuse to talk about your product and the article should be useful by itself.

                Good luck!

                1. 1

                  Okay, I've pushed another change to the pricing section. There's now an entire new table which says 'Free Forever' and lists the features they get (which is everything minus team sync).

  11. 1

    What do you mean with "...not yet been invited to post on ProductHunt."

    1. 2

      Last time I checked Product Hunt was an invite only community (atleast you needed an invite to be allowed to post links rather than comments). I meant to say I'm not a member, and I haven't gotten an invite, so I've not posted about Mocktastic on Product Hunt.

      1. 1

        As far as I know there are no invites and you can just post your product

        1. 2

          Okay, I suppose this changed sometime in the last couple of years since I last checked on ProductHunt. I guess I should have checked again, but thanks for the heads up. I'll definitely post on Product Hunt.

  12. 1

    I don't think that a mocking service is really needed for a dev. There are tools out there that do the same and you can always implement a mock api in few lines of code.. so you are targeting a very small niche of devs.

    Anyway I would go for cold calls/emails to small teams & start up, but you need to increase the price first. Too cheap. It is B2B at the end.

    If this does not work in, let's say, 3-4 months, then shutdown it and start a new product. Don't waste your time in something that is not needed, because you will not sell it.

    1. 2

      On the contrary, I have real world validation for the use case, my current users love the product, and would be very cross if it were to suddenly disappear. Perhaps I should try to nudge them into doing a bit of word of mouth marketing for me?

      1. 0

        I am not telling that there are no devs that will use it (and you found some of them), but that there are not ENOUGH devs to make a sustainable business.

        The niche is too small and you should charge a LOT of money to be sustainable. At the same you cannot charge too much because is not a game changing service. Do you see the problem?

        I am a dev and I will have an hard time to justify to my manager why he should approve this subscription: his first question would be: cannot you mock by yourself? (yes I can, by myself or with http://www.mock-server.com/ for instance).

        Do not forget that many devs cannot just buy what they want. Maybe you will be more luck with start ups that just got good founding or solo devs, but again you cannot charge too much with this people.

        So my advice is: try to sell it for a few months and you cannot then stop and don't waste your time. Build something else with a market.

        1. 1

          I've worked in quite a few places where this would be useful.

          For example, places like digital marketing agencies where there are often distinct front-end and back-end roles, and the front-end team don't want to be blocked waiting for the server-side to be ready. Or, as a quick way to prototype an API they might need before handing it to the back-end team to implement for real.

          I can also see testers using this to write automated tests against a UI while the server-side functionality was being finalised. Or, as a way of testing how the UI handles errors that might not be easily reproducible in the 'real' API.

          1. 1

            This is exactly the kind of devs I'm targeting! I would really appreciate it if you could introduce me to a few of your (ex?)colleagues who might find this useful.

        2. 1

          I get what you're saying, but I disagree that there is not a big enough market to make this a sustainable business. If they really need to, most devs would of course be able to mock an API themselves, but from people I have talked to, it's worth it if I can remove the hassle for them. Remember it's not just about a single endpoint, it's entire APIs with different environments, and these APIs themselves are not set in stone, and may keep changing until at least the initial release.

          So making the whole mocking an API and keeping it up to date with changes in the middle of the dev process as convenient and consuming as little time as possible, is a win for a lot of devs. And I'm banking on those devs buying the product. As another commentor pointed out, it takes time for devs to adopt a new dev tool, so I'm going to spend more than just 3/4 months trying to sell the product.

          1. 1

            At $10/team/month, (be realistic: every team will buy 1 user , 2 if it is big team and you are lucky, but in general they will share the credential within the team or only one dev will do the job), you will need to sell a LOT of subscriptions, because after costs (the time you spent to build& grow until now IS a cost, bookkeeping, hosting, etc) and TAXES, your net will be low. Let's say 6$ net ( rough 30% of taxes but in many country in EU is higher, I do not know in US). How many teams every month to pay your salary? 400 PAYING customers? and you still need to consider the churn that is a big unknown.

            All biz made by indie maker have one thing in common: get traction and users from the first months ( look at open start up data) otherwise is not good material for indie (but maybe good for VC/Angels..)

            I really think that one of the big mistakes of Indie makers is to fall in love too much with their prj and waste too much time on them, even when they do not get traction from the beginning.

            In conclusion, make them pay NOW and try 3-4 months more and see if you pay your bill. Your time is precious.

            My 2 cents.

            1. 1

              I appreciate the effort you've put into the math, but to me this is currently a side project, and while I understand that my time has a monetary value, even if it is only a side project, I think I can afford to keep this running for quite a while (if I discount the value of the time I put into it, the running costs are minimal).

              However, I do appreciate your point, and if this were a full time business, I'd be doing exactly what you're saying.

  13. 1

    I can't say if it's the best way, but I take a very light touch on the marketing side and mostly rely on the strength of my free offerings to build a following. Over time, some of that following pays to get more.

    Each free tutorial I create, I tweet once. I've never posted any to HN, but I've posted a few to a niche subreddit with a near 100% overlap with my focus.

    I'd focus more on improving the product than sharing it everywhere, but there's no reason not to use medium, twitter and/or youtube to share your updates (so long as you don't spend more time on that than actually improving your product).

    1. 1

      @bgdam Although Alchemist and myself disagree a lot on IH, he does have a track record with his videos and has meaningful reach to developers. I'd suggest studying his technique since he started and seeing how he progressed chronologically.

      As a developer myself, I do find value in videos and lately prefer more video content for digesting technical information.

      1. 1

        I also recommend checking out @excid3's GoRails. It has definitely influenced my strategy. Even further out, Jeffrey Way's Laracasts is a great example who I believe both of us have studied.

        You should be able to progress faster than I did. When I started 13 months ago, my wrists had such severe repetitive stress injuries that I could only spend about 15-20 hours a week (total, not just for my project) at a keyboard and essentially couldn't use a mouse or touch screen at all!

    2. 1

      Yes, I've only recently started to write actively on my blog, and am in the process of getting on HackerNoon. Twitter, again I've been using it for marketing only of late, so hopefully I'll be able to reach a few more people from there.