Web Performance Calendar

The speed geek's favorite time of year
2022 Edition
Jeena James photo

Jeena James (@JeenaJ) is a business and product executive, and has been invested in building viable businesses in the developer ecosystem for the last 17+ years as a business leader at various companies, an advisor and angel investor in a couple of startups in the US and India. Most recently, she was the EVP & GM WebPageTest business unit at Catchpoint, building the developer-facing business for the open source platform post the acquisition, with a team of highly talented and motivated members across engineering, product, marketing, partnerships, and operations driving product-led developer experiences. She’s also scaled product-led business teams from scratch that enhanced advertiser, publisher and developer experiences at Google and other performance testing startups.

How do you take a popular developer platform, free and maybe even open source, and build a strong business around it? Wait a minute, did she just say ‘developer’, ‘open source’ AND ‘business’ in the same sentence? I must warn you – this article is not about web performance insights or web development, but rather the learnings I’ve had over the years working with world class teams, across Google and other startups including Catchpoint, on:

  • Building and balancing free and premium solutions to unlock greater value to developers, the community at large, and the company’s business growth.
  • Continuously alignment of strategy, organizational design, and culture after an acquisition, not just among your internal teams but also with your users.

Buckle up, grab a holiday drink (mine’s a nice Glühwein), and let’s unwrap some business nuggets from building developer solutions!

Build versus buy, but first check where your users hang out.

If you build it, will they come? Or should you go where your users hang out? What sometimes looks like an acquisition to just get more market share, has a lot of due diligence that goes behind it. The cost of building internally is only one of the factors, others being product differentiation, talent building, ability to scale, long term company vision and more. Some of the best developer-focused acquisitions I’ve seen over the years have been where the parent company had a good idea of what they wanted to build upon, and knew where their prospective users (developers) hung out. Knowing what your prospective users need, and where they spend most of their time is a worthwhile exercise to inform the decision to build vs buy, and later on, how to grow.

  • With the Android acquisition, it was to expand Google’s core search and ad business on mobile and build the Play Store distribution platform. We worked with developers to help them build highly performant apps and games, unlock better insights and generate revenue on Android. There are also plenty of successful and failed (retired) acquisitions at Google to write an entire book, which I will not. I miss Aardvark) and Songza though.
  • Pat Meenan (founder of WebPageTest) and Mehdi Daoudi (CEO of Catchpoint) joined forces to bring the best of both worlds to the market together WebPageTest, a beloved open source platform for web performance measurement for developers and Catchpoint, with its broad test network and internet resilience monitoring solutions for engineering teams. Now as one company, the teams have been adding developer-first functionalities to the platform together while investing in community growth, as well as building out integrated and holistic solutions.

To Premium or Not to Premium?

How does one monetize an open source platform? Especially if it has been free for years or really popular? Even if there’s a good deal of innovative features underway, will users be willing to pay for something they are habituated to get for free?

Let’s ask this question in a different way – Does your open source software need to monetize on its own platform, or can it help fuel value added experiences via platform integrations and partnerships for the broader company? Or is there a hybrid model to consider? In the case of Android, Google Play became the distribution platform for app and game developers to make revenue as well as for Google to monetize via digital experiences and ads.

There is no point if the business strategy is made behind closed doors only among top level executives, and then passed along as OKRs to the rest of the teams to execute, or for your users to stumble upon. What made these strategies effective was that we worked hard to build a culture of trust, transparency, and empathy around the finalized decisions, with not just our teams but also the broader company, and the community. Sharing some of the questions we’ve brainstormed over, at the different companies.

  • What stays free and what is premium?
  • Are the upcoming features providing incremental benefits or new premium value? Can you articulate the value clearly, within the platform itself and in your communications?
  • Will the premium experience help developers do their work better?
  • How are you helping businesses and individuals build for strong ROI?
  • What’s the increase to your base cost of building and supporting these new launches?
  • Can you add commercial experiences in a way that you don’t degrade the current experience for your users?
  • How will you price the premium experience? Will it be global? How can you make it easy to comprehend?
  • Specific to acquisitions, how does what you want to launch align with the company-wide vision?

I still remember the nervous excitement with which we pushed live our very first UI refresh to WebPageTest.org in April of 2021 (only a few months after the acquisition). Around the same time, we also launched our first ever paid offering powered by online subscriptions. We spent quality time discussing the above questions and more. Consequently, our users loved the new UI refresh, spread the word organically, and we started seeing developers purchase the API subscriptions as well. The level of excitement and widespread adoption continued to only grow as the team brought in further innovations like zero-code experiments and integrations into the Catchpoint SaaS platform to provide holistic internet resilience monitoring solutions for engineering teams. These paved the way for an open source software to transition from a powerful tool to a powerful solution.

‘Know your user’ – not a 1-time thing, not a 1-way street, not just for 1 team

Let’s take WebPageTest by Catchpoint to illustrate what I mean with all the not’s up there. The members on the WebPageTest team didn’t build the open source developer platform from scratch. That was all Pat and the contributions from the developer community (including a few of our team members, and you dear reader!) which led to the user base growing exponentially over the years not just among developers but also designers, marketers, SEO technical specialists etc. What helped us really push forward with innovation right from the get go? Not taking our understanding of users for granted. The team took the time to understand what our users wanted, before jumping into launches. Some of our efforts included:

  • Understanding users through all the channels they connected with us, be it through online surveys, focused interviews, social media, support emails, code commits to the open source. We carefully weighed user feedback and experiences regularly alongside our plans to build both free and premium offerings.
  • Segmenting user groups and assigning relevant metrics of success help build better developer-led growth and expand business in the long run. These are specific to an open source free platform that’s looking to monetize:
    • Community – the members of the broader ecosystem with the common goal and attitude to learn and share around a specific theme (say, ‘build faster websites’ or ‘build great apps’)
    • Consumers – All users of your platform, free or paid
    • Customers – Only paid users
  • Including every member of your wider team on the learnings from our users, and plans to grow. Each and every member of our cross-functional team made the effort to understand who they were building for, and the subsequent impact on business and community growth. These helped the team launch features and platform experiences and helped them connect code to consumers.
  • A two-way street – WebPageTest was an acquisition by Catchpoint, and like any other popular platform, we knew the community would have a lot of questions post an acquisition – Will they shut it down? Will they remove the core features? Will they charge for every test? Will they take away my access? As much as we wanted to know them, our community members were eager to know who we were and our motivations. The best way for us to share what we were up to was to continue to be transparent about what we were building, and keep bringing great webperf innovative solutions to market. Some of them included:
    • Announcing new team members who joined
    • Monthly Product Updates
    • Live WebPageTest sessions
    • Developer Meetups and Industry Events
    • Lots of interviews such the Unlocking WebPerf series where our Web Solutions Lead interview our developer experience engineers around features they had launched
    • Regular newsletters and social announcements on launches, learnings, community commits to open source etc.

Organizational design is what will breathe life into your strategy, build a culture that empowers your teams to drive both business developer outcomes.

A developer-focused business needs a strong cross-functional team like any other business to support it, but it also has a few nuances that help set it up for better success. Especially if you’re building upon an acquisition, or have a large user base/community already. Your team benefits greatly if it’s a combination of both existing employees as well as new folks who have the skills and capabilities that both amplify and complement your current team. Be open with everyone who joins your team that there will be chaos in the beginning as we figure roles and goals together, and that their patience, grit, and excitement will help bring method to the madness.

I’ve seen first hand the poor consequences of not setting up organization structures mindfully and expecting the teams to execute on their respective functions to drive the overall strategy. Fortunately thanks to working with world-class teams at Google and most recently at Catchpoint, I got the opportunities to learn and apply positive change for teams focused on building developer solutions.

  • Build your team to include folks from within the developer community itself. This helps establish a healthy balance and creates space for good ideas to be discussed productively – among those who have been power users of the same platform, and those who could translate their experiences building other platforms. We did this both at Google and at Catchpoint, our team culture and experience benefitted by leaps and bounds.
  • You don’t need to fill out every traditional role from Day 1. For example, you’ll need a strong content engine to drive organic user growth. However, you’ll get better clarity after you spend time prioritizing the types of content and segmenting them into which ones are better written by developer teams themselves and which ones you need content marketers to support.
  • Create experiences where functional members buddy up on projects and understand the specific roles of their cross-functional colleagues. This creates greater respect for each other’s functions and facilitates more innovation. Another way to do this is to have folks regularly share what they are working on at team meetings.
  • Reiterate team goals, priorities, and progress regularly. This can be the first slide of every team meeting, internal newsletters sent periodically or even sharing updates at the company all-hands. Everyone is responsible for revenue one way or the other and everyone must have some access to see how the business is growing.

Most importantly, create a culture where your teams can see what the short term and long term impact of their work as well as their colleagues’ (pushing new code, email campaigns, sales pitches, community events etc.) have been on the overall business, they will be that much empowered to find further improvements and innovation collectively over time.

Hopefully, some of these learnings can help you or your teams in the new year as you embark upon growing your developer businesses further! I’m always up for chatting about developer solutions, integrations, acquisitions, organization design, product-led growth, and more. Feel free to message me on LinkedIn.