Today’s business climate is filled with disruption, whether from a global pandemic, competitors constantly pushing the envelope, or shifting customer desires, and companies across all industries must adjust or be forever left behind. Today’s customers demand seamless end-user experiences (eg: mobile or web apps for customers or employees) that are composed from the Integration of two or more systems, but that ultimately hide that underlying complexity (appearing as though the entire experience is delivered from a single back end). To meet this demand and stay ahead of the competition requires organizations to execute with greater agility and innovation and to be able to do so at scale. APIs are key enablers for companies looking to meet these challenges. But before an organization can reap the benefits of APIs, it must set up an API strategy.
Developing an API strategy can be broken down into four stages: establishing your business strategy, aligning your organization and culture to the idea of a composable enterprise (where experiences are derived from a combination of digital business competencies), installing the technology needed to support the strategy and engaging with your ecosystem of developers, business partners, and other constituencies. This series of articles examines the fourth stage.
All successful API providers must prioritize actively engaging with their developer communities. Doing so helps build vibrant ecosystems of developers and partners who, in turn, can extend the reach and success of those API strategies. ProgrammableWeb has spoken to a number of providers about their best practices for engaging with developers. This article will focus on Zoom, a communications Platform for video, voice, chat, and content sharing. We spoke with Natalie Mullin, Product Marketing Manager, Developer Platform and App Marketplace at Zoom.
A key driver to Zoom’s success has been its platform approach. Mullin points out that developers can build across multiple platforms with SDKs offered for Windows, iOS, the desktop and more. She goes on to say that the company’s strategy has been “come to our marketplace, see what we have available. We’re not requiring you to commit.”
Central to Zoom’s platform is its marketplace. The marketplace first appeared in 2018 and according to Mullin, “it’s really driven a lot of organic development traffic for us. Our doc site on the marketplace is really highly leveraged, the numbers there are pretty big. And what I think is great is that anybody in the development world can come in and start building an integration.”
When asked what the key to the success of the marketplace is, Mullin points to its ease of use. The content is not gated and developers can easily view the Documentation and code samples and are able to play around with the products before having to make a formal commitment.
Zoom also makes it a priority to support its developers not only in the marketplace but across its entire ecosystem. This support offers two major benefits to the company. First, by listening to developer feedback, the team can execute on what it is hearing from actual users. This has led to an expansion of the API suite, much of it coming from listening to developer demand. Second, Mullin points out that, “ an understated advantage of ours is that we really do place an urgency on solving or working with developers to solve for their pain points as quickly as possible as opposed to throwing them in a queue and putting a 10 business day turnaround time. That team takes the opportunity to triage this stuff and takes supporting each developer really, really, really personally. I think that has enabled us to foster relationships through that kind of channel and turn a number of those conversations into those bigger platform integrators.”
To find out more about Zoom’s approach to ecosystem engagement, read the transcript of the interview below.This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
ProgrammableWeb: Hi this is Wendell Santos, editor of ProgrammableWeb and today I’m joined by Natalie Mullin of Zoom. Natalie, thank you for taking some time to chat with me today. Can you share with our readers a little bit about your background and what you are currently doing at Zoom?
Natalie Mullin: Yeah, absolutely. So how did I get to Zoom? I mean, let me just say, I’ve been here a little over a year and it’s gone by faster than any other year in my life or career. One of the things that’s great is that Zoom is fast and until you get here, you don’t really understand what that means. Prior to being at Zoom I was at a company called Automation Anywhere. I was a senior product marketing manager for their bot store, their automation marketplace. I was very focused on developers and the different parts of the developer ecosystem including startups, bootstrapped developers, enterprise developers, integrators, ISVs, channel developers. For me, my focus has been on the developer audience for the last few years. Personally and professionally I’m somebody who always roots for the underdog.
In this world where Zoom operates, it’s a big enterprise space, but it is certainly a solution that has become more equitable for consumers in the last 18 months. Certainly our developer platform and our solutions there are intended to really make the development playing field a bit more equitable and accessible. That’s why I’m so passionate about the developer audience. I started out as a computer science major, to date myself a little bit, 20 plus years ago. And it was me, one other woman and then a hundred dudes in the room. I think from that experience, that is what really kind of drew me towards creating a space where anybody and everybody can come and build something or start somewhere, you know and see where that can go.
So, yeah, I mean, I’ve been a product marketer for almost 10 years at this point. Originally got started in account management and business development. The last time I was a business development manager, I was actually working at a company called Trial Pay that eventually sold to Visa, but the core line of business was offer walls. You’re playing Farmville, you want your pink tractor and you complete a purchase on an offer wall. And my role there was working with internal and external developers and product managers to build new API based monetization solutions in game so that people could complete a survey and earn their virtual currency that way. And that’s where I really started to cut my teeth working with the developer audience and with API based solutions.
PW: One of the things you said, maybe this ties into the overall strategy that Zoom uses when engaging with developers, is this idea of being inclusive and really bringing everyone into the platform. So, if that’s one of the overall goals what are the components of that strategy to make that work?
Mullin: So I will say, we’re really putting more of a concerted effort towards a deliberate strategy. I think Zoom has been really lucky, certainly for the last 18 months, that people are now aware that there’s not just meetings, webinar, phone. There are ways that you can extend those solutions and that functionality, for your company through things like our APIs.
One of the great things about Zoom and one of the things I’m really trying to get people to understand internally is, unlike a developer, that’s building, let’s say on Microsoft. You’re building just for their ecosystem, you’re building just for their operating system. And one of the things that I love about Zoom is, with our SDKs, you can build for Windows, you can build for iOS, you can build for desktop. We have the flexibility there and our strategy has been to date, come to our marketplace, see what we have available. We’re not requiring you to commit. I think the best developer platforms really keep core functionality or some of the core functionality, open and un-gated so that people can come in and play around and view code samples and really easily view documentation.
That has been very deliberate by Zoom and we have really used the marketplace for that. The marketplace has been around since 2018 and it’s really driven a lot of organic development traffic for us. Our doc site on the marketplace is really highly leveraged, the numbers there are pretty big. And what I think is great is that anybody in the development world can come in and start building an integration.
We’ve seen a lot of enterprise grade solutions, take Calendly for example. Calendly is a phenomenal scheduling platform and they’ve really grown over the last few years and they’ve been able to achieve that growth through partnerships and integrations with companies like Zoom, for example. We just did a session with them at Zoomtopia where they came in and used our APIs to build a very simple integration that lets you schedule and start a new meeting through Calendly and that’s driven at least a million users for them. And in the last three years of that integration, their user base has been able to schedule something like 45 million meetings. That’s pretty powerful and that’s just all built on our existing API functionally that’s accessible to anybody.
I think that that’s great because as their growth has scaled, we’ve been able to scale with them. We have developers that have come in and they’ve found the marketplace. They’ve built that type of third party integration at Zoom into their app or their platform or their website. Then they’ll have that moment where they say, “oh my gosh, wait, now we’re aware that you have the meeting SDK or the video SDK. Let’s build a whole new solution leveraging the SDK.” Then those developers go on to build a Zoom apps in-meeting integration, right? That to me is the beauty of all this, we’re enabling them. We’re fostering the ability for them to really scale up as their business scales up.
PW: So within the marketplace, what specifically is enabling these developers? They come to the marketplace, they poke around. What are the drivers within the marketplace that are really letting them have success and take those steps, like you said, to scale?
Mullin: I think frankly, it’s the ease of use. Our stuff is not super gated. You don’t have to have a special credential. I’ve lived in the world where we have bronze, silver, gold, platinum tiers for our developer relationships. And I think that that can be useful, but when it comes to just wanting people to get in and leverage our functionality, we’ve kept that very open.
But beyond it just being open, we’re constantly expanding our APIs. We’re constantly listening to feedback from developers across the strata of the developer ecosystem. And we actually execute on that feedback. So, over the years we’ve expanded our suite of APIs. There are hundreds of APIs available now, and a lot of that has come from Zoom listening to the developer market demand and showing that we’re listening by actually executing and executing well and executing quickly. We have APIs for meetings. You can build an integration with meetings, you can build something for webinar, for phone, for rooms, for hardware. And so I think, again, it goes back to that ethos of flexibility and being here to enable you to do what you want to do and not forcing you to develop according to our capabilities, right?
PW: It sounds like that channel becomes a feedback loop. How are those conversations happening with the developers?
Mullin: There’s a couple routes. We have our platform integrators/ISV program and that’s something that we’re going to be really aggressively resourcing within the next year. But people come in through that channel and they find it through word of mouth. We have a lot of developers who are jazzed about this and it’s been spreading like wildfire, certainly within the last 18 months because people have just had to innovate to survive. I’ve heard from so many of the people in our platform integrators program who had heard about it from a different platform integrator.
Those integrators come in through that team where they’re nurtured and our team evaluates what they are looking to build. They can have that conversation like, “here’s what we’ve got, but let’s not just limit it to that. If the solution today is not what you need, we want to be there for you in your moments of pain or we want to be there to actually drive that innovation with you.” So there’s a really great feedback loop between those conversations and our product team. Brendan, our CTO, he’s incredibly open to this kind of feedback and to taking action on that feedback. There’s a triangulation there between the developers, the platform integrators/ISV team and Brendan and other product level sponsors and the PMs.
The other way that they come in is through the marketplace. These are the Calendlys of the world, the Eventbrites, Wix is another. Their customers are demanding a very seamless meeting, scheduling and holding experience so they come to the marketplace. From there we’ve got extensive documentation, but more than that we have a phenomenal developer relations team that is behind posting updates, writing support articles. They’re really, really active. We have a developer forum where people from Zoom and external developers are incredibly active and we have a very, very responsive developer support team. I think an understated advantage of ours is that we really do place an urgency on solving or working with developers to solve for their pain points as quickly as possible as opposed to throwing them in a queue and putting a 10 business day turnaround time. That team takes the opportunity to triage this stuff and takes supporting each developer really, really, really personally. I think that has enabled us to foster relationships through that kind of channel and turn a number of those conversations into those bigger platform integrators.
PW: What does your developer support team look like?
Mullin: It’s largely members of our developer relations team, dev advocates. And these are really developers themselves and they do have that innate curiosity and Zoom continues to encourage their curiosity to make sure that they’re not just there to answer questions for the sake of answering questions and closing out tickets in a queue. That team is really invited into the product development testing, internal betas type process to really weigh in and provide feedback from the developer perspective. That team came out with some stuff that we announced at Zoomtopia and they have been enabled to actually build solutions like that themselves, which again goes back to that flexibility, but also that idea of equity, that spirit of equity across Zoom that I think is really critical in the developer world.
So to your question, developer support, we’ve got members of the developer relations team that are experts on our meeting SDK, our video SDK, the different platforms and frameworks, for example we’re about to launch React native for the video SDK. We’ve also got two folks there that I work with really closely on our positioning and messaging and what we’re going to be doing to announce some of that. They’re enabled to really be experts and be really focused. The key there too is the lack of, I think, hierarchy at Zoom. For example, a new member of the developer relations team can go talk to Brendan and say, “Hey, I’m an outsider here, but I see this gap or I’m fresh here, but I’m an expert in this space. I think we need to do this.” And there is that open dialogue and that receptivity to somebody who may not be an expert at Zoom, but they’re certainly an expert in the space and that’s really encouraged.
PW: Is there transparency from the developer support team when they are talking with developers, such that the developers feel like the feedback that they give is going to be taken to heart and brought into product discussions and so on and so forth down the line? What I’m getting at is, does that help with the developers truly feeling engaged, feeling like what they say matters because they trust that the person they are talking to will take that feedback and possibly turn that into a better product down the road?
Mullin: I think that’s very much a part of it. And that’s something that I have really emphasized that we need to really do. It needs to be an area of focus. Take the React Native Framework again, this was something that we got feedback from developers during the beta period last year. We did a developer survey and that was the number one requested thing.
We feel like this is something we have to do, because it’s not just going to mean more of Zoom core technology, built into this skeleton of other apps and integrations. We talk about enabling developers through distribution. Distribution is not just slap an integration on the marketplace. It’s about what else are we doing to enable developers to distribute elsewhere? And so something like React Native, well, why is it important? Well, it’s going to allow developers to write code once and then bring their solution to market sooner across multiple app stores. And that’s another way where we can say we’re actually facilitating that distribution component for developers or with developers.
PW: Another part you had mentioned earlier was around the documentation. You mentioned that a couple times and how it’s very open and people really leverage that. Are there certain parts of the documentation that you guys find really resonate with the developer community, whether that’s page views or whatever, what parts of the documentation are driving developer engagement?
Mullin: I think one of our most visited pages is the how to get started page. I know from speaking to developers and seeing the feedback and listening to some of the feedback that it’s things like being able to send test requests to our API Endpoint, it’s being able to see code samples. One of the things that I would love to do is have a Sandbox type environment so they can actually get in and play in real time. That is something I have been very vocal about so I’m hoping that will happen. I think everybody realizes that the developer experience overall is a really critical piece of that. And so we’ve done as much as we can with your standard dev doc site to create, as seamless as possible, an onboarding experience through our documentation so that we’re enabling some interaction before you have to go and build something out.
As we are proactively planning to build more awareness around our SDKs, I’m seeing more growth in terms of usage of that documentation. Our APIs documentation on the other hand is some of the most heavily visited documentation. I think that’s because we also have a lot of our customers, like second party development, using our APIs who are using the meetings APIs to manage massive organizations’ usage of their meetings license. Just the fact that it’s enabled our customers to realize more value from the licenses that they’re paying for, that’s a huge benefit because their developers can come in and effectively optimize and manage their Zoom accounts in a way that’s scalable. Our API’s documentation has really enabled our customers to optimize for their own workflows. Build their own internal apps to manage the accounts, but also just build their own internal applications. We see more and more of that as well.
PW: Are there any key metrics or KPIs that you look at specifically relating to the docs that let you know that the docs are helping the developers do what they want?
Mullin: Yeah. I think that’s probably more of a question for the dev docs team, but, we are certainly looking at them and looking at where there’s consistent traffic, where there’s consistent usage. I get the Google search console reports on a weekly basis. So we’re constantly evaluating them, it’s not a once a quarter thing. Frankly we are looking at improvements that we can make to the marketplace that ultimately will lead to improvements with the developer onboarding experience that will take them more directly, more easily to what they’re looking for within our documentation. We have so much. We’re also looking at improvements around templating so that we can help developers by asking, “are you looking to build this? Here’s precisely where you need to go.” Those are things that we recognize will really help with developers’ workflow, get them up and running, and we’re Scaling for that.
I think that the developer platform, after a year and a half of really beating that drum here at Zoom, it’s getting a lot of attention and is something that Brendan is very focused on. And documentation, the dev site is a part of that and we definitely have a plan to kind of continue to move that forward.
PW: Do you have plans with the SDKs? I think you mentioned earlier that there’s going to be a push behind them. When I had looked at the documentation earlier, it looks like the SDKs are getting equal representation to the API. That’s not something that everyone does, why is that so important for Zoom?
Mullin: I mean, it’s a way that we’re extending Zoom’s core technology and to date it’s really been just through APIs. WIth the package that is a software development kit sure, it’s a way for Zoom to monetize, but it’s also a way for us to really enable more speed of development. The meeting SDK for example, it’s kind of like these tiers that can align to skill sets, capabilities, resources on the developer side. For somebody who has the resources to build something entirely from the ground up and is fluent with pulling in our Video SDK features and functionality, we wanted to bring something to market that, yeah we could monetize but that was more of an overall solution. Right?
So I think it’s our way, on the developer side of representing that we don’t just have APIs. We don’t just have Webhooks as the only solutions. We have the Meeting SDK for one skillset and resourcing and for that other level of skillset and resourcing, we have the Video SDK as a solution and I think that is where we’ve seen a lot of traction. We’re seeing our existing customers say, “gosh, we need our own app. We need powerful, really reliable video functionality. How can you help me get that?” We can tell them, Video SDK, there’s your solution. And that is something that our platform integrators team and our ISV team can go and nurture. And we’re working with very big companies, global companies there to integrate using the video SDK.
I’d like to thank Natalie Mullin for taking the time to speak with me and share the company’s approach to developer engagement. This is part of a series of interviews with developer relations experts such as Raphael Assaraf at Aircall and Quinton Wall at Twilio. Be sure to keep an eye out for future interviews coming soon.
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