Windows Phone’s Good-Karma Strategy for Courting Developers

When it decided to attack the smartphone market with a new version of its mobile operating system, Microsoft did something that might sound a bit counterintuitive: Starting in last place, it dug the hole a little deeper.

By tossing out the old version of Windows Mobile and starting anew, the company knew it would piss off developers who had been working with the previous versions. Which would make the job of growing a strong developer ecosystem—a live-or-die proposition for mobile platforms—an even bigger task.

But today, Windows Phone 7 is showing signs of progress, reflected in this fresh report showing Microsoft’s platform surpassing BlackBerry for the number three spot in developer interest. There’s still a huge gulf to bridge before Microsoft can truly challenge Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android in the smartphone market—a role that, as my colleague Wade Roush has argued, will be a critical for the health of the entire sector.

Brandon Watson

So what’s the recipe for closing that gap? In a pretty revealing blog post, Windows Phone developer lead Brandon Watson lays out the roadmap his team has followed in the year or so since the software hit the market. The short version: keep it simple, be friendly, be generous, and the goodwill will be repaid—even if you’re from the Borg.

“Invest in the community. It’s very easy for someone to hate a company, but very hard to hate a person,” Watson writes.

That’s taken several forms, Watson writes, including a drive to shine the spotlight on developers.

“We don’t need any more web traffic. Any chance we can take to redirect web traffic to a partner/developer is one we should take. Same thing for speaking opportunities, inclusion in press, conferences, etc. People know who we are. They don’t know who the developers are. Investing in them early pays off huge dividends later,” he writes.

Ditching any bureaucratic “not my department” tendencies is also a huge key—one of several lessons Watson attributes to former boss Charlie Kindel.

“Yes I run the developer experience team for Windows Phone, but really, I work on Windows Phone, and that’s all customers care about. They don’t care about my title, or my org,” Watson writes. “They care about the problem they have in front of them, and not much else.”

And perhaps above all, being available and interested in the community. Watson has handed out his e-mail and phone number pretty freely, and says he spends lots of time answering mentions on Twitter. But it’s also extremely important to be available in real life—Watson points to an anecdote of some feedback he gave an Android developer, dropping any resistance to helping out a competitor.

“If I could help make him successful on Android, my hope is that when he considers his next platform, he puts Windows Phone first because one of us stopped to help him out,” Watson writes. “Trying to convince him he made a bad choice with Android can only end in tears, and he may walk away thinking that we are jerks.”

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