How Tech Companies Create a Following
How do you differentiate a great tech company from a mediocre one? Simply determine whether the core team includes an Evangelist. The presence of an Evangelist points to strategic company growth and the expansion of the founders’ roles. While one of the founders typically assumes the role of evangelist during the early years, the Chief Evangelist is later brought in to help founders convey the vision, positioning, and message to the marketplace.
The Evangelist becomes an essential part of the team. The titles may vary, and the expertise will differ depending on the industry. But the role of the Evangelist is similar in most tech companies. The large consumer companies hire Brand Ambassadors to represent their brand in more positive light; by doing so, they help increase brand awareness and sales. For tech companies, the Chief Evangelist is the new Brand Ambassador and plays the important role of spokesperson in a tech company.
So, why is it so essential for companies to hire an Evangelist?
The Evangelist drives the vision to the promise land
Hiring an Evangelist marks an important milestone for the company. It demonstrates that the organization is ready to scale and committed to marketing success. No longer does the founder/CEO alone convey the story to the outside world, now the evangelist has to grasp the vision, leading the industry and customers to a promise land everyone can believe in.
The Evangelist represents your brand and conveys positioning
Sure, having a vision for the industry helps but understanding how your company fits into the current trends is what makes the Evangelist dangerous for your competitors. The Evangelist does not necessarily speak about the company often or at all. His / her responsibility is to educate the marketplace on new trends, problems, and challenges that they can bring.
But it’s not just about the vision and trends. Chief Evangelists in the same industry can all have a similar outlook on the future, but they need to have a slightly different approaches to address these challenges.
For example, Uber and Lyft both believe ridesharing is more effective way of transportation. Yet Uber wants to be the low-cost provider (similar to Amazon, a Bezosian strategy) while Lyft believes the ridesharing experience should be nice and fun first. Both companies share the same vision but position their strategies quite differently.
The Evangelist has an impact on product roadmaps, marketing, and content strategy
The Evangelist spends most of his/her time in the field talking to customers, conducting workshops, presenting at conferences, giving interviews, and so on. Great Evangelists need to carry seismographs everywhere they go to record any slight changes in the industry that can have disruptive long-term impact.
The Evangelist’s task is to bring information from the field to internal teams on a regular basis. This information will affect product roadmaps, marketing, positioning and content strategy.
What makes an effective Evangelist?
Match your customer’s profile and expertise
The customer should be able to relate to your brand ambassador. Ideally, he/she held a title similar or identical to that of your target customer in the past. If you are selling a solution for sales reps, he/she had better have spent some time as a sales rep. If you are selling API for developers, he/she had better have worked as engineer and still remember how to build a simple prototype using your product. If you are selling solution for HR, he/she had have better spent sometime in leadership roles in an HR department. Well, you get the point.
The Evangelist needs to awaken credibility, and the best way to do so is to show that he/she has been there and done that.
Superb writing and presentation skills and an excellent storyteller
You can summarize the job description for evangelist in one word: communication.
The essential responsibility of this role is to write industry trend reviews, whitepapers, blogs, guest articles, and how-tos as well as speak at industry events, conferences, meetups, and workshops.
Bottom line: the Evangelist should be a great storyteller.
Natural curiosity and interest in your industry
The Evangelist needs to live and breathe industry technology. Unlike most of the team members, the evangelist’s job doesn’t fit in the 9–5 boundary. He/she truly needs to be interested in the industry. He/she should feel comfortable in the room filled with your customers. These environments should spark heated discussions, debates, and interesting conversations.
Three companies that do it right:
Twilio | Matthew Makai
As Developer Evangelist Matthew Makai regularly presents on the topics of Python and Java. He has very active Github account. He also writes on his personal blog and is the founder of Full Stack Python.
Google | Matt Cutts
One of the early Google employees, Matt Cutts is the SEO guru and evangelist for millions of people around the world. He records how-to videos, presented at TED talk, and has an active following on Twitter. He also communicates every update to Google Search Algorithm. Many attribute Google success in search to the early hire of Matt Cutts.
Sophos | James Lyne
(Disclosure: I worked for Sophos between 2009–10)
James Lyne is Sophos’ secret weapon against competitors like Symantec, McAfee, AVG, Kaspersky and others. He is so enthusiastic about security that you almost feel like this is the only thing he does. James follows up every data leak and security break with an explanation to the masses of its meaning and recommendations of steps to take to protect your personal and corporate information. He writes for industry publications, presented at Ted conference, and was even featured on the Last Week Tonight with John Oliver show — video (first 2 min.).
In sum, the Chief Evangelist is the Brand Ambassador for tech companies. A great Evangelist combines deep industry knowledge and excellent communication skills, while possessing personality traits that draw in media, other industry leaders, and target customers. The Evangelist is the voice of your customers when it comes to the internal discussion of product roadmaps, positioning, marketing, and content strategy. Ultimately, the Evangelist drives everyone to the promise land by representing the corporate brand, communicating industry changes and the company vision.