Be weird & fun (as a business strategy)
Every once in a while you get lucky enough to work on a project that taps into everything you love. I led one recently — and it goes live TODAY.
The short version: I worked with my incredible team to write and create a video comparing the experience of Netlify with other development workflows. We shot this with a professional production team in a studio in San Francisco and I think it's almost as fun to watch as it was for us to make it.
Watch it here:
For more information, you can also read the official Netlify post about this video.
Why make a video like this?
The post-pandemic world has changed how people want to spend their time. Things that used to be a staple, like webinars, have become much harder to attract attendees to because no one wants yet another Zoom call on their calendar.
We can't just go back to only in-person events, either, because not everyone is ready to travel or be in a crowded room again. Many people are being choosy about what they're willing to travel for — they're (quite reasonably) prioritizing vacations and family visits over company events and conferences.
Reaching folks in the community is more challenging than ever. We need to get creative — the old ways of outreach are showing diminishing returns. Companies could see this as a sign of doom, but I find it pretty exciting: it means that we're not able to rely on the standard playbook anymore, so companies are incentivized to try new things. That means some of my weirder ideas that might have been dismissed as too risky in the past might actually get greenlit now.
Here are some loosely structured thoughts on why I think this project was a good way to shake things up and reach the broader community.
Showing how it feels to use something is easier than writing it down
This project is our attempt to create something fun to watch that tells a story that's been hard for us to tell: Netlify falls into that category of products where the real value of what we're building is how it feels to use it — we solve real problems for teams that build for the web, and once they've switched to our tools they feel like they've gained superpowers.
We know that people who take advantage of Netlify's platform for modern web development will love it — we've seen that over and over again. But how do we convince people to try it in the first place?
In my experience, when I talk to folks who haven't tried Netlify yet, it's not because they're happy with how they work today. It's often because they weren't aware that they had a choice of something better. Especially in bigger companies, people expect things to be bureaucratic and hard — that's just Big Business™, right?
This video is an attempt to create something interesting enough to watch on its own, and along the way show all the folks I haven't had the chance to talk to in person that they have options, too.
When you've got a talented team, you should play to your strengths
Our team at Netlify is absolutely stacked with creative, talented people. Marisa on our Design Research team has been performing since she was a toddler. Rachael, our Senior Manager of Technical Writing for Developer Documentation, is not only a great performer but actually worked as a teacher for theater. Our Director of Developer Experience, Phil, is a stand-up comedian on the side. That's just a sampling of the team — just about everyone has a broad, fascinating background that gives them experience in the performing arts or other creative outlets.
We've assembled a team that is willing to go all-in on a wild idea and have a blast trying something new, and to not take advantage of that feels like a huge missed opportunity.
When we wrote the script, we put in opportunities for the team to help build the worlds in these two universes. Many of the one-liners and gags in the video are the results of the team doing improv on the spot — Tara, our Manager of Templates Engineering, stole the show with her portrayal of the "other universe boss".
I had so much dang fun working on this video with this delightful group of weirdos.
Whatever you do, lead with fun
If you're a developer, you've probably watched quite a bit of video about web development. If you try to recall your favorites, what comes to mind?
For me, I think of the things that made me laugh while teaching me something:
- Cassidy Williams teaching us empathy for OSS devs on TikTok
- Anjana Vakil and Natalia Margolis teaching Tail Call Optimization as a musical at !!Con
- Gary Bernhardt's classic speedrun of weird behavior in programming languages, "Wat"
The majority of the content out there is information dense, but dry. I often find myself forcing my way through a video because I need the information, but I'm certainly not enjoying myself. It feels like a chore to get the knowledge out.
Finding ways to make knowledge transfer fun has been pretty central to my career — whether it's something like Learn With Jason where I'm actively teaching development skills, or the way I entertain myself with meta-commentary in my blog posts, or the absurd level of effort I put into silly apps for my workshops because they make me smile.
I can only speak for myself, but I am far more likely to follow through on something if I'm having fun while I do it, so I've started prioritizing fun in projects as the most important factor. No matter what we make, we're going to share knowledge; that's table stakes. When we look at how we're going to share that knowledge, the approach that sounds like the most fun is going to win out every time.
There's more where this came from
We've been working toward this video for over a year now. It takes a lot of coordination with a lot of people to start something new like this: we have to get aligned on strategy, agree on budgets, make sure we're telling the right story, hook into our overarching strategy, and a million other little agreements that need to be in place for something like this to exist.
I'm making a big assumption that this video will be successful in the ways we want it to be. But unless things go pretty poorly, I'll keep pushing for weird, fun projects like these. (Which I guess is a good opportunity for me to say, if this sounds like your kind of fun, we're hiring.)
I'm excited to explore new ideas and media. I hope you'll have as much fun watching what we're able to create as we're having making it.