Building relations with both designers and developers at Zeplin

An interview with June Cho, Developer Evangelist at Zeplin

Hey Friends! 👋 Today, we’re sharing a peek into June’s life as a Developer Evangelist at Zeplin. We’ve been intrigued by ‘DevRels’ lately, as they’re often responsible for establishing a community or at least building deep relations specifically with the developer audience.

In this interview; June shares the multiple platforms they use to connect with the community, how he thinks about (virtual) meetups, how they create content with power users, how he feels about the role of chatbots within support communities, and more!

Let’s dive in, and don’t forget to hit the subscribe button (if you haven’t) to follow along on the next issues! 👇


About Zeplin and June

Zeplin is a simple collaboration tool for designers and developers. It's a better way to share, organize, and collaborate on designs built explicitly with developers in mind. They were founded in 2014 and went through Y Combinator, and are now well over 4 million users. The exciting part is that they're this bridge between designers and developers, making it interesting to talk about in terms of community building.


June Cho is a Developer Evangelist at Zeplin and started his journey in a similar role at Microsoft a couple of years ago. Starting at Zepling was a whole different experience. He's the first person in this role and is building out the team.

At what stage of the company did you start an online community, and why?

I came in at year 4 of the company. So before that, everything in the company had been designer and developers, just as our target audience. The team went through Y Combinator, raised a seed round, and became profitable. And I think there was this realization that we needed the next step to keep growing the company. At that point, it was all self-service. There was no sales, no success team, basically not a lot next to designers and engineers.

To get to the next level in terms of the people using Zeplin, they needed several other disciplines. That started with getting someone responsible for Sales and Success first and making sure some dedicated Support was in place. A little later, they expanded in hiring someone – me – to start working on evangelism and advocacy to spread out the word and get our audience connected.

What platform(s) do you use to connect with these audiences of designers and developers and build a community?

We're serving our people over the channels they typically already use. We have a Facebook Group, Spectrum, use Twitter, and use Medium for our content publication. Our focus isn't on just one digital platform. I'd count all of these channels as part of our community.

A channel like Spectrum is mostly used for two things currently: people sharing what's wrong or what else they need or would like to see. We're there to support the community and help them out, but it's less of a place where people genuinely connect or where we bring additional value. I see Spectrum and also our Facebook Group more so as a support community than anything else.

I think a big one where people truly connect is meetups. Obviously, the pandemic has changed a lot, and that's why I think a lot of other ways to bring value are essential. But personally, as a developer, I love hackathons. Working on a project over the weekend, eating pizza, and drinking Mountain Dew is just a fantastic way to connect with like-minded people.

The question is how to scale such activities. When do you hit that stage where you can and want to expand that to other places in the world. I think we're still very early on that.

As meetups are a big one for you, how do you look at the virtual equivalents? Have you tried anything?

I was very skeptical about virtual conferences at first. The main concern I had was: how do you know if someone's paying attention? They're at home, behind their webcam, and they probably have other things going on at the same time.

We then decided to try to join an existing initiative. It was a conference called Clarity back in September that we sponsored. As a part of this, they organized meetup slots that were about an hour long. I was quite skeptical as I figured that you also have these meetup slots with physical conferences, but it's incentivized a little bit by connecting over some food and drinks. 

In that setting, I think part of the success must come from being flexible and able to improvise based on how people are engaging.

In the end, it turned out unexpectedly well. I made sure I brought some excellent content but also made sure I had quite some interactive parts to keep people engaged, including a little game at the end. Over 50 people joined, and all had their cameras on, which was something else I was concerned with. In that setting, I think part of the success must come from being flexible and able to improvise based on how people are engaging.

Zeplin is a platform for both designers and developers; how do you take this into account for the community strategy? 

I think for the online spaces we offer, it serves both quite well. I would say those outlets are more reactive and passive. That's more so because spaces like Spectrum, or our Facebook Group, function more as a support community. When it comes to bringing content, we do think about this.

In the form of meetups, there are ways to do something that interests both groups. That hackathon example I mentioned earlier is a great one. For more specific meetups or talks focused on the particular designer or developer audience, I tailor it to the audience. I come from a developer background myself, so I have that language where I can talk to developers and make things more developer-centric. For designer conferences, things are more design-focused. It's about creating content that captivates the audience and resonates.

The most significant measure of success for me is when there's almost no one looking at their phone or laptop. If they do, I know where I need to improve.

To know if I succeed at that, I tend to look at what people are doing when I give a talk. The most significant measure of success for me is when there's almost no one looking at their phone or laptop. If they do, I know where I need to improve.

Do you distinguish different levels of community members in terms of how engaged they are? Do you interact differently with people that lean towards power users?

I think that within any company and product, there's a spectrum of members or fans. From superstars to people that just got to know you exist. In terms of captivating the people that lean towards superfans, I tend to look at what they're doing themselves. If the content they produce or things they do are great, I'll always try to collaborate with them. Think of a webinar together, or a blog post, or something else that's more creative. 

Aside from that, I think those superstars will always come back. There's no special treatment needed, in my opinion. It's similar to a restaurant. Some regulars will always visit. But then the problem with the restaurant is: how do you fill your seats between Monday and Thursday? Or, in our case: how do you get all the others on board? I think that's where the concentration needs to be. I want to focus on the people who don't really understand or use us a lot and eventually convert them over to become superstars

How do people find out about the community? How do you make sure it keeps growing?

There are two things I'm looking into as we're looking to grow the number of developers and designers we connect with.

Sparking meetups where people can come together and have a great time is one where people genuinely connect, and that will help us grow our community through word-of-mouth even more.

One is really about figuring out the meetups & conferences part we discussed earlier. I think conferences are effective in terms of awareness. Sparking meetups where people can come together and have a great time is one where people genuinely connect, and that will help us grow our community through word-of-mouth even more. We do that through small gestures as well – like sending some notes of appreciation to certain users.

I think collaborating with the fans we already have is a great way to expose our community and brand to new people while bringing value to that audience

The other part is creating content that has a certain stickiness level. If you look at the top design tools out there, like Figma and InVision, they're creating video content that you could look towards, and that inspires a designer audience. It's not just about a product; it's about excellent content on what the design space is all about. They bring in other talent and resources to kind of showcase those stories, which is powerful. As I mentioned, I think collaborating with the fans we already have is a great way to expose our community and brand to new people while bringing value to that audience. I think it's the most effective way to grow our community.

How do you involve your community in improving your product?

So we have our Spectrum and Facebook Group, where we're getting a lot of input in terms of things that might be broken or requests that people have. We do have other channels like Intercom, where this is coming in as well. I would say allowing people to easily share their issues, wishes, and needs is step one. The more challenging part is: we currently have about four channels where we're receiving this. It makes it hard for us to be responsive in all of these places. Limiting the channels or, in general, making us more responsive is something I think we need to improve further.

Before you even talk about product changes or involving people in potential beta tests, they first-and-foremost need to feel like their voice is getting heard

Before you even talk about product changes or involving people in potential beta tests, they first-and-foremost need to feel like their voice is getting heard. That starts with being responsive to the initial line of communication. When that's going great, people tend to already feel better about the product. When they feel better about the product, people are more inclined to do beta testing for new features or be more actively involved in improving the product.

So for us, that's a part of the process we're trying to improve first. We're looking into potentially solving this through a chatbot, as that will answer someone instantly. 

Many community managers emphasize the importance of human interaction. How do you feel about using chatbots to answer some of your members' questions?

Personally speaking, as a developer, I find that amazing. It depends on where and how you use it. For us, channels like Spectrum serve more so as a support community. A lot of questions are about a very particular problem or challenge. And it's rare that such a question happens once. A lot of times, similar questions get asked over time. If you look at the internal process of answering those questions, this often means looking at a similar situation and more or less copy and pasting a similar answer. For us, that responsiveness is a challenge, as I mentioned earlier, and at the same time, there is quite some repetitiveness to it. I think it's fantastic to use a chatbot purely for that part, given that you can answer such specific questions quite well or refer to the right information that's already out there 99% of the time. Instead of people having to wait for hours or days, they get that value instantly.

In terms of the human element, I think it's important to apply a solution like a chatbot in the right places with the right expectations.

In terms of the human element, I think it's important to apply a solution like a chatbot in the right places with the right expectations. So if something is clearly a support-oriented outlet, I think this solution is acceptable. When you know something is a much more open-ended question about, let's say, our company's philosophy, I agree you want to have that answered by a real person. It depends on the context.

Our community's human element should especially show in the other activities, not on particular support-oriented questions, in my opinion. So, that's where meetups play a significant role, for example. Or these interactive experiences with other fans of our brand to share an exciting story. It's all about the expectations people have, given the place, interaction, and context.


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