How Promoting a Developer Ecosystem Strengthens an API

At business software-as-a-service vendor Citrix Podio, a renewed focus on promoting partners and API integrators is stabilizing API adoption overall and helping create a commercially successful ecosystem.

“Since creating a team to focus on the platform part of our offering, we’ve seen a clear increase in both number of actively used third-party implementations and amount of interest in extensions built by others than us,” says Martin Müntzing, head of product at Citrix Podio. “The number of active API keys has risen by 30%, and visits to the Extensions page almost doubled.

“With the launch of our new public website, integrations and extensions now have a more prominent place in the list of benefits you get from building your business on Podio," he says. "From the Features page, you can now easily get to information on ready-made extensions and learn more about how to build your own. This is also a good example of the effect from having our product and marketing teams work together towards a common goal.”

An API Provider’s Success Requires Ecosystem Success

Podio’s success has clear application to other API providers. At ProgrammableWeb’s APIcon in San Francisco last May, John Collison from Stripe pointed out that in fact there are two key growth curves for API providers: The first comes with general API uptake, but for long-term business sustainability, developer-consumers of an API provider also need to grow their own businesses. “We have seen some users grow to very large businesses on Stripe, but it has happened over three or four years,” Collison told APIcon’s audience last year.

With the introduction — and now greater prominence — of the Podio Extensions page, Podio is creating a marketplace to promote third-party developers who have built products using Podio’s API.

The overall picture emerging from Podio’s renewed focus on its API appears patchy at first glance. Unlike the experience of some other API providers, Podio did not necessarily see a consistent J-curve of API adoption in 2014.

ABOVE: Visitor numbers to Podio’s developer portal, (Source:

Looking at website visits to Podio’s API developer portal, August 2014 (when Podio’s API promotion plan was revamped) shows a surge in visits during the initial launch of the Web pages. This dropped back down the following month, but has since remained stable at around 1,500 website visits per month, according to data from SimilarWeb.

But since August, Podio has been actively promoting products built by third-party integrators using the Podio API.

One of those products is SmartGantt, which uses the Podio API to let end users create project management (Gantt) charts from their own Podio workflows. They see around 25,000 visitors each month. Half of this traffic comes from

Globiflow offers an automated workflow service built using the Podio API. Since the August release of the Integrations section of the Podio website, it has seen marked growth, with close to 140,000 website visits in January.

Since August, close to half of all Globiflow’s website referrals have come from Podio.

For now, Podio provides access to the API for free, allowing developers to monetize off their early products and watching how the Podio API ecosystem grows.

“We are still exploring different possibilities,” Müntzing says about the potential business model. “Revenue share is the most logical approach, but nothing is decided yet. What we know is that we don’t want to tie this too closely with our own business model (that is, paying for seats), so as to allow this to scale in the future. Getting this right means finding value for both us and our implementation partners, and therefore we are taking small steps to test and learn our way to the best approach.”

Third-Party Integrator Marketplaces Key to Ecosystem Growth

For businesses beginning to open APIs, it was often the case that they would make their APIs public and invite any developer to try them. That was a successful growth strategy for early movers in the API space like Twilio and Netflix. Over time, however, new entrants — and even these existing players — have looked at commercial applications of their APIs in a more sophisticated, nuanced light.

Recent API market entrants like Traitify and Philips Hue started their developer engagement strategies with a tiered onboarding approach from the get-go, quickly classifying potential third-party developers as either hobbyists or commercial ventures and offering levels of developer support accordingly. Coupled with that comes the promotion of those commercial users. Philips Hue, for example, includes a website section that promotes products created with the Philips Hue API. Its API developer portal continues to see monthly growth.

Alternatively, Traitify, which has a similar developer onboarding strategy, has yet to create a website section that shows how customers and partners are using the Traitify API. Its API uptake is less strong.

Of course, there are other aspects at play here, not least of which is that Philips is a recognized global brand with a physical product in the emerging home automation field (the Hue light bulb), while Traitify is a startup with a personality API that has a much narrower target market. But both have similar levels of high-quality developer resources and have similar developer onboarding programs that split new developers immediately into hobbyist and commercial users, suggesting that an integration marketplace can be an important factor in leveraging the success of an API.

Third-Party Integrators vs. Enterprise Client Developers

Visits to developer portals are only part of the picture, particularly in Podio’s case. The official Ruby wrapper for the Podio API has seen 17,893 downloads from the Ruby Gems Web library, while more than 1,200 developers have starred Podio SDKs on the official Podio GitHub repository.

Some of these developers are Citrix enterprise customers looking to use Podio as the main platform when integrating with their other Citrix products, says Müntzing. This group of developers is quite different from the third-party integrators that are promoted in Podio’s extensions showcase, but Müntzing sees this market growing as well.

“Over the past couple of months, I have seen larger customers starting to innovate across Citrix products, many times with the flexibility of the Podio API at the core," he says. "Customers are building very specialized tools, linking services and early-stage product innovation into the core of their businesses, pushing ahead with tools that have yet to make it to our own internal backlogs. I’m very impressed by this, and it has spawned quite a few great customer feedback sessions with the product teams.”

To encourage this, Podio also highlights another developer market: partners who have the skills to create custom integrations using the Podio API.

APIs Are a Platform Play; Start Thinking Like It

What is most obvious in these early days of impact following Podio’s renewed focus on its API is that, overall, the developer support team is recognizing that supporting an API is about a platform approach. The initial focus for an API provider is on designing a usable API and providing user documentation and resources like SDKs, sandbox environments, tutorials and sample code. Following that, Podio is demonstrating what comes next: supporting API users to grow into sustainable businesses in their own right.

Mark Boyd is a ProgrammableWeb writer covering breaking news, API business strategies and models, open data, and smart cities.