What Successful API Strategies Have In Common: The 3 "Blooms of Growth"

Many businesses are realizing the opportunities that come when services, products, data and delivery channels are managed via APIs.

As a result, businesses are exploring API strategies that commence with an API-first design approach and recognize the importance of providing a high-quality developer experience through the creation of resources such as detailed documentation; sandbox environments to test API calls; and SDK and code snippets.

But after these are all in place, then what? How do businesses scale up the use of their APIs to build out a commercially viable ecosystem of products, partners and integrations?

This report provides eight case studies that illustrate the ways in which APIs have showed significant growth during the past year. We chose to focus on these particular APIs because they are all fairly recent examples, and they all have replicable strategies and can serve as a model for other API providers.

When we talk about API success stories, we often speak of companies like Amazon, Twitter, Twilio, Context.io and SendGrid. There are some excellent resources that describe how these organizations are leading the pack. But, for new API providers, these success stories can be daunting and difficult to emulate. For this research, we chose to highlight API providers that are beginning to move beyond the startup phase and toward scaling up. We have identified the common elements of success that are helping these companies—which all showed strong signs of J-curve growth in 2014--build a vibrant developer ecosystem.

As Ben Kepes pointed out in his report Software May Be Eating the World, But APIs Are Giving It Teeth, businesses are seeing fundamental shifts in the landscape toward the cloud, mobile, data, and sensors, while also facing greater demand for being able to respond with agility. Customers want to use the Internet, their smartphones and other devices to directly connect with a business and its suppliers and partners. APIs are the core technology tool to capitalize on existing data assets, reach new markets and enable new mobile opportunities.

Eight API Case Studies

The API case studies in this report show successes for four types of businesses: API-as-a-product, e-commerce ventures, brick-and-mortar businesses (with either physical locations or physical products) and Web-based businesses:

API case studies

Among the APIs researched for this report, the majority shows an upward trend in developer portal engagement during the past 12 months. The APIs we tested showed fairly steady growth in engagement, observable through customers and developers who have made use of each provider’s API.

API growth trends

Blooms of Ecosystem Growth

Blooms of API ecosystem growth

The ecosystems that are being grown around the APIs we tested tend to have three main blooms of growth:

  • Third-party apps: API consumers that are becoming commercially viable by creating apps and online tools that are wholly built on the API.
  • Developer partners: These users are commercializing their expertise in using the API as a service to others. These partners are often also building open source tools and frameworks that help other developers extend their use of the API.
  • Tools and integrators: The API leaders profiled in these case studies have recently taken their APIs beyond a traditional developer audience by creating tools, integrations and tutorials to enable use of the APIs by non-technical business stakeholders. This includes creating Google Docs tools that are API-enabled, tutorials on how to create a business in a particular vertical in which he API would be used, and automated integrations on IFTTT and Zapier.

This introduction is part of our series on 8 Real World API Strategies and The Keys To Their Success. In part 1, we will look at how Contentful has driven engagement and developer adoption through the use of SDKs, both official and community contributed.

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

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