How APIs Are Shaping Shutterstock’s Long-Term Strategy

With companies large and small unlocking their APIs, we’ve experienced a shift in the true customer: the developer.

By empowering the developer community, we see significant benefits such as an injection of innovation, new flexible business models, increased speed to market, and wider market share.  Overall, the API economy appears to be a healthy one. However, if you take a look under the hood of any company, you’ll discover different states of affairs and approaches to building their platforms.

So how do the most well-known, influential companies actually build APIs at scale, and how do they ensure they’re preparing for the future, too? These are questions we think about every day at Shutterstock.

Our Platform strategy is crucial to our long-term success since our external API business drives significant revenue. We’ve partnered with the likes of Microsoft, Facebook, and Google, to enable people to stay plugged into Shutterstock within the solutions they spend their time with like Adobe Photoshop and Powerpoint. Our Developer Portal serves thousands of developers around the world, who have built apps, plugins, extensions, and mashups.

But what is truly unique and noteworthy is how we conduct our internal business. The same APIs used by partners also power our internal apps, website, and plugins. In addition to being cost-effective from a technological standpoint, this setup allows us to troubleshoot and get up close and personal with our own product. We can identify and then build in-demand features that benefit both internal and external developers.

To develop our APIs at a competitive pace, we’ve reimagined and redesigned our development process to be more streamlined and efficient. This decision began with a radical change in the company culture. Instead of having a single API team that Builds out our platform -- as many companies might opt for -- we believe every domain team is an API team. Everyone has skin in the game.

A model like this one establishes an API-first mindset, where API expertise is ubiquitous across business units. This helps eliminate bottlenecks and makes the Shutterstock platform open-sourced so that all internal developers can contribute to the platform.

Now, I should caution here that this methodology can quickly become unwieldy with everyone looking to chip in and chime in. That’s why we also created a new team that we call the API Enablement Squad. Instead of having a strict governance to dictate rules, this team’s charter is to accelerate API development across departments through sharing best practices, shortcuts, and reusable standards. Having them work side-by-side with us ensures that a variety of APIs can be developed autonomously with the highest level of quality, and that we can highlight and reuse the wonderful work of various developers, both internal and external.

In addition, this enablement team can think about the big picture while we handle the day-to-day activity. They advocate on behalf of our work across the organization and plot out reusable blueprints for success, find ways for different departments to integrate and incorporate best practices, distribute information, and contribute to the overall Documentation of our accumulated knowledge. By choosing and embracing this platform-first approach, we make our operations easier to scale with the changing tides of business.

Be sure to read the next API Strategy article: Why To Treat and Manage Your APIs as Products