Chuck Freedman | Director, Vertical Insights
November 12, 2013

Building early ROI on APIs with a strategic "customer first" approach


The Apple iPad is considered one of the most successful product launches in history. By many accounts, Apple knew they could bank on their new, revolutionary device form factor because of the proven success of its predecessor, the iPhone. After 3 years, the iPhone had proved customer demand for the touchscreen interface, a mobile-optimized OS and the simpler breed of software their mobile platform had generated. Knowing what customers wanted, Apple had paved a way for the market of their larger screen, evolutionary tablet.

Here at Mashery, we advise our customers to follow Apple’s suit when launching their API platforms – don’t just treat your API as a product, but identify those initial “customers” of the platform. For internal or private platforms, this typically means internal teams, ISVs or those groups mostly operating within your organization. For those more open platforms, whether targeting partners or a wider range of customer developers through public APIs, pre-establishing needs and delivering valuable content through APIs is absolutely key. To obtain ROI, your APIs can’t be just a mere mechanism for making data available, they should address specific customer needs.

Your platform needs to deliver value

A repetitive lesson we’ve heard from platform companies that initially fail to reach their established goals is that they didn’t understand the value they were delivering. Your platform is exposing your data, content or services to those outside your organization. In order to attract them to your API and ensure they keep using it, you need to ensure what you’re exposing is valuable to them.

One effective method for doing this is evaluating your company’s data and understanding what APIs will resonate best with customers for potential integrations. The Mashery Strategy Services team helps you evaluate possibilities and concepts, researching platforms and apps thriving in and around your industry. With a clearer picture, you can see where there may be gaps in available APIs.

When you’re looking to compete with existing APIs already available in your space, comparing and understanding what assets you’ll be able to make available through your API that your competitors are missing is key. You can target customers of other platforms, offering a better API to them. A great byproduct of this process is generating great language to display on your API portal, informing incoming customers and developers on the value and benefit of using your API.

Who is waiting for your API?

Most platforms are an extension of existing businesses or applications. We’ve found there is a usually a backlog of interest in your company sharing or opening data already being used in existing software, websites or apps. When we ask a customer “who is waiting for your API?” we usually open the floodgates of existing market potential.

This question has become a staple in conversation as it helps everyone in an organization realize the inherent market a would-be or existing platform already has. Conversations with business development, in particular, will yield a list of contacts who have inquired about the company’s API.

This initial group of inquirers, having already expressed interest in your company’s available data, content or services, becomes your API’s first set of customers. In order to get a full understanding of what other customers may want from your API program, you should engage with these early customers to inquire about their interests, understand what will be valuable to them and determine what your data and services are worth to them, so you can begin thinking about a commercialization strategy.

Managing your API’s first customers

Working with our customers, we have the benefit of developing an API strategy against the core set of Mashery’s API management tools. So managing your API’s first customers can be a very precise and efficient process.

You can easily onboard developers and delegates from your first API customers, selectively granting them access to the APIs they want to use. Reporting helps you understand actual traction and usage of the API among partners. Equally important, you can use forums, FAQs and documentation to ensure initial customers of your API are receiving the support materials they need to thrive on your new or re-launched platform.

Of course great tools only get you so far. Communication, via phone, email and other channels, is essential to convert these early API customers into early success stories on your platform. Cultivate excellent relationships with early customers so they continue using your services, and be sure to keep the practice going as your API program grows.

The Mashery Strategy Services team offers several engagements to clients to assist in a customer first approach. Our “API customer mapping” service, for example, has allowed us to guide several customer platforms in surveying initial API customer needs. We continuously see common needs surface among initial API customers and these become requirements in early iterations of the API. If you build an API based on customer and market needs, you will build an API program on a solid foundation, giving you more than head start to a successful platform.