Take the shift from product to platform
We all love our smartphones. But what if our iPhone only had apps that were developed by Apple? How useful would it be then?
We would be severely limited in what we could access and still exists without a flashlight app. But what Apple did was allow open APIs – the ability of other developers to use the smartphone technology and develop apps that would be integrated with it, in order to give customers wide-ranging usability. In the long run, this has only benefitted Apple.
Google did the same thing. Now, developers can integrate Google Searches right into their webpages. This not only increases the usability of their sites but increases Google’s reach too.
So What About Your Startup?
You’ve launched your venture. You have what you believe to be a great product that will solve a problem for your target audience. Yet you also know that it isn’t a universal solution for every problem a user may face.
The product may lacks certain functionality that is expensive to develop from scratch, so you may be considering and open API platform and “inviting” others in to integrate with your product.
The big concern that startups have with API’s is control is this: If they open their software to other developers for integration, do they not lose control of who is doing what, where, and when?
To a degree, yes. But there are ways to control this, too. The key is to consider the benefits of launching an open API first, and then how to take measures to control what you may to control. If you want to spread your brand, offering an open API can be a big factor for the next reasons.
1. Open APIs Increase User Engagement
Any time a developer integrates with your brand, your exposure increases, and your brand becomes more valuable. The key is to keep an open conversation with your customers but also with third-party developers, so that you can identify integrations that are going to increase engagement. When you identify these potential integrations, it’s time to reach out to those third-parties and develop that two-way street that benefits both of you.
2. Open APIs Vastly Improve User Experiences
Think about WordPress. It powers almost 30% of the planet’s websites. They have an amazing software package for users, but opening up development to others has resulted in more than 40,000 plugins, not to mention theme options.
Users can find themes and plugins that are perfectly suited for their needs. Developers can integrate their own products, and everyone wins.
You can be like WordPress. You created a product to solve a problem for your target audience. but it may not solve all of their problems. Opening up to third-party development providers can solve additional issues, make you look great, and bring value to those third-parties as well. The key will be developing an API strategy that will attract third-party developers, help them to see the value in developing integrations, and then ensuring that those integrations work well. That starts with having proper functional documentation, testing and debugging tools for your API and so on. Stoplight – a modular API toolkit – can ease your task responsibilities in this regard.
Also, keep an eye on what third-party developers are producing. Their work can not only benefit your users. It can give you ideas for extensions of your products/services that will expand your business.
3. Open APIs Move You From Product to Platform
This is where businesses need to move. You can offer an amazing product, but the real growth is in ultimately offering a platform. A single software product will create a single revenue stream. Platforms, on the other hand, connect many different users and services, and thus create many revenue streams. No matter how good your product is, there is always room for improvement and expansion, and this is the “promise” of open APIs.
One of the best examples of this is Slack – an app that lets teams communicate in a single environment. By having an open API environment, however, there are all sorts of tools now integrated into Slack, housed in a directory, that include Google Hangouts, Trello, Convergely, and Twitter, to name a few. Teams can use these tools and function more effectively. Slack is a platform, no longer just a product.
Standalone software products still have a place. But they are not providing the functionality that can occur when open APIs co-exist with them. Collaboration and cooperation has become a key factor in business growth, so it may be time to get on board.
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