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API Evolution – The 3 step process

3step-api-evolutionsAPI, a three letter word can change your business dynamics. A careful planning and implementation brings new partners, customers and markets to your product and services. At the same time, poor platform strategy and hurriedness to expose API from not so developed platform can hurt your current business by losing existing customers, markets and brand value.

Before exposing API from platform, identify your products and services. Your product should reach enough critical mass before opening up for everyone. But reaching critical mass is always chicken/egg problem. APIs bring more developers and customers. Developers don’t like to use your API, when there is not many users using your service. Here are 3 simple steps to build momentum to your platform before exposing as API to long tail developers.

1. Platform initiation phase: In this phase, your company identified a product or service to offer to your existing customers and potential customers.

  • Pricing model: Develop a simple pricing model, where your customers should be able to consume those services from any form of application (ex: Web, Tablet, mobile, Enterprise apps etc.,). For example: Netflix charges same fee for their customers irrespective where they view movies from.
  • Customer information: Design your platform, such that your can store, control and manage your customer data.
  • First party applications: Develop extremely simple and hard to misuse application, so that your customers will addictive to use. If possible expand similar experience to multiple platforms, (mobile, Web, TV etc.,)
  • Public within Private API: Design your platform such way that by default all private APIs are ready to expose for 3rd party developers. With minimum or no effort, you can turn your platform to more partners.
  • With the above steps in place, your product should be able to attract enough customers, provide maturity to your platform.

2. Partnership phase: With decent customers and platform maturity, you should be able to attract partners to use your services with theirs.

  • Identify partners with mutual interest to expose your services through their platform. A good partnership can transform their customers into mutual customers.
  • Exposing platform to your partners can provide opportunity to surface hidden problems within platform. You can learn a lot from this exercise. Develop a good revenue sharing model with your partners. Design and scale your system to support multiple partners. Start with one or two partners and expand to self serviced partnership model. For example: When Netflix is ready to implement streaming as a service, they worked closely with Microsoft X-Box using their APIs. Later improved APIs started powering PC, PS3 , DVD players and mobile platform in no time.

3. Long tail developers: Impressing long tail developer is always a challenge for upcoming platforms. Because, long tail developers spend their life energies to build their applications and expect appropriate ROI. Critical mass of customers for your services and list of partnership referrals will boost your API maturity level. Make your API as generic and modular as possible. Identify good benefits to long tail developers. This will allow long tail developers to encourage your customers to use their applications but use your service. For example: Dropbox API helps Goodreader application to access and store your files into dropbox. This helps GoodReader to focus on app functionality while leaving storage functionality Dropbox. Also, Dropbox customers can access their applications from multiple applications across multiple platforms.