This blog is a repeat of one posted to Building43, which is Rackspace’s site to feature world-changing startups. The video interview I did with Mashery’s CEO, is also on YouTube here.
APIs are programming interfaces that sit underneath the apps that we all use, and savvy companies are beginning to recognize that they can be valuable distribution channels. Mashery, based in San Francisco, is a four-year-old company that is showing businesses how to use APIs to make their products available on any platform or device.
“We’re a platform that allows a lot of big and small companies to open up APIs,” explains Oren Michels, founder and CEO of Mashery. “APIs sound like a very geeky, technical thing. But really all it means is that if you have a service or an application, or anything you do on your web site, and you want that to run either on a mobile device or a third-party platform, you have to allow those apps to have access to your underlying services. The way you do that is through an API, and we are a platform that allows companies to open those APIs and to make those building blocks available to thousands of developers to use.” Michels says that 70,000 developers are currently building on APIs powered by Mashery, and there are 10,000 active apps running on their platform, for about a hundred customers.
Though APIs can be a boon to business, they may require different expertise than the other distribution channels a company has employed before. “You’ve got to be interacting with the developers who are working on it, all this access control stuff, and then of course you have to have a lot of analytics,” says Michels. “Because if you can’t measure stuff, it’s not a distribution channel…. You might be a great marketing company, you might be really great at reaching your customers, but talking to developers and managing that relationship is a very different thing.”
Michels says that companies’ having an API is a matter of making your services available when developers are looking to solve a problem. He gives the example the New York Times bestseller list that appears of Apple’s iBooks application on the iPad. “[Apple] pull[s] that through the API, and they didn’t actually have a deal with the Times. They just went and registered the key, did everything through the terms and conditions of The New York Times, did the logo attribution as necessary, and they made use of this API. It’s all baked in. Which is, of course, great placement for the Times, and if that hadn’t been available, my guess is that Apple would have gone and found someone else who has a bestseller list API and used that instead.”
From Michels’ vantage point, APIs have huge potential in e-commerce. The growing use of APIs are making it possible for people to complete complicated transactions involving different companies, without ever leaving the app they’re in. “I think you’re going to see companies realizing that users are not wanting to have to switch and leave and move; they want everything to work,” says Michels. “So if you can’t do that, the people who are not offering that are going to lose out to the people who are.”