APIs are not enterprise solutions

This post is a follow up to my earlier post on how startups are built on other startups.

post 1 tldr; startups need to use the API platforms that other startups have created as building so that they can focus on their core value proposition. e.g. Uber wouldn't exist today if we'd had to build payments, messaging and maps from the ground up.

Properly, I should say startups are built on other companies, because many APIs are created by larger companies, such as Google and Twilio, which are publicly traded. Fortunately, many companies who own these APIs understand the value of supporting an ecosystem of smaller players that can then grow to become larger players.

Support for startups when it comes to APIs, for me, comes down to:

  1. easy signup
  2. fair pricing
  3. online documentation

Stripe is a great example of a company that does all of these things well. 

1. the call to sign up action is clear, and obvious. It requires basic information and you can create your account immediately to test it.

2. The pricing is transactional, and still reasonable at small volumes. 

3. The documentation is available online, and clearly organized.


Unfortunately, this is not the case for several APIs that we're trying to use, which happen to be specific to Australia. I think the primary issue here is that these companies aren't used to providing their APIs to startups, because their primary consumers are large enterprises such as Australia's big banks, which have people who can gather reams of documentation and can afford to pay monthly fees in the 4-5 digit range.

What is especially frustrating is that all of the data provided by the API is freely (or very cheaply) accessible through the company's own websites, and our usage of the API has no impact on the company's monetization strategy.

For many of the companies who provide APIs and their own portals to access the data, the default assumption is that if you want the API, you must be a large company. APIs are not enterprise only solutions, but looking at the pricing pages, that seems to be the default thinking. In fact, on these websites, there isn't even a pricing page option, but only a link to contact the enterprise sales rep.

Now, in no way am I suggesting that these companies should make APIs free. There is obviously a cost to developing and supporting reliable platforms. However, there are a few simple things that could be done, which can make a huge difference in supporting companies who want to create products and grow the technology sector:

  • Make signup simple - let people create sandbox accounts with a few clicks to test and play with the data. If you require verification and further details, let it come down the line when with access to production data.
  • Define pricing beyond enterprise solutions - create a low call limit and provide an option for startups who want to use the data. Create a pricing page, not a contact the sales rep page. Do some benchmarking to understand what other companies are doing in different parts of the world.
  • Put documentation online - Create websites, not PDFs please, and add a clearly titled link from the home page.

If you have an API, why limit your user base to only large enterprises? There are plenty of ways to make your APIs available to startups in ways that don't burden your API/Platforms team. And at the end of the day, if your API is instrumental to helping a startup grow, you've just gained yourself a big new customer.