Posted by: asmitty | March 19, 2009

Forget what they tell you, what is the REAL reason you need an API?

I’m reading a lot of theories about why companies want an API. I want to talk about why I pursued an API for my previous employer – here’s a hint, it didn’t have much to do with Long Tail markets. The application of that theory would come later. Our immediate challenge had everything to do with commercial integrations with other [CRM] products.

Access Hoovers
I worked (still do) for Malcolm while we were at Hoovers.com. One of the major products he launched was an integration with Salesforce.com. Access Hoovers fueled the CRM with high quality business information. That wasn’t his value proposition, but that is what it accomplished. It was a top 10 download for years. The problem was, it was really a custom application that called some web service brokers but was really a lot of PHP. When we decided to extend to other CRM platforms, it was near impossible.

API vendor auditions
We were initially approached by StrikeIron who was already providing an API for our parent company D&B. I recall the executive briefing very clearly. All was going well until the moment that Jeff Guillot learned that StrikeIron would want to host our data and BE the API. From a technology perspective, it made sense; allowing StrikeIron to host the data, develop and manage the API would guarantee QoS and uptime. But legally and logistically, it would be a nightmare for Hoovers.

By allowing StrikeIron to be the API, they would guarantee QoS and up time. But legally and logistically, it would be a nightmare for Hoovers.

I approached Mashery in November of 2007 and when they said they were a SaaS infrastructure and Hoover’s would own our own API’s, I knew we had an opportunity. What I didn’t know was how much internal selling I would have to do. Content providers, like news companies, were afraid of opening API’s. They fear some new start-up, sucking all the data from our servers and cannibalizing our business.

Key learning’s:
1. Know exactly why you need an API. Are your goals in alignment with your API infrastructure provider?
2. Do your homework selling the need for an API internally. If not, it doesn’t matter that your provider can have your API business on line in a few days or weeks.

(Image by Rosalyn Metz)

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