Got Developers? Does Your API Strategy Match Your Metrics?

The importance of developers has been widely recognized. Books like the The New Kingmakers: How Developers Conquered the World and The New Digital Age: Reshaping the Future of People, Nations and Business celebrate the role developers play in changing the world.

Less is written, however, about how to attract developers to your API. What’s the best way to reach developers (who we all know hate marketing)? Where should you focus your efforts?

One of the most important aspects of developer marketing is ensuring your strategy and tactics match your business objective. We spoke about this recently with Scott Regan, Apigee’s developer programs leader.

APIs are the most important raw materials that developers use. Developers use APIs to get data and control the services delivered by cloud platforms such as Amazon Web Services. Today it’s not just software vendors that offer APIs. Companies of all sorts offer APIs to unlock the value of their data, create new customer experiences, and speed internal development.

Which Type of API Program Should You Offer?

Developer programs usually fall into one of three types:

  • Public API program – Any third party developer can get access and use the API
  • Partner API program – Approved partners can use the API
  • Internal API program – Company employees can use the API

We often hear about large public API programs from the likes of Twitter, Facebook, and Google. But recent research from Evans Data says that of the 18.2 million developers worldwide, only 1.2 million use public APIs. A far larger number, 8.9 million, use internal APIs, followed by 4.7 million who use partner APIs.

Match Your API Strategy to Your Business Metric

If you are leading an API program, you are mostly likely on the hook for delivering a certain metric to your business. According to Regan, correctly matching your API strategy to your business metric is the most important thing you can do.

Regan cites a recent Apigee survey of hundreds of companies about their digital strategy. Successful programs of different types reported the most success with the following metrics:

  • Public API programs, when executed well, create developer brand awareness. They aren’t usually the best choice if you need adoption metrics like API transaction volume or quantity or quality of apps.
  • Partner API programs are best for adoption, such as API distribution, number of apps, or monetized API traffic. Partners create better results because their business incentives are closely aligned to yours (which is why they are partners). Counterintuitively, working with a smaller number of partners creates fewer but much higher quality products focused squarely on mutual business goals. For this reason, Regan says that most companies that want to build developer ecosystems end up offering partner, not public programs.
  • Internal API programs drive efficiency and speed the development process.  Internal APIs are often most powerful when used to break down barriers between groups and accelerate app development. According to Regan, internal API programs largely look like partner or public API programs, just run for an internal developer audience.
But What about Innovation?

Innovation is often associated with a public API strategy. We hear phrases like “we need to reach a long tail of developers,” “let a thousand flowers bloom,” and “the developer community will create ideas we’d never have internally.”

Regan thinks it’s usually just the opposite. The most exciting innovations are usually spurred by giving your own employees or business partners the APIs, inspiration, and incentives to create innovations in line with your business model.

Innovation is often harder to find in public API programs. While there might be more quantity, quality is varied and the long tail of developers has a spectrum of different reasons for creating apps and business objectives that are all over the map from your own.

This is perhaps why many public API programs end up shutting down or being re-launched as more closely held partner API programs, as LinkedIn recently announced it will do.

Beyond the Hackathon

Most new developer programs at some point plan a hackathon. Put that idea to the metric acid test: What metrics are you on the hook to deliver? Will a hackathon help?

According to Regan, most open hackathons, where any developer in the public can attend, deliver two things: feedback on your API and brand awareness with developers. It’s rare for any showcase apps to be created at a hackathon. Hackathons are a place for developers to experiment with quick and fun prototypes that seldom last beyond the event. These ‘hacks’ are for them, not for you – and are rarely created in line with the company’s ideal innovation or your business metric.

Regan believes, if you are an API program leader on the hook to deliver real innovation, traffic, and monetization, you might be better off working one-on-one with key partners or developers influential in a very specific niche that is in line with your objective. Aligning your strategy and tactics with your business objective is the best approach for a successful API program.

Related Links

See “Developers Hate Marketing,” an e-book from Apigee and Evolved Media.


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Scott Regan is a marketing leader at Apigee. Mr. Regan has 18 years of experience in marketing and product management of enterprise and consumer software platforms. Previously, he was responsible for Local and Maps products at Yahoo. Prior to that, he led developer product marketing and developer relations at BEA. He has held product management positions with Escalate (acquired by GERS) and Microsoft’s Visual Studio team. He began his career in Accenture’s Telecom and Technology groups and is a graduate of the Duke Engineering and Stanford Business School.

Scott ReganMarketing Leader, Apigee