When It’s Not Just an App, But Your Entire Business

Wandering on Angel.co is my favorite pastime. One gets to see all innovative things happening in the world of startups. My other favorite place is Co-foundersLab. Recently, I’ve seen a trend of explaining business ideas like ‘Uber’ for something’ or ‘Airbnb for something’. On one hand this show us that the business models of Uber and Airbnb are so popular and presumably ‘simple’ that startups are using them as a noun to explain their business idea. Some startups are going one step ahead and saying that ‘we are Uber’ing the way you do laundry’ or we are ‘Airbnb’ing your power tools’.  This WSJ blog post does a great job of covering most of these ‘Uber kind’ startups.

People Powered Apps

Or there are dedicated lists like this for ‘Uber for X’ app companies. Well, the business of shared economy and its future is a topic that deserves its own blog post or an entire book, like this one written by my favorite entrepreneur Robin Chase, the woman behind ZipCar, first of the shared economy kind.

Cloud first – Mobile first – API first?

I love startups and I support the motion of shared economy. However the other major trend seen in all these startups is that most of them are ‘only’ app-based. The whole business is a single app. We get it; it’s the ‘mobile first, cloud first’ world. If your app just doesn’t support your business, but it is the whole business, I demand your attention! You know how important is it to ensure that your app is up and available 24×7 and that all moving parts of your app are working smoothly every time and from everywhere. First time app developer or a savvy veteran, you cannot deny the significance of using APIs in App development.

If ‘Mobile first’ approach was the most significant trend in mobile development, the ‘API first approach’ is visibly seen as the underlying construct. Let’s see an example. If you are targeting the US market, your product can be only an iOS app, however if you want to go tap into foreign markets, you need to think about Androids, BlackBerrys and Windows devices of the world. The API – first approach enables the developers to be more platform agnostic and cater to different user needs as the business grows and crosses the boarders. Using APIs is a great alternative to in-house development for many reasons.

Why reinvent the wheel?

First, why reinvent the wheel when you can stand on shoulders of giants? By doing simple API integration you can save time and use that time to innovate; develop some other business critical feature for your app. The API-first approach leads app developers to use API Backend as a Service (BaaS).  Think of it as creating a single, reusable base for your apps and just changing the top part of it based on the platform. BaaS saves your time and money and helps you scale rapidly. According to this report from Markets and Markets research firm, the BaaS market is will be worth $7.7 Billion by 2017.

Focus on End UserFocus on the user and all else will follow

Second, using popular APIs gives your app the look and feel of other trusted companies. Using Google maps or Twitter functionality in an app comes as a second nature to the users.  Then why make an old dog learn new tricks? Show them what they want to see and let them use the functions which they are most familiar with.

 Be part of the community

Third, be part of the API community. If something in your app in house code breaks, who is to blame? It’s difficult to put down a fore when you are alone. Figuring out everything from scratch is great but not when your entire business depends on that broken app. When you use public APIs you are Part of a big community. You can get help of other developers around the world. Companies are adopting API descriptors such as Swagger for REST APIs to describe the behavior of the APIs, making things simpler and more adoptable for API consumers.

And it works both ways! By opening up APIs to your product you foster innovation and increase overall efficiency. The fitness tracker device company Fitbit saved over $1 million in R&D when it opened its APIs in 2011.

Core vs. Context

Geoffrey Moore coined this term in his legendary book ‘Crossing the Chasm’.  Basically ‘core’ is the products/features/processes that contribute directly to the competitive advantage while ‘context’ is the one to fulfill commitments made to stakeholders within the company. Moore himself explained it clearly in this video. When you are in this ‘app only’ business and the differentiation between your offerings and the competitors is limited, identify what is core and what is context for you. The success of companies of the future will be determined by their growth and customer engagement. So don’t sweat the stuff that brings you basic functionality, concentrate on the differentiator.

You cannot manage what you can’t measure

Finally, now that I have kind of convinced you to use APIs for your awesome app and possibly a billion dollar business idea, let me tell you about the tools you need in your arsenal. 3rd party APIs are great for the reasons mentioned above and more, but their failures are most critical as they empower one or more components of your app. Ensure that they are not just available but responding as per your standards and are returning right data at right places. Try AlertSite API monitoring that covers all bases of API readiness, availability, performance and functional correctness.

Let us hear some of your tips for these ‘app only’ businesses.

Additional reading:

Top 11 misconceptions about APIs

The API is the invisible hand behind the internet of things

Don’t Let Third-Party APIs Fly Under the Radar


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