Considering the quickly growing trend of companies launching API-centric products, it is unsurprising that many enterprises plan to follow suit. If you are launching an API-based product of your own, there are a few key areas to consider as you finalize your plan.
This article assumes that you have: a) done market research to find a problem that your customers or partners are willing to pay to solve and b) developed an API to address that problem. (if not, see our related article: Enterprise API Monetization Quick Start Guide)
With those (non-trivial!) tasks behind you, the key tasks remaining include ensuring that you can promote and sell access to your product, successfully onboard new users, and obtain meaningful analytics about the usage of your API-first product.
So, let’s run through a quick checklist of key functionality and tooling you’ll need in place to launch successfully.
1. A Developer Portal That Developers Want to Use
Once you’ve established your first partnership built around your API-based product, it is critical that developers have a positive experience when writing their first integration with your product. Central to achieving this objective is in-depth and easy-to-understand onboarding documentation. This should be easy for developers to find and include sample code snippets in each language your partner developers are most likely to use when integrating with your API.
2. An API storefront that is tightly coupled with this development portal
The Traditional Enterprise Sales Model
The enterprise sales model is the selling motion most companies are familiar with, where partnerships are secured via traditional contracts prior to the developer arriving at your site. In this mode, when the developer logs into your site the first time, they should automatically see the API products that have been purchased for them without the need for manual provisioning. When they request credentials in the dev portal for these API-products and begin using them, usage should automatically be registered under the license agreement that was previously signed, and eventually result in an invoice tied back to the subscription model you have established. The key here is zero friction adoption for authorized partner developers once they register on your dev portal.
The self-service sales model is less familiar to enterprises but absolutely must be supported when offering an API-first product (and you may be surprised to know that the approach is not different in highly-regulated industries like fintech and healthcare where self-service adoption is also highly-sought-after among enterprises releasing API products in these markets).
To support this mode of sales, your development portal must first provide a method for pre-approving users who register with e-mail domains that match a list of your target customers, and automatically deny users from competitors or anonymous domains like gmail. (Users that fall into neither category can be manually reviewed by your inside sales team)
Next, your API storefront (integrated in your dev portal) must allow users to pre-pay for access to your API (typically via credit card). Self-service functionality opens up a completely new selling motion for enterprises and builds a funnel of individuals on usage-based plans who can eventually be converted via traditional enterprise sales into corporate accounts with annual subscriptions
3. An easily-integrated API product & subscription management system
Here are the key things to look for.
- API product bundling - the best practice in enterprise API monetization is to bundle groups of APIs into subscription plans aimed at a target consumer & use case (i.e. a retail bank offer vs. a commercial bank offer). This product packaging limits buyer indecision when they see product offers specifically-tailored to their use case.
- Metering and Rating - once you determine your target offer in terms of pricing, quotas, subscription terms, etc., you need a gateway-integrated system that can track consumption and rate transactions according to your product design. Gateway integration is critical to efficiency as it will help you avoid asking your development teams to review, insert, and maintain custom 3rd-party code into every application that requires metering.
- End User Invoicing - the last thing most finance teams will want to hear when launching an experimental new product is that they will need to provide end user invoicing. To limit the support needed from your finance team, ensure you can launch your product as quickly as possible, look for a turnkey invoicing solution that integrates with your API gateway and with your ERP system.
4. A Method to Evaluate Profitability & Customer Usage
Once you have partners & customers using your system, it is critical that you can both identify adoption challenges as well as your most-engaged users. Nearly all gateway analytics solutions provide engineering-focused API metrics that provide little value to product and business owners. To ensure that you can successfully run an API-centric business, either plan to build your own analytics solutions or research external solutions (“ahem”) that can provide business teams the data they need to manage and grow your customer accounts over time. At a minimum, your reporting solution should cover user adoption, product-usage, and financial metrics.
If you’ve made it this far and can ‘tick the box ‘on a plan to cover each of these areas, you will be well on your way to successfully launching your product.
If you’re not sure where or how to find your first customer, this post might be of interest (If You Build It, Will They Come?)