If you were to ask 100 developers, “what company do you think of when you hear API as a Product?” most would say Twilio or Stripe. Developers know that if they need to add communications or digital payments to an application, they can do it by simply plugging in a Twilio or Stripe API. These API first companies develop API products that make adding complex capabilities quick and easy.
The advent of API-as-a-Product has led to a booming API products industry where you can find marketplaces and directories listing thousands of available third-party APIs. Success stories like Twilio and Stripe have inspired the creation of developer-focused tools to simplify and speed up API the APIproduct development process, enabling complex applications to be created faster than ever before.
This article begins with a quick look at Twilio, Stripe, and Algolia — API product companies that helped make the API industry you see today. We then look at three newer companies, Auth0, k6 and Optic, that exist to help developers build APIs better and faster than they could on their own.
The Rise of “API-as-a-Product”
Snapshot of Twilio’s website back in December 2008 – From Wayback Machine
The API industry would probably look very different today if it weren’t for companies like Twilio, Stripe, and Algolia. You wouldn’t see so many companies create specialized API products that let developers quickly add complex capabilities to websites and applications. Why do so many developers hold companies like Twilio, Stripe, and Algolia in such high regard? Let’s take a look:
Twilio: The API Product That Started It All
Twilio is often credited as the first company to create an API product. Back in 2008, when Twilio first launched, many companies were building and consuming APIs. But the idea of selling an API as a product was unusual until Twilio came along.
The team at Twilio saw a rising need for telephony services to be built into the software, but also saw how difficult it was for developers to integrate these communications capabilities into applications. They recognized that the opportunity lay in creating easy-to-use APIs for developers. So, they created an API-first product that showed developers how integrating communications didn’t have to be a complicated and frustrating experience. With Twilio, “just 5 API building blocks” were all developers needed to add voice communications to applications.
Developers loved Twilio’s API product because it eliminated the technical hurdles when integrating voice capabilities into applications. Over time, the company has provided numerous tools to help developers achieve integration success, like documentation, code samples, and SDKs. Twilio focused on developers, providing a great developer experience (DX).
Twilio’s success as an API product company soon led to other companies offering APIs as products, like Stripe and Algolia.
Stripe: The API Product That Disrupted Digital Payments
Launched in 2010, Stripe is arguably the second most well-known API product company after Twilio. The team at Stripe saw an underserved area in the payments industry — the need for simple payment integration — and fulfilled that need with easy-to-use API products. And like Twilio, Stripe focused on providing a great developer experience, making sure developers had the tools they needed to integrate Stripe’s APIs with their applications. The simplicity of Stripe’s products and their seamless integration have contributed to its popularity with developers.
Algolia: Superpowering Search
Every developer knows the power of search — the ability to find and discover relevant content quickly. But adding a robust search experience to a website or application is extremely challenging if you have to build everything from scratch. Algolia launched in 2012, offering developers the ability to add a fast, relevant, and instant search experience to websites and applications. With Algolia’s Search API, developers can add an AI-powered search and discovery function to their applications in minutes.
“The future is API-first – a reality underscored by the growth seen by Twilio, Stripe, Algolia, and others in the API economy. A huge part of our success has, and will continue to be, our relentless focus on developers with our PLG strategy – enabling them to build search into their websites and apps, so they create the most relevant and dynamic digital experiences.” — Bernadette Nixon, Algolia CEO, as quoted in a recent press release.
The ability to integrate specific capabilities quickly, easily, and affordably has been a game-changer for developers. Developers can now simply plug in the functionality they need with third-party APIs. And companies like Twilio, Stripe, and Algolia helped cement the concept of a good developer experience. These concepts also extend to API development tools.
Better, Faster API Development
In the same way that you can plug in functionality with a third-party API, you can use third-party tools to speed up and improve specific tasks throughout your API’s design, coding, testing, and deployment. Let’s take a look at a few of these tasks and companies with products designed to help developers quickly complete them:
Auth0 - Authentication and Authorization via API
Building an authentication and authorization process from scratch takes time and requires extensive expertise. Any mistakes in your implementation and you run the risk of security vulnerabilities, like broken user authentication, one of the top API security vulnerabilities per OWASP. Hackers often target APIs with broken user authentication to obtain access to sensitive information or take over user accounts.
Auth0 offers authentication-as-a-service via its API. With this product, you can protect your APIs and add authentication to the login boxes of websites and applications. With Auth0 you don’t have to build authentication and authorization infrastructure from scratch, and you can avoid potential API security vulnerabilities — saving yourself a lot of time and stress.
Note: Okta recently acquired Auth0.
k6 - API Load and Performance Testing
You need to make sure your APIs work as expected before and after deploying them to the world. And that means writing lots of tests — load, stress, spike, soak, smoke, to name a few. Traditional testing tools require that developers write these tests manually, which is very time-consuming. Writing one test for interconnected microservices or for an API with numerous endpoints could take days or even weeks to complete manually.
Note: Grafana Labs recently acquired k6.
Optic - Track API Changes
Most developers today document their APIs according to a specification like OpenAPI. However, creating and maintaining API documents takes a lot of time and effort. Developers must also understand how their APIs behave in the real world, identifying issues with deployed APIs and then making changes to the specification as needed.
Optic observes real traffic to understand and detect changes in the behavior of your API, and then automatically proposes changes to the API specification. You can simply accept or reject these suggested changes as they arise. You don’t have to spend time reviewing API changes and manually updating the specification — Optic does that work for you. Automating the API specification writing process saves you time while ensuring accuracy and completeness.
Where Does Stoplight Fit In?
Stoplight offers a variety of tools to speed up and improve API design and development. With Stoplight Studio, you can model APIs without writing any code and generate mock servers instantly from an OpenAPI specification. Stoplight Elements lets you automatically generate interactive API documentation from OpenAPI documents.
You can get started with Stoplight Studio and Stoplight Elements for free to be on your way to being one of the best API companies.
Try out all the tools above to see how they help you design, build, and maintain APIs with greater ease and speed.