"The API economy is undergoing a really nice evolution. Over the last two years, with the pandemic, it's become clear how important this more digital transformation piece is for established businesses, enterprises, and folks starting new things. APIs are at the center of that," –Gleb Polyakov, Co-Founder & CEO at Nylas.
This week on the API Intersection podcast, we spoke with Gleb Polyakov, Co-founder & CEO at Nylas, a Communication Platform as a Service (CPaaS) that reimagines business communication via APIs. We talked to Gleb about the pervasiveness of APIs and how you can best involve various stakeholders in your API strategy to ensure success.
For Business Leaders:
"People go through weird hoops to build workarounds to achieve the same things they could do with just a couple of API calls. I think many businesses understand the concept of engagement as a website click or engagement as filling out a form. However, it's hard to convince business leaders that the communication itself is valuable data," shares Gleb.
Gleb states that most business leaders understand fairly well that the more interaction points you have with your audience, the better. If they're staying in your app, on your platform, on your website, within your experience, etc., the longer they stay, the better your overall return. Showing executives how interaction with your APIs and your API strategy leads to stickier engagement long term can help you gain business buy-in for your API program.
Gleb emphasizes that business owners don't necessarily need to understand all the weeds of the API. Still, when it comes to an understanding of the broad range of engagement that can come from API usage, sometimes you need to get more detailed for leaders to understand the actual value. Consumer engagement with your API will leave a lasting impression and experience that ultimately reflects their overall opinion of your product or service.
For Your Consumers:
On the other hand, while business leaders sometimes need the value explained further when it comes to your API strategy, they are not the only group that can benefit from further education around your API strategy. Sometimes, you also need to educate your end-users about the value a good API brings and how they can reap that benefit by utilizing your API.
"We've found ways to educate folks on the consumption of APIs. Very rarely does the customer understand as well as the company the full possibility space of how your product can help the end-user. It's the company's job to make that connection for folks," shares Gleb.
Don't neglect the consumption and adoption side of your API strategy because your end-users will make or break the success of your API. Build a solid community foundation and mutual understanding between your internal team and your consumers with a continued, educational feedback loop to help you keep a strong connection to your end-users.
"You look at the Stripes, the Twilios, and the Zooms of the world, and they're very dialed in on the design side and the experience side for their end-users because it's part of their whole foundational core customer experience," shares Gleb.
For Your Developers:
While experience for your end-users is vital, Gleb places an even greater emphasis on getting developer experience right. He notes that even when there's a cost associated with focusing on specific DevEx components of your API or software, it's still worth doing because your developers will always be your first stakeholders, your first brand ambassadors, and the first to interact with your API.
"The more you focus on the experience of your developers, even if you're not a technology tool, the better it will be in the long term because of these externalities, these realities of how developers are building software," shares Gleb. "And, if you don't invest in developer experience, you're only slowing yourself down. You're slowing your business down; you're getting to market slower. You're hurting the interoperability."
Ensuring a smooth developer experience means your team develops core competencies a whole lot faster, and you're able to distribute knowledge quicker. Gleb also emphasizes that at the end of the day, when your developers are happy, it means more opportunity for the market in terms of lower barriers of entry, better tools, more speed, and more development on your APIs overall.
"I think I'm pleading to my self-serving interest by saying focusing on developer experience will also make your life better. It'll make your engineering team happier. It'll make your product better. It'll make everyone do their jobs more efficiently and happier if you provide developers with the right experience," shares Gleb.
Developer experience is not to be confused with Marketing
Some experts in the industry often see developer experience as a subset of marketing. But, Gleb enforces that if you think of "developers being your primary audience, if you just throw traditional marketing at this sort of thing, it doesn't work. It has the opposite effect."
In other words, it's important to note that developer experience and marketing are NOT the same thing and should not be lumped together.
"Developers for sure hate it when you waste their time. They hate it when you bullshit them. They hate it when you're inauthentic. So just BE authentic with both your marketing and your developer relations strategy," shares Gleb. "Developers as an audience are actually not only super loyal, but they often have a super high engagement as long as you don't waste their time for a go-to-market motion."
As we've shared on this show, best practices are to have your developer experience or developer relations team separate from your marketing team, usually a subset of your technology team if you have the resources. There needs to be an infrastructure relationship with a direct connection to the engineering or developer teams for a DevRel team to really be able to function effectively.
Other things that can improve your developer experience are having proper governance across your API program, enforcing consistency, including all API stakeholders from the design phase, instilling a proper feedback loop, and incorporating proper documentation of all your practices.
In the end, whether you're trying to gain business buy-in from the top down on your API program, you're educating your consumers about the value of your API, or you're trying to win over your core audience of developers–stakeholders matter. Taking stakeholders into consideration from the foundational stages of your API program is a crucial part of the design-first strategy that we tout here at Stoplight. This approach will ensure an API product is comprehensive, consistent, and understandable by both collaborators and machines.