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When the API is more exciting than the .com

Fred Wilson's post Every Product is a Platform concludes with this intriguing insight:

When we look at web businesses to invest in, we think hard about the API. What could it be used for? What new services could it open up? When the API is even more exciting than the .com, that's a big deal to me.

Cool.  It's not just the API though.  As I've written previously about platforms a developer is going to ask five fundamental questions:

  • How big is the opportunity?
  • How easy is it for me to get started?
  • How easy is it for me to participate?
  • How and where do I find the information I need?
  • How long will it take?

These questions translate into working through some or all of the following checklist:

  1. Is there an Extensible platform
    1. published API’s
    2. rich, easy-to-use developer tools
    3. well written, clear and concise documentation with examples including sample code
    4. Developer resources, including support team, knowledge-base, bug reporting and support forums.
  2. Is there an Existing Customer Base ?
    1. How large and approachable is the community of users?  It has to be big enough to provide a realizable revenue opportunity for the developer! 
  3. Does this Enable lots of developers ?
    1. Are there others? Existing Developers working on parallel, vertical or horizontal applications
  4. Are there mechanisms for monetization?  For example, is there a real business in building MySpace widgets?
  5. Are there well defined Opportunities for Co-Marketing, Cross-Marketing, and Cross-Promotion?
  6. Are there any Success Stories?

I love platforms, but a platform without a customer base isn't a business.

{ 3 comments… add one }

  • Andrew September 11, 2007, 5:44 am

    I would add (and possibly most importantly) – if I build an application/business on a startups API, what are the chances they will be around in 6 months -1 year?

    This is a question that rarely gets asked, but illustrating staying power (how? I am not sure) must be part of a startups API strategy – and an investor is best served to do anything to get this message out.

  • Paul Sweeney September 11, 2007, 5:51 am

    Great post. You know, there's probably an opportunity for someone to supply this as a 2.0 service!

  • Erik September 11, 2007, 12:32 pm

    Great post Alec! I can smell the smoke from your coders fingers already 😉

    Paul, check out http://www.icebergondemand.com. I believe that is getting close to what you are talking about, too bad it looks to be written in .net

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