Scratch a hypergrowth software company and you’ll likely find an organization focused on building an ecosystem of developers that will help it achieve platform status.
Getting there requires understanding that when it comes to developers, your API is your product. APIs aren’t just about integrating tools and apps; increasingly, they are the new way of doing business.
Your mindset must be API-first and developer-first. Companies as diverse as Twilio, Google and Intuit know this. Even Salesforce generates as much as half its revenues from APIs.
At DocuSign, we’ve seen a 250 percent increase in transactions generated through the DocuSign API since we began doubling down on our developer experience. A few years ago, the API was less than 40 percent of overall transactions. Today, close to 60 percent of all DocuSign transactions are via the API.
Among the lessons we’ve learned while building our platform is that you’re committing a disservice if you only make your API available to a few enterprise customers and other select partners or organizations. In the developer ecosystem, transparency is a core value, and another is community and the ability to share code and experiences. In that spirit, here are some tips for getting started and advice on how to measure success and avoid potential landmines.
Step 1: Commit to Developers
Stop restricting who can get access to your API. Deliberately creating a developer platform and API strategy means getting serious about opening up your platform. Developers want to try your API before they commit to you, so let them have full access, for free. At DocuSign, developers can set up a sandbox account, generate an API key and kick the tires without paying us a dime. Build a developer center and invest in building tools for developers—everything from SDKs and how-to guides to sample applications. And be open to feedback from developers on their experience with the API.
Step 2: Invest in the Experience
Developers want easy, low-friction technology that will enable them to get up and running with your API quickly. Think about how you can make the entire experience completely self-service, from offering a developer edition or full featured “sandbox” to providing API plans. Offer as much as you can upfront so they never have to speak to your sales team.
Step 3: Make Your Content Shine
Content in all forms is key. Developers expect your API to be well-documented. Offer up sample code in languages they care about and cover common use cases. Your content should also be discoverable. Engineers must be able to find what they need without asking—don’t make it hard.
Step 4: Build Out Your Evangelism—and Support—Team
Evangelism is crucial in developer relations. Hire someone dedicated to it, as well as someone who can focus on developer marketing. Your support team should also include your own in-house API experts who can support your developer ecosystem. And make sure that you have a robust self-service support option, such as a community on Stack Overflow. At DocuSign, these folks are active on Stack Overflow and help developers who are working to go live with their apps.
Step 4: Measure Success
Monthly recurring revenue, numbers of sandbox accounts and active developers and the number of successful transactions from apps built on the platform are all key metrics, and it’s important to track them. Growth in sandbox accounts is an especially important performance indicator for us and today at DocuSign we have more than 80,000 sandbox accounts—almost double where it was last year. It is also important to look at where monthly recurring revenue is coming from. It varies by vertical, but we have found that when customers use our API they’re two to four times more valuable from a revenue perspective. Customers using the API also have a lower churn rate—they’re stickier. Last but not least, think about how you are going to measure developer satisfaction. Wootric provides a great way to measure NPS within your app and customer effort within your developer portal.
Pitfalls to Avoid
Most developers care about two things: 1) successfully launching something they can be proud of, and 2) that users will love what they’ve built. They get frustrated when your documentation stops or is incomplete, you don’t tell them what you’re going to build or what you’re going to ship, or you don’t build what you told them you were going to build. Let them know when your road map changes. Communication is very important. Establish that rapport, listen to feedback and take action on it. Keep living out the values of transparency and community, and you will start to see your developer ecosystem thrive.