Driving the API Adoption Funnel

Sourcing leads, qualifying leads as prospects, and converting prospects to customers are the main stages of the sales cycle. These stages are often visualized as a funnel to measure the effectiveness of a company’s sales process. This same funnel framework can be applied to API adoption. The stages of the API adoption funnel are outbound efforts to build awareness and get developers to sign up, optimization efforts to get developers from sign up to finishing an integration, and customer success steps to keep developers using your API after finishing an integration.

Drop-off at every step of the API adoption funnel is inevitable. For example in the funnel visualization above, let’s say 7,000 developers visit your site, but only 1,400 sign up because your API’s value proposition might not be effectively explained. Out of the 1,400 developers that did sign up and started to build an integration, only 350 developers finished an integration. This might have been due to a poor developer experience.

Now we will look at the specifics ways to drive API adoption by increasing the number of sign ups, helping developers build integrations, and nurturing tactics that will keep developers using your API.

Stage One: Tell Developers about Your API

The first stage is all outbound effort. Your goal is to tell the developer community about your API. Here are a list of ways to get the word out.

Action Items
1. Speak at events with developers including meetups and conferences.
2. Sponsor open-source projects.
3. Sponsor hackathons where you offer prizes that encourage developers to build on your API.
4. Maintain a developer blog where you write posts about cool things people built with your API.
5. Engage with developers at events, and get their contact information to send them lifecycle emails about your API.
6. Engage with developers on sites like LinkedIn, StackOverflow, Reddit, Twitter, and Hacker News.
7. Write guest blog posts on general technology websites like TechCrunch and API-specific ones like ProgrammableWeb.
8. Sponsor niche blogs.
9. Contribute to the open-source community by making code publicly-available on GitHub.
10. Run an online challenge on a platform like ChallengePost or Topcoder, where you offer a prize for solving a problem with your API.
11. Sponsor local meetup groups through Meetup.com.
12. Encourage the formation of local user groups for your API.
13. Have a roadshow for your API, like Twilio.
14. Establish and certify a community of independent experts around your API like Google Developers Experts.
15. Exchange free access to paid-tiers of your API for evangelism activities on behalf of your company like PubNub’s program.
16. Buy advertising on websites that your audience visits. For example, New Relic buys advertising on programming-related subreddits on Reddit.

If you have an enterprise-focused API like Yodlee, then there are additional strategies to consider.

1. Build a list of potential partner companies, and reach out to them individually.
2. Go to developers conferences like Google I/O, and set up meetings with companies that will be there.
3. Get feedback from your sales team about integrations your customers are asking for, and then reach out to those companies.
4. Build out an app marketplace where an integration with your API will make that company money.
5. Set up a developer fund like Mad Mimi to help incentivize companies to build specific strategic integrations.

Stage Two: Get Developers to Sign Up

Once a developer comes to your site, you need to clearly and concisely explain your API’s value. Then, make it super simple to sign up.

Action Item
1. A/B test different sign up pages to see what description of your API increases sign ups.

Stage Three: Help Developers Start Building

After you give a developer API credentials, provide a quick-start tutorial.

Action Items
1. Create a quick-start tutorial written in multiple languages.
2. Send them a drip email campaign that reminds the developer to start building on your API. Highlight the key features of your API in these emails.

Stage Four: Help Developers Finish Building

If you provide a great developer experience through your API documentation and personal support, then you will make developers more productive and increase the number of integrations.

Action Items
1. Write great documentation in multiple languages.
2. Write how-to articles on your developer blog of common API integration scenarios.
3. Create screencasts where you walk through common implementation cases.
4. Engage with developers on sites like LinkedIn, StackOverflow, Reddit, Twitter, and Hacker News to answers questions about your API.
5. Have a FAQ that is based on common questions you get from developers about your API.

Stage Five: Continued Engagement with Developers

Let’s say a developer finishes building on your API, but then stops consuming it. You should have metrics to identify this to reduce your API churn rate.

Action Items
1. Parse through your API logs with a service like Splunk to see if a developer who signed up is actually using your API. If they are not using it, then reach out and ask them what is stopping them.
2. Set up a smart nurturing campaign that identifies what parts of your API a developer is not using, and then reach out to tell the developer how using it would benefit them.

Takeaways

  • Increased API adoption is a function of the number of developers who know about your API and how easy it is to build on your API.
  • Track metrics on each stage of your API adoption funnel, so you can identify and plug the leaks.
  • Track qualitative feedback in addition to quantitive metrics by asking developers what their pain points are when integrating with your API.
  • Creating a Great Developer Experience

    Providing a great developer experience is important for any company with an open API. The key goal should be reducing the amount of time it takes a developer to be productive with your API. There are over 11,000 open APIs, but the company most frequently noted for its great developer experience is Twilio.

    There are many stages during the API integration funnel where you can lose a developer. Twilio has designed a developer experience that minimizes the drop-off rate at each stage of this funnel. Here’s how they do this. A developer’s relationship with Twilio begins when he or she first visits their website. Twilio’s homepage highlights the API’s voice and messaging functionality convincing a developer to sign up. The process of then getting started is fast. After clicking a call-to-action button on the homepage, you are asked to fill out a painless sign-up form. You subsequently get access to API credentials and a link to a quickstart guide. Twilio then supports you while you build your integration through excellent API reference documentation, code samples of common use-cases, technical support, and a drip email campaign. Twilio’s entire API integration funnel is designed to help a developer quickly become productive with their API.

    Below I describe what are the specific ways you can create a great developer experience.

    Developer Site Homepage

    Investing resources to integrate with an API is expensive in terms of developer time. To increase sign ups, it is an important to answer the question, “Why should I use your API?” Twilio’s homepage does this by describing the key features of their API. Twilio’s homepage also shows you real-world examples of how companies are leveraging their API.

    Examples:
    1. Twilio
    2. Stripe
    3. Dropbox

    Sign Up

    Signing up with Twilio is fast. Twilio only asks for essential information on their sign up form. This is important because research has shown that increasing the number of fields on a form increases the drop-off rate.

    Examples:
    1. Twilio
    2. Stripe
    3. Mailgun

    Quickstart Guide

    Integrating with an API is all too often a frustrating experience. By creating a quickstart guide, developers will have a quick win that keeps them motivated to keep building their integration. For example, Twilio allows you to send out a SMS in minutes by following this guide.

    Examples:
    1. Twilio
    2. Stripe
    3. Mailgun

    API Reference Documentation

    API reference documentation is where developers will be spending most of their time on your site. It should start with a high-level overview of your API’s authentication scheme, how to make a request, and how a response is formatted. Ideally, you should provide API documentation in the most commonly languages used by your audience. If you do not have this information, a good starting place is documentation for Ruby, Python, PHP, Node.js, .NET/C#, and Java.

    For each of the API methods, endpoints, and properties, list a sample response and request. For each request, outline all the required and optional parameters. For each response, have a sample of each supported datatype.

    List out error codes with explanations. Developers will first turn to Google when your API returns an error, so you want your API reference documentation to show up in the search results.

    Slate and DevDocs are two open-source projects that you can leverage to build out your API reference documentation.

    Examples:
    1. Twilio
    2. Stripe
    3. Parse
    4. Sendgrid
    5. Mailgun

    Code Samples, SDKs, & Tutorials

    Offering code samples, SDKs, and tutorial for common use-cases with your API will speed up development time. Like your API reference documentation, provide samples in the most commonly languages used by your audience.

    Examples:
    1. Twilio
    2. Stripe
    3. SendGrid

    Support & FAQ

    Excellent support means being available to answer developers’ questions. Offering email and live chat support are great ways to do this.

    Find out where developers are talking about your API, and engage with them there. The most common places are StackOverflow, Quora, Twitter, Reddit, and GitHub. Do this by having a member of your support team tasked with checking these sites for questions and answering them.

    Track what questions are most frequently asked, and write up posts for these on the FAQ or Help Center section of your developer website.

    Examples:
    1. Stripe
    2. Twilio

    Developer Blog

    This is where you should talk about API updates. Write posts about what changes were made between versions, and explain what specific changes developers will have to make to their code to support the new version.

    Examples:
    1. Twilio
    2. Stripe
    3. Dropbox

    Feedback & Feature Requests

    In addition to supporting the developer community by answering technical questions, it is important to have a channel for feedback. For example, Xero uses Uservoice to track and prioritize feature requests.

    Executable Documentation

    Executable documentation, such as I/O docs, allows developers to test calls on your API without writing code. This is another way to encourage the developer community to invest the resources required to build an integration with your API.

    Examples:
    1. Klout
    2. Rotten Tomatoes
    3. Twitter

    Lifecycle Emails

    After a developer signs up, Twilio keeps them engaged by sending a drip email campaign. These emails have links to helpful sections of their website like code samples. A drip email campaign is an easy way to increase engagement by bringing developers back to your site.

    Developing for the Apple Watch Presentation

    I gave a presentation about developing for the Apple Watch at the iOS Developer Meetup in Denver. I talked about the architecture of a Watch app. I also walked through how to create a Hello World app and a counter app for the Apple Watch. Below are the slides from the presentation.

    Getting Started with Developing for the Apple Watch from Murtza Manzur