"Four Potential Levels of an API Business Ecosystem"

I'm working on a framework for the City Grid API that helps define the different types of developers that are using our APIs, helping me understand how to better support them, and ensure their success.

This particular approach is different than segmenting my developers by type of development, like web and mobile or by industry like real estate or medical. I'm focusing on the business side of the API, and identifying what developers need to be successful in the business of the applications they are building on the CityGrid API, and where I should focus CityGrid resources.

I'm breaking down our API developers into four distinct levels:

  • Open - Publicly available, self-service use of the API, with general forum and email support via developer area.
  • Associate - Motivated app developers who demonstrate their understanding of an API, submit their app for internal approval and take advantage of revenue sharing opportunities around the API.
  • Partner - Developers who already have successful businesses or have built businesses around the CityGrid APIs, and may have higher usage needs, and usually contribute some value back to the CityGrid business model and API ecosystem.
  • Incubation - Developers who have grown their businesses in significant ways, but need mentoring and investment of additional resources to take their business to the next level.

Anyone can register to use the API and become an open developer, integrating businesses, places and other related content like reviews, offers, images and videos in their web or mobile apps. The API is self-service, allowing anyone to participate.  I can speculate what these developers need, but its up to them to let me know how they are building on the API and what they need to go to the next level.

To rise up to the next level of associate, you need to demonstrate you've integrated CityGrid APis into your app, using best practices, while adhering to the CityGrid Terms and Conditions and Usage Requirements. Once approved as an associate you can start making money with your application or site using web, mobile or custom advertising, as well as taking advantage of Place that Pay.

To become a partner your business usually provides some sort of value to CityGrid, and have potentially higher usage needs when it comes to CityGrid APIs. Not every developer has the opportunity to become a partner, but with the right business model, its an option that can be negotiated.

We are all watching as technology incubators like Y Combinator and TechStars mentor and invest in tech startups from Silicon Valley to New York City. CityGrid is integrating this model into its API ecosystem. Companies like UrbanSpoon and BuzzLabs have started out as open developers, rising up the ladder, with hard work and incremental success, until they are in need of a higher level of attention from CityGrid, as well as providing a lot of value to the CitiyGrid network.

Not all companies have the capacity to approach their APIs in the way I'm laying out, but for those looking to build a vibrant ecosystem around their API, where developers can not just play with your API, but truly build businesses and the next generation of startups, you may want to consider how you can define a similar set of levels, that help you identify and meet the business needs of your developers.

Photo Credit - Sustainable Labs