The Higher Level Business Politics That I Am Not Good At Seeing In The API Space

I have built successful startups. I’m good at the technology of delivering new solutions. I am decent at understanding and delivering much of business side of bringing new technological solutions to market. What I’m not good at is the higher level business politics that occur. These are the invisible forces behind businesses that I’m good at seeing, playing in, and almost always catch me off guard, too late, or just simply piss me off that they are going on behind the scenes. Unfortunately it is in this realm where most of the money is to be made doing APIs, resulting in me being written out of numerous successful API efforts, because I’m not up to speed on what is going on.

Startups are great vehicles for higher level economic strategies. They are the playground of people with access to resources, and have economic visions that rarely jive with what is happening on the ground floors. Startup strategies count on a handful at the top understanding the vision, with most at the bottom levels not being able to see the vision, and small group of disposable stooges in the middle, ensuring that the top level vision is realized—at all costs. You can work full time at a startup, and even enjoy a higher level position, and still never see the political goings on that are actually motivating the investment in your startup. This is by design. The whole process depends on the lower levels working themselves to the bone, working on, marketing, and selling one vision, while there are actually many other things going on above, usually with a whole other set of numbers.

After 30 years of playing in this game I still stuck at seeing the higher level influences. I’ve seen shiny API tooling solution after shiny API tooling solution arrive on the market, and I still fall for the shine. Ooooohhh, look at that. It will solve X, or Y problem. I really like the vision of those team members. Their timing is perfect. They seem to have the right funding, and mindshare of developers. Then I begin to see some of the usual tell-tale signs of direction coming from up above. It will be subtle signals, like the change in pricing tiers, a quickness to support a standard on import, but very slow to support export. A shift in the marketing strategy. A public “pivot”. There are a diverse of signals you can tune into that will help predict where an API startup is headed, often times away from the original tooling vision, and the needs of the end-users.

With so much experience, you’d think I’d be better at this. I’m not good at it, because I hate playing these games. I like making money, but not in the way that follow the usual VC fueled playbook. To make money at scale you have to be willing to play by multiple playbooks, keeping one or more of them secret from your teams and end-users. This just isn’t me. I prefer being more transparent. I like building real businesses. I like developing real tools. This is what I’m good at. I’m not good at the higher level games required to build wealth for myself or others. It is this reality that leaves me so reluctant to share my knowledge with VCs, talk to and support new startups, and leaves me so cranky on a regular basis when I tell stories in the space. I know y’all think this is business as usual, and are looking to get your piece of the pie, but I operate at a different level, and refuse to go there.