Have you ever caught yourself staring at the screen of your smartphone, tracking the progress of your Uber Eats or Zomato delivery? It is all made possible by a large number of interdependencies called APIs. Application Programming Interfaces are a set of definitions and protocols that allow apps, products, and technology services to connect to each other. It’s what allows your food delivery app to connect to a mapping service, an e-commerce service to connect to a payment gateway, or a ride-hailing service to connect you to an agent.
“If software is eating the world, API’s are what’s powering it” says Iddo Gino, the founder of RapidAPI. Iddo originally from Haifa, Israel, and now based out of San Francisco is the founder of RapidAPI, the world’s largest API hub.
In this episode, we talk to Iddo about his journey as a young founder, the importance of community when building a product company, how he manages his relationships with VCs, and other lessons from starting up at the age of 18.
Q. Tell us about your journey, what got you started into programming at a young age?
Iddo: I thought I was going to make movies when I grew up. I was using Flash to make animations. After a couple of years of playing around with that, I thought it would be cool if I could turn the animations into games. There was a language called ActionScript that was built into Flash that you could use to make the animations interactive and that was my first foray into programming around 10-11 years ago. I was almost 18 when I started RapidAPI.
Q. In between you volunteered in hackathons. Is that what exposed you to the world of API?
Iddo: Yes, I was involved in hackathons that were organized under the World Hackathon Day, Hack Generation Y, and a few other organizations. We set up to create a series of hackathons, which aimed to have teenagers, dive into the world of software engineering, get into a team, and in the course of a 36-hour event, build their first app, game, or website, whatever it may be.
We had around 100 people in every event and we recognized that in order to get these participants to create something meaningful during the event, we needed to provide them with as many tools and systems to help them create better software more quickly. One of the opportunities that we recognized here were APIs.
APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) are services that you get as a developer that you can connect to. So instead of building something from scratch, you can consume it from an API. For example, if you want to charge a credit card in your application, you can build it from scratch, work with the banks, do the validation, security, and everything else. But that takes a lot of work and time and maintaining it is going to be very expensive. Instead of doing that, you can connect to an API that does that for you. Stripe is an example of an API that does that.
We realized that a lot of these APIs are almost like Lego blocks that people in those hackathons can tie together to build applications and we wanted to make them more accessible. We started with a basic website that was a collection of APIs that we recommended for people to use and that was basically Version 1 of what is today RapidAPI.
Q. How important is it to create that community of people to get to a good start?
Iddo: Community is critical when building a product, especially when you think about the way that a lot of modern software is being distributed. We’re in a phase where you see a big shift from software that was created for enterprise and sold directly to executives into the enterprise, to software sold into larger enterprise companies with the adoption being led by individuals in those companies who love the software being built. They feel committed to it and are the champions who want to bring the software with them into their companies.
In this new world of user-led adoption, having a community of people who are interested in your product, helping you build it, giving you feedback, and are going to be the champions who bring you into the larger companies using the product is essential.
That community is key for both providing product feedback and being a part of building the product, as well as for carrying that product into the companies that they work for and being the initial distribution engine.
Q. In 2016 you raised funds from a16z. What was that experience like?
Iddo: We were very lucky to connect with the folks at a16z. What was apparent early on was that the space that we were working on was very compelling to them. It’s was something that they have been looking at for a long time.
One of our biggest assets was our large community of developers who loved using our product. The big theory was that we would be able to keep scaling that community and monetize it over time. And that was a very compelling message.
More broadly, when talking to investors, especially at an early seed stage, you want to be in an interesting market that is evolving or has some fundamental shift happening, that you as a company can capture. It’s like a wave that you can ride as a company.
You also want to have a good team that can execute and create a compelling product or product vision that has some validation.
Q. What was your process like to reach out to investors and manage relationships with them?
Iddo: The one thing that’s always looked weird to me is the modern way that people fundraise. A VC is somebody who’s going to lead your round and be on your board. They are going to be one of your closest relationships for a long period of time and for a meaningful chunk of your life. Yet the thought is to start pitching your round, get attention, and engage with somebody in two weeks, that you’ve never really met before. For me, that’s a really scary thought. I’m a fan of getting to know people beforehand and identifying the relevant investors in the space and for the next round.
The space is really important to understand who’s actually in for us in the developer tools API space. Who can understand this, and can help provide value and insights into what we’re doing. From then it’s about showing where we’re going to go and then being consistent about updating them as we get there.
Q. How did you go about preparing the pitch deck?
Iddo: Showing the big change in the economy or in the space that is happening is essential especially for an early stage.
There’s always the question- why is this a good time to build this company? For us, it was clear, developers were increasingly moving towards using APIs, there was a gigantic shift to the cloud and it made a lot of sense to build the company because a lot of how people were developing software changed dramatically and the software space expanded.
So why now? What’s the shift? What’s the opportunity that’s being created? And, how are you capturing results that prove that you’re on the right path?
Traction is a great way to show early signs that your execution engine is working. Especially Users, Active Users, Customers, and Revenue.
You also want to show how big the market is and how big the opportunity can be.
Q. And, what are the big developments happening in your space?
Iddo: The software engineering space is a space that has the biggest desire to better itself and make itself as an industry more efficient. It’s now doing this at a pace that has never been seen.
One of the biggest concepts that allow software engineers to do that is the concept of abstraction. Every time you see something that is being repetitive and needs to be done a lot of different times you create a new layer of abstraction, and move up the stack.
APIs are the next evolution of that and are the epicenter of that. Logical pieces that you should take a lot of work to build into your application are now, as easy as an API call. You want to send a text message, use Twilio. You want to add mapping data, use Google Maps. You don’t need to worry about the wealth of complexity behind the scene. This is what’s enabling a lot of startups and companies to move at the pace that they’re moving in and release software in an agile manner so quickly because they don’t have to worry about all the underlying complexity. The APIs take care of that.
Q. What are some of the big lessons that you learned as a people manager? Iddo: For me, a lot of it goes down to hiring great people and being religious about having people that you trust and that are truly great at what they do in the team.
Eventually, you transition from direct instructions to working in a manner where you give contexts and targets and share them with the team.
When you give as much context as possible it gives the team freedom to operate towards getting those targets within the context that was laid down.
If I look back at a lot of the mistakes people made on the team it was either the target wasn’t clear or they didn’t have the right context.
Q. What’s a good way to follow your work?