August 20th, 2013

APIs & Hackathons Solve the Innovator’s Dilemma

HackathonEach and every large enterprise began as a brand-new venture created by a few co-founders. The team was small, nimble and innovative enough to carve out a market leadership position through execution and differentiation. As the company grew from a few co-founders to 500 employees, 5,000 employees or 50,000 employees, its pace of delivering innovation slowed. Large companies such as Apple, Intuit and Facebook have continued to prove that this innovator’s dilemma is avoidable. For the rest of the Fortune 1000 – companies that don’t necessarily have access to the Silicon Valley magic – the trend in recent years has been to launch “innovation labs”.

One of the earliest examples of this was Bell Labs at Lucent, with many other enterprises now following suit, such as:

The question is: How will a small team within a large enterprise drive a cultural shift towards innovation and not get stifled by the old guard, which is simply stuck in old habits and processes? The solutions these innovation labs are bringing back to top executives almost invariably involve APIs and hackathons.

The first step is unlocking data via APIs. When a team of innovators at a large company is trying to achieve something disruptive and market-changing, the team members will need access to data from across the company. If they cannot get access, they will be delayed, get demoralized and often just give up and move on. When a company centralizes its APIs across all backend systems, it enables employees, partners and even external developers to build and innovate.

The companies with innovation labs mentioned above have also set up robust API platforms to enable innovation. Some APIs are only available to employees, some to partner companies and others are open to all software developers. The key concept is that they have removed the deadbolt locks on their data and replaced them with APIs that intelligently free those resources, auto-provisioning access based on who, how and what access is needed.

Opening up APIs enables innovation culture, increasing the pace of product design, creation and execution. Once these technology enablers are in place, enterprises can run internal and external hackathons to make developers aware of and inspired by what is now possible. These fast-paced competitions set goals to take creative ideas and turn them into prototypes or minimum viable products.

Hackathons are designed to help developers quickly try out new ideas and get instant feedback. This is similar to the iterative product development methodology described by Eric Reis in his book Lean Startup.  Some enterprises call it the migration from a linear process such as “waterfall” to more agile “scrum” or “customer-driven development” processes. Similarly, “DevOps” has been used to describe increased collaboration and communication between software development teams and IT operation teams.

This is how smart enterprises now solve the innovator’s dilemma. Product lines are reinvigorated and employees are inspired to be more entrepreneurial and productive.  Customers are getting products that take advantage of new technologies. Enablement through APIs alongside action through hackathons solves the dilemma and seeds continuous and disruptive innovation.

March 7th, 2013

API Business ROI

API ROI WebinarNumerous measurements exist for APIs. On the technical level, these metrics are fairly well understood. However, on the business level, there is a great deal of confusion over how the effectiveness of an API program can be accurately measured.

Layer 7’s March 14 webinar, ROI for APIs – which will feature input from TechCrunch and AT&T – should help to clear up some of this confusion. In particular, the webinar will focus on how hackthons can be used to gather valuable data for API ROI measurement.

How you measure your API ROI will depend on the purpose your APIs play in the greater business picture. Therefore, to provide a little primer for the webinar, I thought it would be helpful to give examples of a few API business models and how they might generate revenue.

  • Per API Call
    Text messages sent via an API are billed at $0.01 per message
  • Per API Payload
    Voice transcriptions via an API are billed at $0.01 per word
  • Transactional Revenue
    An API call delivers a purchase
  • Firehose API
    A monthly subscription provides unlimited API access
  • Platform API
    An existing SaaS platform provides an API for partner integrations

To learn more, register for the webinar – ROI for APIs: Using Hackathons to Evaluate Your API Program featuring TechCrunch and AT&T.

January 17th, 2013

Layer 7 Hackathons: 2012 Round-Up & 2013 Plans

Las Vegas HackathonTo follow-up on my previous post about Layer 7’s hackathon activities, I wanted to provide an update on more events we’ve been involved with, as well as mentioning some of the exciting things we have planned for 2013.

Las Vegas Mobile App Hackathon (November 16-17)
The local developer community is thriving in Sin City, which may be a surprise to many. I was very impressed with the talent of the developers in Vegas, most of whom were writing native Objective C or Java for their iOS and Android apps. Also, the local PhoneGap user group manager was onsite, providing support for Adobe’s app development framework. The apps produced were quite polished and impressive. Several included API integrations while others came with plans for future Web integration of APIs, to add context and information.

Miami Mobile App Hackathon (December 14-15)
This hackathon brought an impressive group of sponsors together including AT&T, Microsoft Azure, Blackberry Dev, GitHub and – of course – Layer 7. With over 200 signups and some highly technical evangelists sent by the sponsors, I was excited to see what kinds of apps would be produced. The developers mashed together numerous Web services using native code or PhoneGap. It was great to see the local developer community come together, with numerous local start-up incubator leaders onsite scouting for new talent and investment opportunities.

For 2013, Layer 7 will once again be joining the AT&T Hackathon team for several events. Many organizations with APIs powered by Layer 7 will be promoting their APIs and providing prizes at these events. Stay tuned – we’ll be helping evangelize a lot of great APIs in 2013!

Find out more about upcoming Layer 7 Hackathons

January 10th, 2013

Measuring Hackathon ROI for APIs

Hackathon ROII often get asked whether hackathons actually provide API publishers with any true, measurable return on investment (ROI). The simple answer is “yes” – and the positive benefits of hackathons are now undeniable.  However, the benefits can be a little hard to quantify, making ROI tricky to measure objectively.

For example, hackathons provide a fantastic way to grow developer awareness of your API as a brand in and of itself, separate from your core business. When the developers who attend your hackathon go back to their day jobs on Monday, they have added your API to their programming tool belts and will use it, when appropriate, in upcoming projects. Additionally, hackathons will attract the attention of thought leaders and influencers who will mention your API on blogs and forums, spreading the word further. These benefits can deliver considerable value but they can also be difficult to quickly quantify.

Nevertheless, API evangelists will be held accountable for demonstrating the real-world value of their hackathons. One way to do this is to show how hackathons enable your company to conduct developer user experience (DevUX) research at a minimal cost. Gathering feedback and data from hackathons provides the most cost-effective way to optimize the quality of your API as a product by answering questions like:

  • How user-friendly is my registration process?
  • Do my APIs ever return incorrect or unexpected results?
  • What new features should I add to future versions of my API?
  • Is the skill level of my API appropriate for long-tail app developers?
  • What kind of tutorials and other documentation will my developers need?
  • Which programming languages are my developers using to implement my APIs?
  • How useful is my API and what are the most common/innovative use cases for it?

The data and feedback you gather will also help you to further demonstrate ROI by providing the answers to questions such as:

  • How many developers registered and how many actually attended?
  • Did the hackathon appeal to the types of developer we want to attract?
  • Did any valuable or innovative apps get prototyped?

Hackathons offer a fantastic way to build excitement around your API and optimize the quality of your interface. If you still have any doubts, join us for a hackathon (and participate!) to see how other API platforms are doing it.

October 22nd, 2012

Layer 7 Sends Lightning Bolts on the AT&T Hackathon Circuit

Layer 7 at AT&T HackathonsLayer 7 recently partnered with the folks at AT&T, to be a frequent sponsor on their hackathon circuit. AT&T hackathons provide a launching pad for developers to come solve big problems, learn about APIs, get inspired, win prizes and possibly launch new products. Take a look at the Layer 7 site for information on upcoming hackathons and join us if you can! In the meantime, here’s an overview of some recent AT&T events we participated in.

Mobile App Hackathon, Denver, CO (August 17-18). Layer 7 brought payment APIs that gave developers tools for integrating payments into apps and we were onsite providing technical support for iOS, Android and HTML5. Layer 7 also provided Apple TVs as prizes for the team that achieved the best technical integration of our customer API. The winning app was Open Perks, designed to make redeeming digital coupons and loyalty rewards easier.

Social Good Mobile App Hackathon, New York, NY (September 25-26). Apps built over the course of this weekend aimed to solve major social issues – for example, by alerting people when blood donation banks need their certain blood type or by improving support systems for alcoholics. We were there to offer onsite technical assistance and help teams with user experience/user interface design as well as general prototyping best practices.

Hack Across the Pond Mobile App Hackathon, London, UK (October 5-7). This hackathon – produced in partnership with the MIT Sloan Business Club and the UK Trade & Investment Agency – aimed to bring together developers in Boston and London. Utilizing simulcast video streaming, developers worked together on projects at both sites. We were onsite in London, providing organizational and technical assistance.

New York City Mayor Bloomberg’s Truancy Task Force & NYC Digital Hackathon, New York, NY (Oct 12-13). Onsite at AT&T’s downtown NYC office, we were again honored to be included in a prestigious group of sponsors. We gave a presentation on How APIs are Changing the World and it was a pleasure to work with and provide technical support to members of New York’s thriving, innovative developer community.