"APIs All the Way Down: Achieving Great Work through Integration and Innovation"


Hatched by Glasp

Aug 25, 2023

4 min read


"APIs All the Way Down: Achieving Great Work through Integration and Innovation"


In today's interconnected world, the use of Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) has become a fundamental aspect of businesses. APIs enable companies to leverage the expertise and functionality of other organizations, allowing them to focus on their core competencies and deliver value to their customers. This article explores the significance of APIs, their role in the API-first economy, and how they contribute to achieving great work.

The Power of APIs:

One of the key players in the API-first economy is Stripe, a banking-as-a-service API that enables businesses to embed financial services in their platforms. By partnering with Stripe, companies like Shopify can provide their customers with seamless banking experiences. This strategic decision allows Shopify to focus on its core competencies while leveraging Stripe's expertise in financial services.

API-first companies revolutionize the way businesses operate by abstracting away complexity and providing a plug-and-play solution for various functions. These companies offer users the ability to tap into a wide range of functionalities, such as internal APIs for simplifying complex tasks within a company, public APIs for opening up datasets to the public, and vendor APIs that provide customers with the full capabilities of an entire company through a few lines of code.

API-first companies vs. SaaS companies:

API-first companies are a subset of Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) companies, with a distinct focus on providing specific solutions through APIs. Unlike traditional SaaS companies, API-first companies primarily cater to engineers rather than multiple users within an organization. Additionally, while SaaS companies often charge per seat, API-first companies charge customers based on product usage or as a percentage of transaction size.

Focus and Scale: The Competitive Advantage:

API-first companies differentiate themselves through focus and scale. These companies concentrate on solving specific problems, enabling them to excel in their areas of expertise. By serving thousands or millions of customers, API-first companies can justify incremental improvements that gradually build into a remarkable product over time.

Furthermore, API-first companies offer competitive advantages to their customers. Their products act as building blocks that can be combined in unique ways, fostering a combinatorial explosion of potential workflows. Platforms like Zapier and Tray.io serve as connectors between various APIs, enabling the creation of new experiences on top of existing ones.

The Request/Response Model: Building Unique Systems:

The Request/Response Model challenges the traditional linear value chain of businesses. Instead of being limited by commoditized components, companies can differentiate themselves by leveraging APIs to build unique systems. By combining various APIs in flexible ways, businesses can create customized solutions and workflows that set them apart from their competitors.

Direct and Meta Differentiation:

The Request/Response Model offers companies two main fronts for differentiation. Direct differentiation focuses on developing solutions that address core business needs, while meta differentiation involves organizing the components within an ecosystem. Shopify exemplifies this concept by building its own solutions for key differentiators and skillfully integrating with Stripe to enhance its financial services.

Deep Moats and Customer-led Growth:

API-first companies benefit from deep moats, which are built through network effects, economies of scale, and high switching costs. As more customers use their products, the value increases for all users, thanks to data network effects. Additionally, API-first companies can leverage collective bargaining power on behalf of their customers, giving them an advantage in negotiations with third parties.

Customer-led growth is another significant advantage of the API-first business model. By embedding their code in customers' products, API-first companies ride along with their customers' growth and benefit from the increase in advertising spend and user base expansion.

The Value of Schlep Work:

API-first companies, such as Twilio and Stripe, go beyond providing elegant software solutions. They perform the necessary "schlep work" in the real world, tackling non-technical challenges and regulatory requirements that others may not want to handle. This commitment to addressing real-world complexities enhances the value they offer to their customers.


In the API-first economy, leveraging APIs has become essential for businesses to thrive. By integrating with API-first companies, organizations can tap into the expertise of specialized providers and focus on their core competencies. To achieve great work, individuals and businesses must combine curiosity, effort, and original thinking, embracing setbacks as opportunities for growth. By actively seeking new ideas, collaborating with diverse perspectives, and pushing boundaries, both API-first companies and their customers can achieve greatness.

Actionable Advice:

  • 1. Identify your passions and interests, and explore opportunities to merge them in unique ways. This will fuel your curiosity and drive you to achieve great work.
  • 2. Embrace setbacks and view them as opportunities for growth. Learn from your mistakes and adapt your approach to overcome obstacles.
  • 3. Foster a habit of original thinking by seeking out new ideas, engaging in conversations, and collaborating with like-minded individuals who challenge and inspire you.

In an API-first world, the possibilities are endless. By leveraging the power of APIs, businesses can unlock new levels of innovation and achieve greatness in their respective industries.

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