Today’s article is a guest post on Fast Company. I’m excited about it as this has been an article I’ve been meaning to publish for a long time (I wrote it on my little vacation in June).
You can find the post here.
Let me know what you think.
In Business Development and Partnerships you will hear a similar feedback every day: “If only your product did this….we’d integrate/partner/etc.” This leads a lot of companies to pull themselves in five directions at once, and lack of focus is one of the biggest reasons companies fail. This also turns you from a startup into a custom development shop. The worst thing you can do is go from being a startup to a custom development shop while still thinking you are a startup.
However, there are two reasons why you would spend time and effort to build something into your product that someone is asking for.
Many companies have asked for the same thing
I have written before about talking to as many prospective partners as you can before you build a product. This guarantees that you will have a market for something before you build it. If you talk to 100-200 prospective partners, building the right product will end up with 10-30 launch partners. “If only your product did this…” becomes something that your product should do because there are tons of people/companies that want it.
A big company has asked for it (and there is a contract)
This is when things get tricky. You really want to work with that big fish but they’ll only work with you if you build the thing that they want. Oh, and that thing is going to take you a month or two to ship. I remember working at a previous company, we had a lot of people asking us to build custom things. Our CEO smartly decided that at that point we weren’t going to do that. We were going to build a product for everyone and only once we hit a certain level would we even consider building specific things for companies. It worked out well and eventually those bigger companies used the product we built as it was because it became the standard in the space.
The only exception to building for a big company is if it wouldn’t take a month or two to build (any more than a week’s project can be very detrimental), and if they’ve put in writing that once you build it, they will integrate/partner. Only then, would I recommend building what they want.
Remember: In startup-land, a wasted month or two can derail your entire company. Stay focused, ship great products, and build for the masses.
One of the best things about having a robust API is the unexpected integrations that can happen.
Because you have an API (whether free or paid) partners can test, integrate- you might not know about it until your numbers start going up. Many times, I’ve seen partners testing/playing with an API and they are using their individual personal accounts- so it doesn’t show up as that company in the statistics.
Unexpected integrations make the partnership role an exciting one. However there are some downsides to it. The most obvious is that when you don’t know who is using your API, you have difficulty giving accurate projections to your team.
The way to combat this is to do two things:
1) Never depend on the unexpected integration to unexpectedly hit. By definition it is unexpected so depending on it is a surefire way to get canned. When the unexpected integration does drop - you will still be busting your butt to get deals done and this will just be gravy.
2) Get good analytics. Request name, email, and company for each person who uses your API. This way you can see who is testing, what sort of volume they are doing, and how to get in touch with them.
Otherwise, unexpected integrations rock.