Dennis works at 99designs, and in this article he describes the choices, experiences and takeaways from building an API to complement the new Tasks service.
“Wanna see something cool?”
Two years ago my boss, Lachlan, came to me with a secret side project he’d been hacking on for getting small design tasks done quickly. The idea was for customers to submit a short design brief that would be matched to a designer who’s waiting and ready to go.
We assembled a small team and spent the next two months working like crazy to get an initial public release out and prove it was something people wanted.
Lachlan’s original vision included the idea of an API for graphic design work along the lines of Amazon’s Mechanical Turk—but more beautiful and tailored specifically for graphic design.
We’ve continued to refine 99designs Tasks as a consumer service, but the vision of an API for graphic design continued to stick in our minds. We just weren’t quite sure if it was worth doing or not.
A Turning Point
Then we were caught by surprise. We discovered that our friends at Segment had built an automated tool using PhantomJS, which screen-scraped our website to work around the fact we hadn’t built an API yet!
I’ll admit—it was pretty embarrassing to be beaten to the punch by a customer on an idea we’d been thinking about for two years. On the other hand, there’s probably no better way to validate an idea than to have a customer do it for you.
OK, Let’s Do This
We quickly realized that developing an API would involve more than just the technical design and implementation. The audience and concerns of an API are very different from anything we’d worked on before.
Scoping It Out
One of the first challenges we faced was figuring out what features we wanted in an API. We already had a few API customers that needed a fairly specific feature set for creating tasks—but we wanted to open up the possibilities and allow ideas we hadn’t even begun to think of yet. We made the decision to expand the scope beyond task creation to cover the entire task workflow in order to enable a wider set of possibilities.
Another big question we faced was how to market an API? Our customers are typically entrepreneurs and small businesses. The target audience of an API is very different from what we’re used to.
There’s a saying that “if you build it, they will come”, but I’m not convinced it’s quite true. We knew there was some hard work to be done if we wanted to attract developers. There are a few questions that developers might ask when looking at an API:
“Why should I be excited?”
“What are the benefits?”
One strategy we had for attracting developers was to have a collection of compelling examples that would inspire new ideas. The problem is that building these examples requires us to attract developers to build them in the first place. We tackled this chicken/egg problem by working with a group of launch partners in a private beta ahead of our public launch to build some great quality applications that we could show off.
We also applied a “dogfooding” approach at 99designs, where our development team worked on a number of app ideas internally—including a browser extension and a chat bot, all of which used our in-development API.
Continue reading %Lessons Learned Developing the 99designs Tasks API%
via Reme Le Hane