Make your API front and center in your product and reap the rich rewards of in-housing

Today we’re going to talk about our flagship product, the Semantics3 Ecommerce API, and why we made a conscious decision to avoid third-party API vendors unlike other data companies.

An API is the most efficient method of making your database accessible to your customers. Think of an API as a very efficient librarian, returning you large volumes of structured records based on queries. It needs to be responsive to your particular needs, especially if you want to filter-out, or filter-in specific data attributes

Data is valuable. We know it, everyone knows it. The average cost of a Bloomberg terminal can be over $24,000 a year — that’s how valuable having data on tap can be. Think of an API as a much more massive, and infinitely more flexible hacker version of a Bloomberg terminal, completely capable of fetching data in any slice or dice you want.

But if the core-sell of an API is its flexibility, responsiveness, and breadth, why on earth would you outsource it to a third-party API manager?

Do that, and you immediately run into 3 issues:

  1. Blow thousands of dollars trying to mash up the ham-handed third-party API library functions with the precise querying needs of your database
  2. Have your hands tied as customers plead with you to make your API a teeny-weeny more responsive to their unique data needs
  3. Kill any chance you have of building a truly awesome product by outsourcing it — effectively surrendering your product vision to standardized API queries and filters that should in fact be optimized between APIs

Let’s face it. APIs are as unique as DNA. What works for one, may not work for another. That’s why having full control of your own API is so important. It allows you to create filters, new query parameters, new refresh rates, custom call rates and quotas on the fly, without having to wait 2–3 weeks to get it done by your external API vendor.

And don’t even get me started on cost. Managing your own API lets you pass on the cost savings on to your customers.

Take for example, any API vendor out there. Their typical cost per month $750, which supports around 1 million API calls per day, or about 10 of our customers. That’s $75 dollars a customer in minimum costs alone — not to mention all the additional headaches around trying to make the API work for your customers. This makes it incredibly difficult if you’re trying to offer a free version of your API for customers to try — you’re already $75 dollars in the hole when they sign up.

That’s why we decided to completely build our API from scratch — and maintain full product development and strategy in-house.

A while ago, we wrote a pretty comprehensive blog post on how we built that API — detailed in all its glory here

In-housing also has additional unexpected benefits — an API by its nature is flexible and adaptable to many different and totally unrelated applications, as detailed in our previous blog post here. A key feature of this business that isn’t always evident in other types of products is our heroic user base.

Every single morning I wake up, grab my coffee and read all the technical support emails in my inbox. While some are mostly from users trying to figure out how to use the right queries and API filters, between 25–30% of conversations revolve around new types of queries, API features, or just people bouncing ideas for their new startup that’s built on top of our data. This is immensely powerful insights, and direct access to ecommerce’s pulse. By in-housing our API, we have the unique opportunity to actively mold our product to fit the market need.

Outsourcing this crucial element would cut us off from the beating heart of the market.

Which is why we are the best product API out there for developers to easily access data at an affordable cost.

And if you’re not a developer, you can always talk to our Datascience team about getting you customized data in any form you like.

— Hari Viswanathan

Always lovingly made in San Francisco