API Strategy Must Balance Developer and User Experience

We recently talked about how people and software must change if you are to grow your API. We also looked at a case study of Apple which highlighted the importance of a UX-focused API strategy. The Apple example is interesting because it shows that you must strive to delight your API developers’ consumers as if they were your own. To win them though, you must first attract the devs. This requires an API program that also prioritizes Developer Experience (DX). To become a successful API platform, you and your team have to get both DX and UX right.

We have discussed DX before on our blog and at our events, but not from a platform-oriented perspective. With an aim toward a broader view, we wanted to explore this topic further by examining another API platform called Podio.

Becoming a Platform, One Developer at a Time

Podio, a Danish cloud software company now owned by Citrix, provides composable widgets that can be used interchangeably to create business-specific workflows and processes. The LEGO-like ability of Podio Apps, as they’re called, to be connected together by non-technical workers enables the creation of collaborative spaces where people are able get their jobs done. Podio’s self-service tools allow end users to manage their work in a way that suites them best. Using custom-assembled dashboards and heads-up displays, users are able to oversee all stages of their projects. In this way, the apps running on Podio’s work platform create additional value for the end customer, a hallmark of any API platform.

Podio’s clients range from startups to independent contractors to enterprise customers, all looking for flexible project management software that is pliable enough to match their specific needs. Looking out over this customer base, Podio identified two main groups of creators:

  1. Systems integrations
  2. Mobile app developers

These two groups can use the API to build Podio Apps that integrate platform services with other apps and business systems. These constituencies of third-party developers can launch new integrations and products that they can commercialize through Podio’s marketplace. By making it easier for members of the ecosystem to co-create, Podio is fostering the growth of their own business and the businesses of those who are adding value to their API. In other words, their API platform is successful because of a balanced prioritization between DX and UX.

To make it even easier for developers, Podio has identified additional ways of reducing the friction that these two groups feel when attempting to consume their API. These include:

  1. Introduction of a mobile SDK
  2. Showcasing of successful API usage

SDKs can Speed up Developer On-boarding

This optimization strategy enables developers to create mobile apps that seamlessly connect with their API. This use of an SDK to reduce the Time to First Use (TTFU) is a best practice recommended by API expert, Holger Reinhardt of Layer 7. Like any SDK, Podio’s new offering is a helpful add-on but no substitute for a well-designed API. Like Holger, Gustav Jonsson, Product Manager at Podio, says SDKs are an important entry point to help developers get up and running quickly. “It’s really about creating a seamless and easy way for developers to get started with the API,” Gustav says.

DX Starts with a Well-designed API

At Podio, the need to build a mobile SDK was born out of dev requests. “We saw questions coming from developers in our community around utilizing Podio in native apps, and we wanted to help people build stuff faster on mobile,” Gustav says. In this way, the SDK enhanced the DX, as it was exactly what developers wanted. Podio’s API roadmap did not start with the SDK, but it is becoming an important part of a platform strategy to make it easier to onboard more developers. As Gustav says: “We already have an active and dedicated developer community. SDKs are an important part of that puzzle.” This path follows the route suggested by Ben Nunney, European Marketing at Twilio, who says that you should not begin with an SDK. Instead, you should build an API that caters to the desires of the developers in your communities. This DX-lead strategy is also advocated by Ronnie Mitra, another API expert at Layer 7.

Success of an API Platform Equates to Success of its Users

Podio has also developed a section of its website that markets developers’ products and solutions that are build on the Podio API. These showcase pages strengthen the ecosystem of third-party developers. For example, Oval Business Solutions offers free apps like the Timeline for Podio. While this integration is free, the Podio App refers users to Oval’s site where they are offered additional services. Danish development shops like BendixKiel and Phases are building freemium and paid apps that use the Podio API. These are marketed to other Podio customers via the platform’s third-party developer showcase.

As in these three cases, Gustav explains that “there are multiple ways that extension developers are charging for their products. Giving this freedom to the developers is a good thing, since they can be flexible in the ways that they’d like to charge. We want to share data with the developers on what model is most efficient.” This innovative idea to provide feedback on API consumers’ business models is a telltale sign that Podio aims to create a mutually beneficial ecosystem with their platform.

By highlighting the success of others, providing a marketplace, and delivering feedback on successful API-based business models, Podio is leveraging ambitious, outside talent to position itself in the center of more and more people’s work day. This is the power of a platform play.


The priorities and development of Podio reflect a desire to grow as a platform-based API business. As such, Podio recognizes that it can reach into new markets by being part of a larger ecosystem. By fostering a vibrant community of product creators and specialist service providers, Podio will allow others to add value atop their offerings by making use of the various APIs, tools, and software they provide.

By looking at the Apple case and this one, we can infer some important points about an API platform strategy:

  • Design an API with the end user in mind (UX) that also appeals to your developer community (DX)
  • Know who is using your API (e.g., through analytics, customer interviews, etc.)
  • Give developers the resources needed to quickly begin using your API (e.g., with an SDK)
  • Create opportunities for partners to earn revenue by using your platform
  • Establish a channel and marketplace that connects your API partners’ customers to you and you to them
  • Strive for a balance between UX and DX

What do you think? How does DX differ between an organization that is providing an API and one that is an API platform? What are some of the challenges of balancing DX and UX? We would love to hear your thoughts. Share them in a comment here, on Twitter, or on Facebook. If you have a lot to say on this, answer our call for speakers, and share them at our upcoming Platform Summit. Be sure and get your tickets today to hear more on this in Stockholm come October.

[Editor’s notes: Nordic APIs is an independent publication and has not been authorized, sponsored, or otherwise approved by Citrix Systems, Inc.]