Startups that deliver products via an API are seeing momentum in 2020, as their method of serving customers becomes increasingly mainstream. And investors are taking note.
It’s not hard to find a startup with an API-based delivery model that is doing well this year. This column noted a grip of recently funded API-focused startups in May, for example, underscoring how attractive they are to venture capitalists today.
Yesterday, I caught up with Alpaca, a startup whose API allows other companies to add equities-trading capabilities to their own services. The company’s business is skyrocketing this year. According to data it provided to TechCrunch, Alpaca’s trading volume, processed for its developer users and customers, has grown from $388.1 million in January to nearly $1.6 billion in both June and July. Volume fell some in August, but according to CEO Yoshi Yokokawa, September’s trading volume could see Alpaca surpass its summer records.
Alpaca announced a $6 million round from Spark Capital last November that TechCrunch covered, with Social Leverage, Portag3, Fathom Capital and Zillionize helping boost its total capital raised to nearly $12 million. We confirmed with Yokokawa that his startup’s revenue scales with volume, meaning that the company’s top line has exploded this year, with trading volumes up 10x from July 2019 to July 2020.
Alpaca is a good example of what to think of when we consider an API-powered company versus something more more traditional, like Robinhood, which provides services to end users. Alpaca considers developers as its users, and those developers bring Alpaca to market in their own fashion.
The developer-first model can lead to efficiencies. As Twilio CEO Jeff Lawson told TechCrunch regarding new software products: “I don’t want to go through a sales process,” he said, adding that he also doesn’t want to wait “a week to get a call back” but would rather “start exploring now.” With many API companies offering a free tier or low-cost options for tinkering, lowering sales and marketing costs in certain instances when developers sell themselves on an API-delivered service.
What’s driving the API-delivered model forward in 2020? Or, more simply, why do I keep hearing from API-powered startups that are either raising money, or are seeing rapid growth?
Alpaca’s Yokokawa has a theory. According to the startup exec, two macro trends are coming together to push API startups forward. The first is a simple evolution of the tech industry towards a new software delivery model. Yokokawa drew a timeline for TechCrunch, from legacy IT systems to on-prem software, through SaaS to API-delivered services today, the last in the bunch offering what he views as the most flexibility. That trend has combined with more folks becoming developers, in his view, through traditional education, coding schools, and even no-code’s growth.
An industry shift towards software and services in an increasingly on-demand model (SaaS is more on-demand than on-prem software, and API-delivered tools are even more on-demand than SaaS) and more developers to help plug APIs into other apps could make for a nice tailwind for companies employing the business model.
To get a bit more on the where we stand today, The Exchange chatted with Shasta’s Isaac Roth and collected notes from two Mayfield investors, Patrick Salyer and Rajeev Batra. There’s a general air of bullishness around startups selling APIs. Let’s learn how it is impacting venture interest.
The investor perspective