This month we are thrilled to have Tod join us to talk about APIs, connected software, and Ted Lasso. Tod was the Founder and CEO of BrightRoll, a programmatic, digital, video ad marketplace. Tod and the BrightRoll team created tremendous value for the video ad industry, by enabling their customers to bid for ad placement programmatically - which means through an API. Tod is now working on Pipedream, where the team aims to build the best place for people and businesses to build their own API integrations.
Pipedream is an incredible service that is used regularly by tens of thousands of developers. What makes Pipedream so unique?
Many customers have really asked us for solutions that combine the best of the serverless platforms(1) like AWS Lambda or Google Cloud, but with the efficiency and simplicity of no-code platforms.
Getting the right combination between the two is very powerful because it gives the flexibility of no-code platforms, but with the customizable logic of writing code to a software developer. Combining these two enables you to quickly cover any use case.
Developers seem to agree with that vision and we’re seeing great adoption of our tool. We add 500-1000 new developers a day to the service. This is without any paid marketing so far!
What are the most common use cases you see for Pipedream? Any particular use cases you’d like to highlight for SMBs
Pipedream is a flexible platform. You can choose to write code and accomplish anything you want. With that in mind, we see an extremely broad set of use cases. There’s two overarching themes of use cases, but none of them are a “majority.”
The two themes are sending data into a “database” or into a “messaging application.” I say “database” in quotes because while some developers are sending data into Amazon S3 or Snowflake(2), there are just as many who are sending data in Google Sheets or Airtable.
The data going into a messaging application is usually a message or an event trigger. That messaging platform might be an automated text, Slack message, or email.
I think both of those use cases are very relevant for SMBs. Today on Pipedream, SMB’s are predominantly using Pipedream to send data into Slack, Airtable, or Google Sheets.
Pipedream seems tailored more towards software developers, but what should nontechnical folks understand about the power of Pipedream?
The target customer we focus on today is the developer. With that said, nontechnical users can still get tremendous value out of the product.
Pipedream is a resource you can tap into for specific use cases. For example we have two ways in which nontechnical users can interact with the platform. Firstly, they can build lots of workflows with no code required!
Second, if you run into an issue - you can find a technical resource through our community, Pipedream employees, and even contractors who can step in and help as well. The community has open sourced(3) lots of common workflows. Pipedream employees are actively engaged with the community. And finally, if you’re trying to use a service that doesn’t have an API or doesn’t have a built-in Pipedream integration, there are many developer contractors willing to work on that.
A very common use case that we see is technical employees setting up complicated workflows and nontechnical folks in charge of maintaining and troubleshooting the workflows on an ongoing basis. Just because the engineering team built a workflow doesn’t mean nontechnical people can’t step in and contribute too!
APIs can be extraordinarily powerful, but also very nebulous — how would you describe the power of APIs to nontechnical business leaders?
I think APIs are the connective tissue that enable software applications to interact and work together with other applications to solve business problems. You’re not limited by manual data entry or coordination anymore.
How do you see the "API Economy" evolving in the future? Are there important developments that you see on the horizon?
There is the inevitability of “more.” More software applications, more APIs, individually more capable APIs as well as greater interoperability of APIs. You can’t launch a new software product today without an API. These are the foundational elements of how the API Economy is evolving in the future.
Something that I’d really like to see on the horizon, but I’m not sure is likely, is standardization around APIs. My last business, BrightRoll was a programmatic ad marketplace for video ads. We, and our peers, did a tremendous amount of work around standards to make the APIs. We all knew that those APIs would run the online ad business, especially video ads and having them work together would make it easier to work with as many platforms as possible.
We did a tremendous amount of work to make those standards efficient for all players. The biggest surprise for me in my work at Pipedream is how there’s a real lack of standards in terms of APIs and how they work together. It seems like such a barrier to entry, efficiency, and innovation in this category. I’m not sure that any one player has enough market share to make an impact on this - but it’s definitely an untapped opportunity and one I hope we can address in the future.
What are the biggest misconceptions around APIs?
I think the biggest misconception about APIs is that developers inherently like them. I’ll go a little deeper on what I mean.
Most popular software apps either build deeply integrated partnerships with other applications or companies: so-called blockbuster or marquee applications. For example, pick your favorite issue tracking software building a native Slack app integration. Those integrations usually happen in one of two ways.
Either it’s a massive project, done 100% internally with a tremendous amount of work, and then a commitment to maintain it basically forever.
Or the platform will say, “here’s our developer platform and our API docs. Good luck.”
The misconception is that customers that you have are technical and they care about your API, they want to work with your API, etc.
The reality is that most developers prefer not to work with someone else’s API. They would rather the problem they are trying to solve, or integration they are trying to build, work right out of the box.
That misunderstanding creates such a massive gap in expectations and workload. To be frank, most code written today is just “glue code” that connects the various applications. And that’s something Pipedream is aiming to make an impact on by bringing efficiency, and hopefully standards, to that problem.
What do you think is the most popular API out there?
Google Search trends, and Pipedream usage tells us something quite surprising. Discord is the most used API on our platform.
What company do you wish had an API?
Well, Google has an API for just about every product they make, however, I wish it was more modern. Google has the most archaic and complex process to enable approvals, integrations, etc for their customers. I wish they would modernize that especially since our whole business runs on GSuite and we make Google the default choice for our users as well.
In terms of actually wishing for an API, I think Pipedream needs to have an API. In fact we’re going to be doing some significant work on our product and API. Our own API docs and capabilities are not where they need to be and we’re hell bent on making sure we have that done right. It keeps me up at night and I'm most focused on it at the moment.
What are you watching or reading lately?
I’m a documentary nut, so I’ve pretty much watched every documentary on the planet already. In terms of shows, “Ted Lasso” and HBO’s “Hard Knocks” are my #1 shows at the moment.
This year’s Hard Knocks is on the Cowboys and I have to say, draft Dak Prescott as your fantasy QB this season. He looks great, he’s gonna be a beast this year.
Writing software on the internet requires a “server” which is just a fancy computer and introduces more complexities to manage when all you want to do is write some software. Large tech companies like Google and Amazon have products to help with this and Pipedream is more focused on this problem
S3 is Amazon’s “Simple Storage Service” and Snowflake is a popular cloud data warehouse. Simply put these are two very popular services for storing data. These companies offer API to write, read, and delete data from your private, secure data storage. You don’t have to worry about maintaining servers and database consistency and failover, they do the hard, technical stuff for you.
Open source refers to “open source code.” In other words any code that people have written are being given away for you to use in its entirety or to reference and write your own. Open source helps the entire community and makes it so that people aren’t redoing the same work over and over again.