The case for open access to APIs and tools to drive tech progressPosted on by Filip Filipov
Every company, in fact, every great company, started small. Those great companies start with an idea from a founder or two, in a garage, with sleepless nights and a notion of building something a couple of bright individuals truly believe in. Often, such notions originally seem like an outrageous idea with slim prospects of success.
There are hundreds, if not thousands, of examples when that was the case and, contrary to popular belief, the tenacity of the founders and the team led to something great — be it Apple, Facebook, Microsoft, Google — all companies that not only touch the lives of billions of people, but also make them more productive and successful.
For some companies, the chances of success are directly proportional to the market fit, the hours they put in the build of their products, and eventually marketing to acquire customers. Many of aforementioned companies do not depend on external sources, they are more or less self-sufficient; their products’ existence is not decided by a source of incoming information, which is typically controlled by monopoly players or requires juggling hundreds of relationships to ensure all information is readily available, accurate, and cheap (if not free) to acquire.
While tech progress has been outstanding in the last decade, there are still a number of industries that haven’t reached even a fraction of their potential due to the lack of available information or restricted access. Without listing all of them, some spring immediately to mind: travel, utilities, music, and healthcare — to name a few. Simply put, a developer with an outstanding idea for a product or feature in one of these areas is often not able to execute on it, because they don’t have the resources to access the vital information they need to make their product work.
These industries are large ones with huge markets, lagging in innovation and using methods and approaches that are deeply outdated. They are all sectors with either high fragmentation (hence, hard to collect the data to ensure coverage) or big gatekeepers, unwilling to share their information with the new up and comers — either because they are not important (too small) or they are a threat (too innovative).
Even if there is a way to access the information, it is so price prohibitive that a bright-eyed university or college student can barely afford to sign up for a day of access, not to mention the months/years that are needed to test, validate, and improve on their ideas and start generating revenue.
Imagine if Amazon needed to pay for every book search they do to the publishing houses? This would have made any minimum viable product a theoretical exercise, rather than a practical one. A similar case is Google; if any link to a site was either restricted or cost 1/10th cent for every search done, at 3.5 billion searches per day, that’s $3.5 million for the cost of data. Even at today’s valuations and influx of cash, that would be an impossible task for any start-up.
At Skyscanner, our CEO has this favorite quote: ‘travel is the field of broken entrepreneurial dreams.’ And it is not based on the idea that engineers do not have great ideas for how to make things better, but instead that to get to product market fit at scale, you first need to have access to data, which in travel is either majorly restricted or incredibly expensive.
At Skyscanner for Business, we have taken the stance that we will make our data available and in the cases where it is not economically feasible to do so at scale, at least provide enough of it that will allow any start-up to get going, learn, iterate, and eventually build something that will make it sustainable*. We hope that other companies will do the same and there are some great examples out there already. We just need more of them.
The next iteration and step-change will come from the new, from the different, from the ones coding in their dorm room (Facebook) or assembling machines in a garage (Apple). But instead of leaving that to pure chance, we need to open up the gates and support these efforts, to encourage innovation from entrants.
With that, we can encourage new ideas, an ecosystem of companies that can grow with it, and at least a bit of innovation. Maybe the two guys building that app from their living room have the revolutionary design and interaction that redefines how the experience should be, ultimately benefitting customers and our businesses by showing us the way.
As Ed Catmull quotes from Pixar’s Ratatoullie: “[T]he world is often unkind to new talent, new creations. The new needs friends.”