Why Open Platform Matters

I joined the Ticketmaster team five months ago to help build a platform that drives both internal and external product innovation worldwide. The gateway to this platform would be a set of empathic APIs that developers love. Our customers are the API clients (see below) who will need to use the platform without having to learn the intricacies and understand the complexities of our systems.

The team took on this challenge and has been hard at work over the past several months simplifying the complexity of the systems and focusing on the developer experience with a clean, well-documented APIs. As a result, we will be announcing our very first set of open APIs in January! Very exciting 🙂

Why “Open” Platform?

At Ticketmaster, we see ourselves as the engine that powers unforgetable moments of joy for fans everywhere. That’s our purpose. That’s our promise. We were just reminded of the impact our work has on fans when Adele tickets went on sale in North America two weeks ago. The emotional impact and the memories we help create are very real.

In order to continue delivering on our promise, we have to embrace a platform on which 3rd-party product innovators can bring those moments of joy to fans. We have to democratize the creation of compelling, innovative products powered by our APIs.

Aside from providing fans with eclectic and effective experiences powered by our data, an “open” platform has a direct impact on a company’s ability to grow and innovate. Here are the four main reasons why an “open” platform is critical to a business:

1. Reduction of Platform Entropy

The second law of thermodynamics tells us that entropy, or disorder, in a closed system can only increase over time. The same applies to a “closed” platform where software entropy takes on many faces like system complexity, technical debt and low data quality. 

On the other hand, an “open” platform, like any open system, tends to work out its “disorder” over time through open-source style collaboration and input from the developer community. The feedback developers give on the quality of the data and APIs helps reduce that entropy. Even designing APIs with “open” in mind has an impact on entropy reduction. It forces the team to simplify and abstract complexity where possible.

2. Becoming a Marketplace

To ensure fans get tickets to any live event they want on the Ticketmaster platform, we’ll need to become the definitive marketplace for all live events, much like Amazon is the definitive marketplace for consumer goods. Earlier this year, we acquired both Front Gate and Universe ticketing platforms, and soon their events will be available on the Ticketmaster website, mobiles apps, and the APIs.

in 2016, 3rd-party ticketing companies can reach the millions of fans that come to Ticketmaster by publishing their events to the Ticketmaster platform using a Publish API. In the end, any experience built with our APIs will give fans access to the widest array of live event catalogue on the market today.

3. Unleashing Effective R&D

When a platform puts out open, predictable and intuitive APIs, it attracts entrepreneurial developers with specific product ideas in mind. Oftentimes, those are out-of-the-box ideas with unknown or untested product/market fit. Using APIs, those developers can run fast with their ideas.

This process helps the platform provider (i.e. Ticketmaster) evaluate the feasibility of ideas without the overhead that goes into building them into products. For example, two days after we internally announced the availability of an event search and discovery API, one of our interns asked for an API Key and went on to create a winning prototype at a hackathon in just under 30 hours (see below).

He used the Ticketmaster API to create a live event search app on the Amazon Echo with the ability to later book an Uber ride to the venue. The prototype caught our attention and we’re now in talks with Uber to see how we can bring it to market.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dZLE14s5pGE]

4. Tapping into The Network Effect

An intrinsic characterstic of an “open” platform is its network effect. The more producers of value (i.e. application developers) you have on the platform creating apps and experiences for fans, the more consumers of value (i.e. fans) that that platform attracts. The more fans you have on the platform, the more attractive it is to developers, and so forth. All along, the growing platform renders the business a robust ecosystem for both producers and consumers of value.

What’s Next?

On January 16th, we will be soliciting feedback from developers on our new developer portal and APIs. We want to delight developers as much as we like to delight our fans. We want to extend the same enthusiasm and promise to developers by focusing on the developer experience, or DX. This will ensure that our open platform is actually providing what developers need in the way they need it.

2016 will be the year we provide open APIs, hold public hackathons and fully engage the developer community worldwide. To stay abreast of what’s coming down the pike, follow us on Twittersubscribe to our Medium Publication and tech blog.

Here’s to plenty more unforgettable moments of joy, for both fans and developers, in 2016! 🙂


Originally published on Medium

5 Reason Why Your Company Needs an API

(published a year ago on QConnects)

Over a month ago, the world of APIs witnessed an inflection point in its evolution. Both Intel and CA Technologies acquired the API management companies, Mashery and Layer  7, respectively. The acquisitions happened amongst other positive activities in the world of APIs. These are all clear indications of the critical role APIs are playing in our increasingly interconnected, multi-platform world of commerce.

So how does this news impact your company? If yours is one of the few out there with a healthy Open API program, congratulations! You’re well positioned to take your business to the next level.

If you’re still contemplating opening up your API or creating one from scratch, you might be wondering if it’s really worth all the trouble and overhead. I can’t say I blame you. The API Economy is a fairly new concept that varies depending on the business goals and strategy of the company.

At Edmunds, we opened up our internal APIs to the world a couple of years back and we didn’t know what to expect. We had lots of questions like: Will developers use the APIs? Are we compromising our core business by giving up free access to our data? How are we going to make it ROI-positive? Today, our open APIs are used as a critical capability to expand our brand name and business reach, enabling us to forge new partnerships and support automotive innovations happening outside our ecosystem. We answered our own questions along the way and learned a ton, with the help of many in the API community, including Mashery.

An API is a gateway that enables developers to communicate with your systems in one of two ways: Reading out of and writing to your system. It’s also a contract; a clean, simple and standard contract between your company and the developers of the world, including yours. This contract frees developers to focus on the business goals they’re trying to achieve rather than the tech details that can take days and weeks to resolve. So if you’re still on the fence about APIs and their role in taking your business to the next level, maybe these five reasons could help make your decision easier:

1. Mobile Enablement: Let’s say you want to build a mobile app for your business. You will need a way for the app to communicate with your servers to get and set the right data points. Imagine doing that without an API. Yes, it’s doable without one, but think of the effort it’ll take to maintain, scale and update that app. Besides, most developers won’t build an iOS app without a data API. No business can compete today without mobile presence and having an API is an integral part of enabling that presence.

2. Innovation Acceleration: APIs lower the barrier to innovation at a company. When your developers have access to data in a clean, simple and standard way, they are better equipped to innovate by focusing their time and effort on the customer needs instead of how to get the data they need.

3. Partnership Enablement: In the not-so-distant past, the data exchange between your company and your partners was done through CSV files that are FTPed periodically to a remote server. Unfortunately, that approach is long dead because it doesn’t scale. Enabling external access to your systems through an API has its benefits:

  • Scalability: Partners can access the data they need when they need it. No need to compile yet another data file to satisfy a slightly different use case needed by your partner. You provide the data and put the power to access it in your partners’ hands.
  • Data Integrity: No more stale data! No more, “oh, we need to FTP a new file to reflect the recent changes in data.” The data available through the API is the most up-to-date data you can get. Period.
  • Control: If for some reason you and your partner part ways, you can terminate their access quickly and easily.
  • Analytics: You will get full visibility into what data your partners are using and how often they’re getting it. This could help you optimize your API and offer your partners more insight into data usage that you wouldn’t get with uploading a static CSV file to an FTP server.

4. Branding: APIs help get your brand name out there through 3rd-party implementations of your data. For example, the Edmunds API requires entities that use it to give us attribution by showing our logo on their site and linking back to us. This helps cement the fact that we’re the authoritative automotive data provider out there. That’s powerful, passive marketing we all should tap into.

5. New Business Model: This is largely dependent on your strategy. At Edmunds, we don’t charge for our API. We use it as a critical capability to help us advance and grow our core business. For you, it might make sense to use an API as another revenue stream for your company by charging a licensing fee for its usage. Or maybe you want to have a tiered system where you offer a free, basic and gold access plans for different audiences. We are seeing that charge-free APIs are much more attractive to developers and potential partners than their counterparts. Companies are actually switching to our API from our competitors’ because our data is good and it’s free.

So, Are you ready to open up your API?

Interns Can Run Your Business: How to hire interns that ROCK!

We’ve all been there. Your projects are taking off and there’s a ton of work to be done. Important work. You need to hire more people. You request a new headcount but you’re told that unfortunately there’s no budget for full-time hires. You’ll need to get things done with the people you have…or hire interns.

Let’s face it. None of us likes to hear that. Most of us don’t think important work can be done by interns. How can someone who’s only with the company for three months be effective, anyway, right?

Well, I’m here to tell you that I totally understand where you’re coming from and that you’re wrong. If you hire the right intern, they could potentially run your business in three months. For real.

Over a year ago, I needed help with API community management and outreach as well as the development of code samples to expedite the API on-boarding process at Edmunds.com. Like you, I had no budget for a full-time headcount and interns were my only option to scale. At first, I wasn’t really happy with the thought of an intern managing a community of developers, communicating with potential strategic partners, and writing quality SDKs. But that’s exactly what I needed help with, so I went for it with very low expectations.

Fast forward to today, I couldn’t be happier!

The Process

I started the search with a list of minimum requirements a potential hire must have (intern or otherwise). I knew I wanted someone who a) coded for fun, b) had experience with REST APIs, and c) was personable, humble and engaging. Simply put, I wanted someone who was demonstratively interested in the tech and business of APIs.

So I worked with HR on crafting the job listing. I set the bar really high. I wanted someone who was coding on Github because it’s fun, not because they had to. Someone engaged on Twitter, Stackoverflow and Quora because they have something to add to the conversation. Someone who was having conversations.

API evangelists are a special breed of developers. The good ones are experienced and possess excellent people skills. This made it even harder to find a candidate amongst the pile of resumes sent in by students trying to get a paid internship to meet some school requirement.

Needless to say, the process took a long time, almost 6 months. I got resumes from students with stellar academic credentials in computer science and math but with zero presence on Github, Twitter and forums. Some hadn’t even heard of APIs until they saw the job listing on their school’s bulletin board.

The Result

When the search was finally over, I hired @MichaelRBock, and boy am I glad I did! Michael’s been with us for over 6 months now, even while he’s doing a semester abroad …in Singapore.

Michael and I clicked right away. He’s smart, easy to talk to and very personable. Most importantly, he was extremely interested in our world of car open data APIs and their business impact.

Michael quickly proved himself an invaluable member of the team. Almost everyone who’s worked with him was shocked to learn that he’s just interning with us. He was all caught up with our systems, challenges and roadmap in a couple of days and by the end of the first week, he was knee deep helping developers with their API questions.

He sat on business development meetings and partner discussions on the second week of his hire. He built our Python SDK and was updating the Developer Portal on daily basis during our DX Certification process with Mashery.

Michael saw the potential in some of our API developers and brought them to my attention. He’s been great at handling difficult developers as well. All in all, he’s been fantastic at everything he’s done.

We’re Hiring!

Sadly, Michael’s time with us is about to end at the end of May ☹ If you or someone you know is interested in APIs and want to have a summer internship with us, let’s chat! There’s some big shoes to fill, which is always a good place to be.

Car Salesmen Should be More Like Real Estate Agents

I was on Trulia the other day helping my partner set up an ad campaign for his real estate business. The experience, which I’ll go over in just a bit, made me realize that the real estate business has already addressed some customer experience pain-points that exist yet remain unresolved in the car shopping process.

The Trulia Experience

When we landed on Trulia’s homepage, we immediately got what the site was about: real estate property search. Being location-aware, the site displayed the latest activities in the Los Angeles area, including local forum questions, local listings and recommended agents.

trulia

On the top right corner of the page was a grey button that read, “For Professionals”. We clicked on it and it took us to Trulia’s agent experience flow. It’s where agents sign up for an account on Trulia, manage their profile, add their listings, ..etc.

Before creating an account, we were presented with a persuading argument of why we should be advertising on Trulia. We were offered several products ranging from the Trulia Pro that helps agents promote their listings and generate more leads to the Mobile Ads that promises to put the agent in touch with “transnaction-ready” clients.

We pretty quickly decided on the Mobile Ads product. It was a no-brainer really since we all know that people spend way more time on their phones and ipads than they do on their computers.

mobileads

The Agent Experience on Trulia

After creating an account, we selected the zipcode(s) we wanted to advertise in and called Trulia to activate the ad campaign. The agent service representative, Jake, was very nice and extremely informative and helped us pick the right plan for us. We paid and and in 15 minutes, our ad was live.

We filled out the profile page, uploaded a picture and tweeted out the link to the newly minted profile. For every single one of those actions we received points, which would eventually earn us badges and get us more exposure on the site. It’s Trulia’s way of gamifying the experience and making engagement with the site fun and rewarding for agents. The points are accrued and after a certain amount you get to have a “VIP” badge next to your name.

One way of getting a quick 100 points is through client recommendation so we asked previous clients to write a review. As the reviews grew in number, so did the points.

Another way to earn points is through blogging and engaging in forums. Trulia’s forum is called Voices. The more you participate in Voices, the more points you accrue and the faster you get to sport that exclusive “VIP’ badge.

voices

In the first three days of launching the ad campaign, we received over 12 leads. Trulia gets on average 20 million unique visitors a month as of February 2012. It’s too early to tell, but so far it’s been working as promised.

Trulia for Car Salesmen

This fun experience got me thinking about the parallels in the automotive industry. I work at Edmunds.com and just recently we held a hackathon around rethinking the car shopping experience. It just so happened that the two winning teams, MyMotive and TEGRITY, focused on solving the biggest pain point in the car shopping experience: the car salesman.

There’s no trust or connection between car buyers and the dealership. Buyers are leery that they will get screwed by the salesman. The biggest part of the problem is that car buyers have no idea who’s a good salesperson and who’s shady. They have no way right now of differentiating between the two so they walk into a random dealership with a defensive attitude and the expectation that they would be badgered, lied to and gypped.

What both MyMotive and TEGRITY proposed was a client recommendation system for car salesmen. They wanted to give the power back to the consumer to decide which salesman they want to engage with based on previous client ratings, which is very similar to what Trulia has done.

On Trulia, real estate agents are free to promote themselves and set themselves apart from the competition through client recommendations, answering forums, checking in at open houses, writing blog posts, reviewing a neighborhood, …etc, in order to get more and better leads. But the most important of all is the client recommendation piece. It’s been shown that consumer reviews play a critical role in our buying decision and I do believe the same applies to choosing a real estate agent or a car salesman.

If I were MyMotive or TEGRITY, I’d take a look at how Trulia (and Zillow, Redfin and others) promote real estate agents and copy a page from their book. Both ideas focused on rating the car salesmen but not on empowering them to manage their own brand on the website.

If we empower the car salesmen with tools similar to the ones Trulia has for real estate agents, I believe we could lessen if not totally eliminate the pain-points associated with walking into a dealership to buy a car.

Hackomotive is Not Your Daddy’s Hackathon

After running internal hackathons at Edmunds.com for the past four years, I got to run my very first public hackathon at the company last week: Hackomotive: Reinventing the Car Shopping Experience. Our goal was to reinvent the car shopping process to make consumers love buying cars the way they do an iPhone or an item off of Amazon: simple, pleasurable and easy.

Hackomotive wasn’t going to be your typical hackathon where the participants needed to build a software prototype in order to win. This was going to be a business focused hackathon where prototypes of any kind, software or otherwise, were permissible as long as they told the story behind the proposed solution.

It was also going to be an Edmunds-sponsored hackathon. Translation: it’s going to be first class. This wasn’t going to be your daddy’s typical hackathon. This was going to be an event.

And it was 🙂

The idea for Hackomotive was born on June 11, 2012, after I got back from frog’s Reinvent Business Hackathon in San Francisco. I was so inspired by that event that I suggested to the Chairman of Edmunds.com, Peter Steinlauf, that we hold a similar event at Edmunds but narrow the scope to the car shopping experience and open it up to the public.

He loved the idea. Six months later, Hackomotive happened:

Thursday, Dec 20th – Hackomotive Announced!
Tuesday, Feb 26th – Evening Reception
Wednesday, Feb 27th – Day1
Thursday, Feb 28th – Day2

The event was a big success with folks already asking about when the next one will take place. I was humbled by the passion, commitment and positive spirit everyone brought to the event. There was a buzz in the air, and on the last day, the event crescendoed into a very high note when two teams, Tegrity and MyMotive, were crowned top winners and walking away with $10K each.

Needless to say, the event didn’t just happen.

It was the result of months of long and thorough planning by the following core team members that have grown to be my family at work during the past six months:

And Phillip Potloff, the senior executive who made sure we got what we needed to make it all happen.

The event literally wouldn’t have turned out the way it did had it not been for the dedication and thoughtfulness of the aforementioned talents. There was never any drama or unhealthy stress going on throughout both the planning and execution phases of the event. I learned so much about event planning from each and every one of them. I can’t wait for us to work together on something else very soon because I know it will be, dare I say, perfect.

Lesson learned: Want to put on a stellar event? Start with the core team. (thank you, Phil.)

Car shopping is an experience that affects us all and solving it is in our collective best interest. Everyone was welcome, as long as they were excited to join us and passionate about re-imagining the car shopping experience. As a result, we ended up with an incredibly diverse group of people for whom many this was their very first hackathon. Ever.

I’m not even going to cover the details of Hackomotive in this post because someone has already done that better than I ever could.

Matthew May, Hackomotive’s master of ceremonies, wrote a three-part article on the event starting with the evening reception and going into the first day where teams were formed and problem statements declared, and finally ending with coverage of the last day where judges deliberated and the winners were announced.

To stay abreast of everything that happens next, follow us on Twitter: @Hackomotive

Hackomotive for me was one of the best experiences I’ve had in my professional career. My hope is that it inspires other hackathons the way frog’s inspired it. Finding solutions that work for issues that matter is best done when a diverse group of creative minds physically converge on a single location to innovate for a very short, but intense, amount of time. I would love to see the same event happen in industries that haven’t been disrupted yet, like Travel, Housing, Government, and Finance. If you run one, I’ll be there in a heartbeat.

Here’s to the next hackathon that inspires us all!

The Secret to Success, According to Conan

“I think one of the reasons Saturday Night Live has been so successful is that it’s almost brutally unsentimental about its past.” – Conan O’Brien.

I wish people, companies and countries heed that advice.

We spend too much energy clinging on to our past selves and accomplishments that we don’t move forward. To be successful in life (and work), you need to MOVE ON. Excellent advice.

Entitled Much? The Yahoo! Memo That Irked America’s Tech Community

Marissa Meyer, Yahoo!’s CEO, stunned her company’s 11,500 employees when she sent out a memo on Friday that read in part:

Some of the best decisions and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discussions, meeting new people, and impromptu team meetings. Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home. We need to be one Yahoo!, and that starts with physically being together.

Here’s the entire memo. Make sure you read the comments.

The response to the memo so far has been mostly negative. How dare Yahoo! reverse its policy, some cried. Others wondered if Meyer thought this was the 1980s. Some were just downright obnoxious, calling the memo a desperate move by a dying company.

I don’t work at Yahoo! and I couldn’t care less about their internal affairs. I’m also not here to rag on remote workers.

What bugs me is the temerity of the tech community in criticizing a company without knowing anything about the reasons behind its decision to revoke a popular policy. There’s a sense of entitlement that has permeated the tech world over the past 12 years and this exercise in acrimony is a testament to that very sad state of affairs. This is what this post is about.

“Everything is Amazing Right Now and Nobody’s Happy” – Louis C.K.

This unfolding showdown at Yahoo! reminds me of Louis C.K.’s bit on how this generation is spoiled and easily irked by the most inconsequential of things, even though we live in the most amazing time in history. In this particular case, the fact that Yahoos complain about going into work like it’s such a terrible inconvenience illustrates Louis’s point very clearly.

Speaking of entitlement, I interviewed a guy once, fresh out of college, who expected to get paid six figures on day one because, well, he went to Stanford. He didn’t understand the concept of “paying your dues”. I asked him, “do you even want this job?” He replied, “yeah sure, why not.” He was 22 (I think). He didn’t get the job.

But I digress.

“This aggression will not stand, man” – The Dude

Remember when Mr. Lebowski asked the Dude if he was employed?

The same surprise seems to have hit the tech world’s El Duderinos when they heard about the memo. Unlike the Dude’s, their response wasn’t nearly as funny.

Shouldn’t people be happy they’re employed at one of the world’s top companies? Do people actually think it’s easy for companies to reverse a popular policy without having a strong reason for doing so?

Working Remotely Works (for the most part)

I get how the remote-working environment works for some folks and how cost-effective it is for companies. I get it. But Yahoo! is not just any company. It’s an innovative company that’s in revival mode trying to compete in an extremely cutthroat environment.

Working remotely is great when your tasks are clear and ready for execution. It’s great for call centers according to a recent Stanford University experiment:

Home working led to a 13% performance increase, of which about 9% was from working more minutes per shift (fewer breaks and sick-days) and 4% from more calls per minute (attributed to a quieter working environment).

The experiment was conducted (PDF) on call center employees at a Chinese travel company.

So it works. But does it work when the company is in the business of generating new products and innovations? I wonder if Apple has a work-from-home policy for its designers and engineers? Does Facebook? How about Google? I honestly don’t know. I would love to get some data on that.

Face-to-Face Time and Innovation

There’s a reason companies like Facebook, Google and Apple spend millions of dollars on their campuses. From gyms, restaurants, soft-serve machines to daycare and tennis courts. These campuses are built like colleges. They’re meant for people to live and work there. This kind of environment maximizes the face-to-face time people get to spend on the job. Whether the time is planned (i.e. meetings) or organic (i.e. chance hallway encounters, last-minute lunches, impromptu brainstorming sessions, beer after work, …etc)

Great ideas happen when creative minds bounce ideas around by the water cooler or the espresso machine. They happen when the team is close and conversations flow without the awkward energy induced by unfamiliarity.

These conditions do not exist in a remote-working environment. Innovation doesn’t happen remotely. Steven Johnson talks about the Adjacent Possible and Liquid Networks in his book, “Where Great Ideas Come From“. Both concepts require the physical presence of creative people in order to work.

Remote workers might have a great work/life balance and the company that employs them might be saving money in the process. But at what cost? There might be no negative cost incurred if the company is in the business of executing tasks. Law firms, accounting firms, call centers and newspapers might find it a godsend. They cut cost dramatically and their employees are freer. It’s a win-win situation.

But when you want to innovate (I mean, seriously wanting to innovate), you need your talents to be present to feed on each others ideas, passion and enthusiasm. You need that energy around the office. It’s good for teams and their morale and it’s crucial for innovation.

Parting Thoughts

I’m sure Marissa Meyer had a good reason for revoking the beloved perk to which everyone feels entitled. Instead of revolting, this is the time for the El Duderinos to abide. If the captain of the ship decides that she needs all hands on deck in order to save the ship, it’s your duty to comply. Don’t feel like it? Leave.