There are many powerhouse companies worldwide that attribute some of their growth and success to having a public Application Programming Interface (API). Companies like Dropbox, Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare have all benefitted from having public APIs and can attest to the fact that an API is powerful user/customer acquisition tool. Also, APIs form an important technology framework for companies that utilise them to solve other problems.

Companies that own the base API become relied upon by hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of businesses whose business models can boom or bust on the back of tweaks or changes to the ‘mother’ company’s API. A simple change in the ability to access an API can cause a crushing blow to any startup. For example, Meerkat, a live video streaming application, was heavily affected when Twitter decided to choke off access to its API, following the acquisition of Meerkat’s competitor Periscope.

For those who are unfamiliar with APIs, at its most basic level, an API allows applications to talk to each other – it’s essentially software talking to software. An example is how mobile devices connect to services like Facebook or Twitter; they are using APIs to ‘talk’ to those services. APIs power websites, mobile apps and devices; and today, everyone is using APIs simply by having a smartphone. In fact, we use so many APIs that half the time we don’t even realise that we are doing so.

“APIs are really the digital glue that connects all these different services to one another,” says Frank Arrigo, Chief API Evangelist for Telstra.

Accounting software startup and Dropbox partner Xero is an example of a relatively new company that has been able to scale globally by having a public API. Over 300 organisations have built entire companies or features off the back of Xero’s API, and in turn, these companies have been pivotal to Xero’s growth to over 500,000 subscribers.

Similarly, many Australian startups are taking advantage of the Dropbox API - using it to enable their platforms to scale faster and service customers in a more efficient manner. For example, image editing startup Snap Disco uses Dropbox’s API to allow customers to quickly upload images they want touched up directly into its backend system.

There are over 100,000 companies that rely on Dropbox for Business to securely store and share important information; and there are more than 300,000 app integrations that exist to support custom workflows such as the one Snap Disco uses.

Companies like Dropbox have been designed to drive users to integrate a particular feature or set of features from their platform into the everyday operations of the companies they have founded.

Inevitably using the Dropbox API allows startups to become ‘stickier’ products and leverage the large base of users that Dropbox has. When startups use APIs, it immediately builds trust; customers are compelled to engage with services that have features they are already accustomed to using.