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On this episode of APIs Unplugged, Mike Amundsen and Matt McLarty speak with API business leader David Timby. David shares his expertise in business development and product strategy, which he has honed in his time with leading API and SaaS organizations. Most recently, David worked in B2B operations at StubHub, where he was involved in managing the API products that connected their vibrant digital ecosystem of consumers, brokers, and event providers. He was also involved in C2C operations at StubHub. Prior to that, David co-founded the SaaS company Waggle and worked at the Fort Hill Company.

You can listen to the episode here:

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StubHub offers a secondary market for tickets to events ranging from sports to music concerts. StubHub’s business ecosystem involves consumers, individual ticket holders, ticket brokers, venue providers, as well as sports leagues and teams. Many of the interactions in StubHub’s ecosystem happen via APIs. Based on his experience at StubHub, David shared the following lessons in creating and managing a thriving API ecosystem:

Lesson #1: Respect the core competencies of ecosystem stakeholders

When StubHub started rolling out a new ticketing application, the company assumed providing client software would be well-received. However, this was not the case when it came to StubHub’s top ticket brokering partners.

“These are highly complex businesses, multi-million dollar, tech-enabled, omnichannel supply and distribution companies, and what we were asking them to do was to move their entire operations from systems they had set up over the years on to this new POS system that we had purchased.” 

— David Timby

These professional ticket brokers viewed the off-the-shelf software as a constraint rather than an enabler. Although using the software could provide some out of the box functionality, implementing it would mean they would have to replace core competencies that differentiated their services. They preferred having access to StubHub’s core marketplace capabilities via APIs to maintain their software-powered differentiation. This is an example of why it’s important to understand the value dynamics of the ecosystem when considering how best to interact with ecosystem partners.

Lesson #2: Different types of APIs can be used depending on the ecosystem relationship

David described the many ways APIs are being used to connect stakeholders in StubHub’s ecosystem.

“[APIs] are supporting all of it. Consumers mostly list on StubHub-generated software, but that’s all powered by APIs. Ticket brokers use our public domain APIs to power their operations. They list tickets, they set prices, they take down inventory, they process sales and orders and fulfill all through APIs. Similarly, the teams or artists who are selling direct, a lot of times those are high touch integrations, but that’s all powered by APIs as well.”

— David Timby

These three different providers of ticket inventory — consumers, brokers, and event performers — all have different needs. The consumers require a self-service UI powered by experience APIs, the brokers want a full set of self serve APIs, while the event performers who have masses of inventory require more of a white-glove experience enabled by APIs. Even if there is reuse of APIs or underlying assets, the strategy to engage with stakeholder groups may vary.

Lesson #3: APIs can start as a channel, but grow into distinct product offerings

As mentioned, StubHub’s APIs are at the core of its primary business model. However, after operating as a service provider to the main business lines at StubHub, David and the API product management team identified new opportunities to extend StubHub’s value proposition to some suppliers through data-as-a-service products.

“One in particular is really interesting, it was a data-as-a-service product where we fed a stream of event pricing data to our customers and they signed up for a subscription.”

— David Timby

Suppliers used this new service to implement automated pricing changes and even algorithm-based pricing. In a sports context, this allowed these suppliers to respond more effectively to situations like star players being injured that could drastically affect the popularity of a particular event. StubHub launched this new product and gained traction by understanding what value its data would have to the other constituents within the ecosystem.

Lesson #4: Trust is value unto itself in an API ecosystem

Secondary ticket sales used to involve handing cash to a stranger on a street corner. One of StubHub’s primary value propositions is that it has earned trust from consumers, distributors, and suppliers.

“[Trust is] paramount… Think about what StubHub has done. People spend a couple hundred bucks on average for a live event and what do you get these days? You get a receipt and a promise of access. I’d argue that StubHub has done such a good job of establishing online ticket buying trust that it benefitted the entire industry.”

— David Timby

StubHub worked and continues to work hard to maintain this trust by focusing on inventory accuracy. There are systems in place to minimize the possibility of having a consumer be rejected at the gate when using StubHub-purchased tickets, as well as systems to resolve instances where that situation transpires. Protections exist to mitigate both unintentional and intentional inventory errors. These mitigations and protections are achievable due to StubHub’s digitally native operations. Data earns and maintains the trust, and trust fuelled and sustains the company’s growth.

Lesson #5: The API product strategy will evolve with the growth of the ecosystem

StubHub’s first API integrations were high touch with key partners, something necessary to establish the business. As the ecosystem grew, the service-based approach could not scale effectively. 

“Internally, we couldn’t develop features and functions fast enough for our seller community or our buyer community. Having this ecosystem externalizes that development and opens up the opportunity for some of these developers to provide value and build value for themselves.”

David Timby

To service the growing developer community effectively, StubHub defined key personas that classified the stakeholders in its ecosystem.

“[We defined] four different types of customers: content rights holders, professional ticket brokers, software service providers, and affiliates. And then we looked at the common use cases around that and started to bucket those into product offerings and volume tiers, and it really helped us target both our service to the people who needed it the most, but also get ahead of our developer community.”

— David Timby

Balancing the anticipated needs of API consumers with the empirical evidence generated in the ecosystem created a virtuous cycle for StubHub’s API product evolution.

These are just some of the insights shared by David on the podcast. Listen to the whole episode to learn more! Follow the podcast on SoundCloud or subscribe to our newsletter above to get summaries of the episodes.